The Denotation of the Word “People” in the Law and in Life
A people is any bulk of people situated collectively as a social unit. It is usually defined as a nationality or ethnic group. People are also categorized according to their language, culture, traditions and beliefs. There are several definitions in defining peoples. Some examples are discussed below.
According to some social scientists, the definition of a people can be regarded as a concept of an abstract class of persons having the same race, language, culture, traditions and other inherited characteristics and beliefs. Another important part of this definition is the concept of ethnicity. This idea is based on the idea that all peoples who share a territory and experience similar life-styles, arts, crafts and other features have in common a group identity known as a people. According to these theories, all ancient inhabitants of the earth were peoples and all peoples presently living have a people or group identity.
The word people was derived from the Greek word peopleos meaning ‘a set of people’. In this sense, it can be considered as a definition of a nation or ethnic group. It means all those people who participate in the political system of a country or who have a certain language, culture, and other traits which make them distinct. However, one should remember that the word people should not be used in a grammatically correct manner, and it should not be substituted for a nation or group. It has been noted by many historians that many historical nation states such as the United States, Russia, China, and India have been created by many ethnic groups from a geographical region. The concept of people should therefore be taken with great caution because there are numerous instances where there are large numbers of people from just one area or country who came together as groups but after have developed their own civilization and distinctive culture.
Many people think that the word people refers to all people regardless of their nationality, race, color, and religion. However, the vast majority of people use the term people in a generic way without considering its implications. Some examples of generic use of the word people are as follows: “the whole community,” “a group of people,” “a nation” or “the people of New Zealand.” Another usage of the word people is in relation to the singular noun “people” as in “the people of New Zealand” or “the people of one nation.”
There is another view of the word people which is that it simply denotes the set of individuals having a certain ethnic background or culture. For example, if someone wants to refer to all persons with light-skinned complexion as “all persons considered black” or if he wants to describe all persons with dark-skinned complexion as “all persons considered Asians”. Criminal prosecution of ethnic groups and their members has been based on these two examples where they used the term persons to refer to all people having an ethnic group characteristic.
Another view of the word people is that it simply denotes a legal designation. For example, “person A” could be called “A lawyer” or “A doctor”. When describing an actual individual, person A would be described by his legal qualifications. It is not that the word people has different meanings when applied to various situations and individuals but that the meaning of the word changes depending on who is doing the defining. This is why it is often difficult for those charged with the responsibility of naming people in a legal setting to be consistent in their application of the law.