It has been suggested that campaigns for a non-sexist non-racist language are a waste of time because language is never natural. To what extent have you found that vocabulary of English is connected to people's social values? In this essay I am going to discuss as to whether language can be changed for the better to impact upon social images and ideas of those using the words. Is political correctness a step too far and whether the language we use in everyday English discriminate towards certain things and people in society?
Are minorities discriminated against via the use of language and its connotations attached to the terms and phrases used, or is the lexis used merely being misinterpreted as wrong by nit pickers within the language society? Or does language truly reflect our opinions and thus shape how we see the world? Political correctness (PC) is a broad term to describe those people who oppose prejudice in linguistic terms that give particular minority groups a "negative" image within society.
Political correctness has gained bad publicity; therefore the term now has negative connotations and has been perjorated thanks to many academics and organisations of the general public. Activists who enforce political correctness upon society do not call themselves politically correct due to the bad connotations the term has gained. Political correctness according to linguists has been around since the turn of the century and was first seen in the 1930's in print defending the prejudice terms attacking coloured people within society.
The term racialist has been around since the turn of the century and was changed to racist in the 1930's. The term was used to stop and label those who are prejudice and discriminative towards people of a different colour. Another term that labelled a different kind of prejudice was the term sexist which was used repeatedly from the 1960's in particular. Linguist Deborah Cameron researched the history of Political correctness to find that is was ironically against those within the same left wing party describing the differing views in USA.
It then exploded into the 1980's as it rallied the support of countless university academics. The term political correctness was first seen in 1970 in print in the USA. The values for which Political correctness stands for saw its activists using it, who were concerned about the nouns and other lexis used to label minority groups, as a means of preventing the meanings behind theses words. Political correctness gained its bad reputation as it was used by its opposing forces to label those with over zealous attitudes when many extremists joined amongst the Political correctness activists.
Political correctness activists use the Sapir-Whorf theory to support their cause. The Sapir-Whorf theory is a hypothesis that states particular languages' nature influences the thoughts of the user using the lexis/term. Different language patterns create different patterns of thought. The idea challenges the possibility of representing the world perfectly with language, because it acknowledges that the mechanisms of any language alter the thoughts of its speaker community. The theory was created by two people hence the theory name is a double barrel noun.
Sapir a linguist who excelled the work of his language teacher Boas said that languages are systematic, formally complete systems therefore it is not particular words that express a particular mode of thought and behaviour but coherent and systematic nature of language interacting with a wider level of thought and behaviour. The second theorist Whorf further refined sapirs' idea, that thought and action were linguistically & socially linked, to say we view nature/life and things in it by the imagery/stereotypes we obtain from the linguistic labelling within our own native language.
Whorf states that we isolate experiences (thus stereotyping objects and people) with language which creates and changes our perceptions on life and the world. The language used with which we label our experiences is sometimes in agreement with others. Whorf compared differences between the English language with others such as the Inuit language and Hopi language thus raising the need reason to investigate and analyses the relationship between language thought and reality by relying on close analysis of grammatical structure.
To summarise the above the sapir-whorf theory raises the question does language reflect the way we see the world or does it create it? Political correctness took off during the 1980's and early 1990's. Activists had such power that those they scrutinised in particular novelists, journalists and other linguists alike were given very bad publicity and frowned upon by the nation.
Political correctness activists claimed those who annoyed them were being some form of ist which was the suffix attached to the end of an adjective to give it the meaning of the person showing prejudice was labelled to be perjorating that of which he was speaking about. This power held by Political correctness activists was feared by many papers and other forms of media which as a result went out of their way to ban words that were deemed sensitive and could be seen as offensive to certain minorities.
For example the word black was seen as too sensitive a word to be used thus was banned in use by newspaper editors to avoid bad publicity, even words such as black board and the black pieces in chess was deemed inappropriate. Political correctness activists have achieved in changing the terms used to describe particular minorities such as disabled people became differently abled, third world countries became developing nations, Eskimo's became Inuit's, Christian name became first name.
A well known example of Political correctness invading and attacking organisations within society is from 1992 where the British charity Mencap were attacked for the use of the so called negative term "mentally handicapped" as opposed to the preferred and supposedly more positive "people with learning difficulties" or the one I personally find more patronising "intellectually challenged".
The response of criticism at political correctness was said by mencap for example changing of the word or term used to describe or name the persons or subject involved would not in anyway change the way the term can be used. For example mencap argued that it is only a matter of time before a new term intentionally created to bring positive connotations is used to insult relating to the problems those under the term face, children already use the term "learning difficulties" as an insult and it has been shortened to LD to suit the insult.
The New York Times a well known paper spoke out against political correctness in the July of 1991 claiming that "political correctness has become a lethal weapon for silencing anyone whose idea s you don't like". Further more critics of Political correctness believe that the search for caring lexion is pointless as long as the inequalities which the language reflects don't change.
They also argue that new linguistic terms coined by Political correctness activists will be unable to keep up with the pace of change that language changes, as the context in which the words are used in can dramatically and rapidly change overnight thus proving that it is impossible to manipulate language. Supporters of Political correctness fight back with the argument that if children are taught such negative linguistic terms then they will be influenced to grow up having a negative outlook on parts of society and indeed the world.
They argue that in changing linguistic terms changes perceptions and the image painted in our minds by the terms. In conclusion I find it very difficult to determine whether political correctness is a waste of time as I have grown up and been taught as a child in the 1990's therefore have been taught that it is "not write" to use certain phrases and should use others or none at all to describe minorities and parts of the world.
Therefore I have an unbalanced view on the matter. I do think to some extent that political correctness is needed as careful wording is the key to not offending a person, however I will contradict myself in saying that there is little need to change or eradicate any linguistic terms as language does influence the way we think but does not reflect it perfectly as the context in which words are used in is constantly changing.
The English language is renound for it words that mean bad are changed to mean good especially by the younger teenage generations for example the word sick is often used in place of the word cool for dramatic effect. It is quite scary to think that political correctness can be used to silence an individual or organisation that speaks out against society when we are supposed to be living in a free democratic society where we have freedom or speech and choice.