Diclusivity

Me vs We: Choosing Both

Writer

November 22, 2021

There's no 'i' in team, as the more competitive among us might have heard during our childhoods, but there is one in 'community'. Every group, no matter how close-knit, is made up of individuals. At Hi9, this idea is at the core of our thinking, and the birth of a new word: diclusivity.

Diclusivity (n.) [daɪˈklu ˌ sɪvɪti]  

A new coinage describing something that is both inclusive and exclusive, derived from linguistic concepts of clusivity. Refers to both the individual in a group and the group as a whole to encompass each one and everyone.  

In linguistics, clusivity describes who in included in a specific word. It's usually applied to different usages of the word 'we'. When I say ‘we’ am I talking about me and others, but not you, or am I talking about me and you, and potentially others? This might sound a little muddled in English, because it all falls under the same word: we. But in many languages around the world this distinction is built-in, and the two (or three) uses have their own pronouns.  

Building on this, we're using ‘clusivity’ to encompass two different groups - the singular and the plural. Her and them. Me and us. Being a diclusive business means not choosing one over the other, and not forgetting all the individuals that make up a group.

So why do we care about this? According to Webster’s dictionary, there are 470,000 words currently used in English, give or take, do we really need another one?  

Yes.

We know, based on Swadesh’s 1952 work, that across the world, the most linguistically stable word - that is, the word least likely to change over time - is 'I'. 'We' is third. This demonstrates an enduring and universal importance in both the concept of self and the concept of the group, as well as the distinction between them, otherwise they wouldn't be separate lexical items.

No two people are the same. Even members of the same family will come from different places - physically and metaphorically - and they'll have different contexts for the events in their lives. Given this, it's not fair or productive to treat people as if they are exactly the same, just because they happen to be a member of a community. More than that, stereotypes are born in assumptions about a group; by making sure we treat people as individuals we can avoid automatic and often unconscious assumptions.

But how does this differ from being inclusive? The key difference is in the implication. When people talk about inclusivity it's usually predicated on the idea of certain groups being excluded.  It implies effort to bring these excluded groups in, and that's not what we're about. We're building our services from the ground up for our users, not building the services and then including our users as an afterthought. By the same token, we are not exclusive. There is no context to your life that bars you from our services.

That said, the communities we belong to, and especially those we identify ourselves as being a part of, provide a huge part of the context for our lives. Our approach is to treat a community as what it is - a collection of individuals - and to take cues from those individuals about the services they want. They know their lives better than we do.