The sociolinguistics of “dark” and “light”

The spring equinox is today. It is a time of balance, a time when the length of time between sunset and sunrise is equal to the time between sunrise and sunset.

Most of the writings and thoughts about this time talk about the “dark” and the “light”, using it as a metaphor for bad and good, bliss and struggle, unconscious and conscious. I think this metaphor of dark-as-bad and light-as-good has been so embedded into culture that in subtle ways, it reinforces racism and white supremacy. Language is socially constructed — concepts are socially constructed.

The metaphor also discounts the value of the “dark” times, which have just as much richness, expertise, teachings, and comfort as the “light” times.

What kinds of metaphors we could come up with around dark-as-good and light-as-bad? Light can be blinding and white-hot. Dark can be the richest, most nutrient-dense soil. Light can burn, can expose, can shock. Dark can be comforting, cozy, private, safe.

So while we’re here in the balance of the daytime and the nighttime, I’m thinking about darkness and daytime, and how deep our cultural values are embedded in our language. I’m remembering, too, that language is malleable — it changes when culture changes, but sometimes changing the language first can support the change of culture.

It’s been such a pleasure for me to follow and celebrate the year wheel more closely these past through years, through Body Trust and through my own personal practices.

Are you doing anything specific to celebrate the equinox?


PS: Consider this photo above, for example — the person could be coming out of a difficult situation, looking out into the world anew and letting the sunshine in after a long period of isolation. Or, they could be comfortable in their own house (or tent?), and nervous about the outside; it could hurt their eyes to adjust to the brightness; there could be someone frightening and dangerous outside, where they could be safe inside. There are so many ways to interpret.

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