Political Correctness

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  • Created by: Ellie
  • Created on: 26-05-14 14:46


The avoidance of terms of expression which are perceived to exclude, marginalise or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.

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Deborah Cameron

  • People dislike PC because it takes away neutrality of words. The speaker is forced to declare their position in terms of feminism and race etc. It is impossible not to upset someone; using the old term 'chairman' will offend people and you will be seen as old fashioned but using the new term 'chairperson' will upset conservatives who wish to keep language as it is and you will be seen as a feminist / social activist which is viewed by some as a negative. 
  • However the perceived neutrality of words such as 'chairman' may be an illusion as they have always been sexist. It is only now that we have noticed the sexism in our society that we notice the sexism in our language.
  • Urban myths of over the top examples of PC such as not being allowed to say 'black coffee' and having to say 'coffee without milk' instead are often used to brand PC as unecessary and finicky.
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Margaret Doyle

  • The use of words such as 'chairman' and 'postman' and the use of the generic 'he' as gender neutral terms reinforces that maleness is the norm and female is the secondary gender or the minority gender.
  • The use of 'man' and 'girl' as equal terms demeans women and gives the impression they are taken less seriously.
  • Many male terms are positive whilst the female equivilants have negative connotations e.g. bachelor and spinster, wizard and witch, ladies' man and man eater.
  • Sexist language can be harmful to men too. Phrases such as 'mother and toddler play groups' and 'mother helpers' reinforce the harmful stereotype that males take a secondary role in parenting and that childcare is primarily a job for women. This makes it easier for some men to justify not doing childcare duties and harder for other men to feel comfortable doing so. 
  • 'PC is often characterised as a tool used by the left, who conservatives feel, mutilate language in the name of ideology.'
  • 'PC gone mad' is a phrase frequently used by the right wing to try and discredit genuine attempts to create a language that includes rather than excludes certain communities. 
  • Language has changed to reflect changes in society e.g. n*gro to black, crippled to disabled 
  • PC is often confused with euphemism such as 'vertically challenged' for 'short'
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David Crystal

  • Language change is inevitable, like the ebbing tide. 
  • Language changes because society changes, to stop one requires that we stop or control the other - a task that can only suceed to a very limited extent.
  • The tactics of extreme feminists make it easy to joke about the whole issue of sexist language. But there is nothing funny about unequal status, unequal pay, unequal opportunity.
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Linguistic Determinism

Linguistic determinism: Sapir-Worf Hypothesis:

  • Strong version: the language we use controls the way we think and act.
  • Weak version: the language we use influences the way we think and act.

This is supported by a study by Keith Chen who found that families who spoke a futureless language saved more annually and were less likely to smoke and eat unhealthily than families who spoke a language with a future tense. This is thought to be because having a future tense makes the future seem more distant and separate from the present which makes one worry about it less.

In terms of PC this can be applied to many terms such as 'policeman' and 'policewoman' which may make us think there is a difference between male and female police officers important enough to need to make the distinction.

Some people argue that if language did shape our thoughts then language change could never occur as we could never have any new thoughts or concepts.

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Linguistic Reflectionism

The language that we use reflects the way we think.

Feminist and political activist Barbara Ehrenreich thinks that social change must come before linguistic change for example outlawing the word 'sl*t' will not stop the way society views women negatively if they have lots of s*x.

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  • A study of university students found that when given a text where the generic 'he' is used and asked whether it could refer to males, females or both, 95% of participants thought it could only refer to a male. This figure dropped to 40% when the sentence was rearranged so that there was no pronoun - the generic 'he' is not gender neutral.
  • Due to the lack of gender neutral third person singular pronouns, feminists have come up with some such as tey, tem and teir but they have never caught.
  • This could be because people in society are not away that English's lack of gender neutrality is even a problem. Many people argue we need to make practical changes to society before or instead of focusing on our language use. 
  • Others argue that it is important to look at our language use because the existance of sexist or otherwise offensive language perpetuates prejudice values and reducing the usage of these terms will help change society's perception of disadvantaged groups.
  • Some people think PC takes away freedom of speech and people who enforce PC language are often called the thought police. PC has been said to come straight from Mao’s little red book and is often linked with extreme communist views.

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More extras

  • It takes a certain authority to tell people which words to use and which words not to use so if anything the implementation of PC can be powerful in social change in that it shows where the authority figures stand in terms of the social issue at question. For example if schools all around the country banned the terms 'head master' and 'head mistress' in favour of 'headteacher' then that would show the public that the authority figures were in favour of feminism rather than in favour of maintaining sexist norms. People will be more inclined to follow social change a) if it comes from above them and b) if it seems as if the majority of other people are doing it too. 
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Even more extras

What it boils down to is that people in privileged positions, mainly white, upper-class men, don’t like the idea of the playing field being levelled and their privilege being removed. PC is the go-to complaint for men scared of women taking over their positions, white people annoyed by attention being given to non-whites, heterosexuals jealous of the support homosexuals get, non-disabled people irked that disabled people have an Olympics ‘all to themselves’.

There is nothing ‘evil’ about political correctness, it is not stopping you from expressing your thoughts, it’s not a repressive force; it’s an inclusive one. PC is an equaliser, it’s respectful and it helps us avoid causing offense. A society built on respect and equality should be concerned about the language it uses and the effect it has on its citizens. It matters how we talk. So please, stop whinging and let’s all just embrace PC and let it make our language, and Britain itself, inclusive of all genders, races, sexualities, and abilities.

(An extract from my intervention coursework) 

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