Political correctness has fast become one of, if not the, most talked about debate surrounding the accepted codes of speech. The Right often views it as a control tactic that impinges our rights to free speech. Is the real purpose of political correctness to control language and thereby control thought? This question has caused moral outrage amongst the public due to it becoming such a widespread phenomenon.
Using polite and cautious euphemisms to control language is seeing freedom of speech slowly diminish. We could ask, with growing anxieties and our conscious efforts to not violate the accepted code of our utterances, are we to blame for being too cautious about defying the ‘norm’ and conforming to politically correct language and a controlled society?
Allan and Burridge (2006:90) acknowledge this by reiterating the questions surrounding our tolerance to blatant language manipulation, claiming ‘[…] political correctness has been extremely successful in getting people to change their linguistic behaviour. Even many of the deliberate efforts to shift the meanings and connotations of words have come up roses.’ They support the view that as a nation we have been too accepting and accommodating towards politically correct language.
Battistella (2005:111) claims that ‘the politically correct restrictions on speech are mostly self-imposed, with speakers unwilling to run the risk of being judged to violate the accepted code for their context of utterance.’ Therefore, is it a question of thought control, or self-censorship? Are the Left manipulating our thoughts, or are we only too happy to toe the line?
I believe that you can’t have one without the other. Self-censorship has been motivated by a rational fear. Political correctness has become so powerful that it affects the way we think and express ideas. Therefore, the anxieties that have arisen from political correctness have led to self-censorship. We are constantly questioning the language we are using and are required to use imposed speech codes.
In 2011, Ricky Gervais was hounded by the PC Brigade because of a picture he uploaded to his Twitter account. He named this photo ‘mong’. He claimed he had not realised it was still a derogatory term used to insult disabled people. Ricky Gervais probably didn’t intend for this to cause offense and yet he was bombarded with angry protests that he had dared to use this word. This highlights the ‘thought police’s’ intentions of seeking to eliminate any view, which resists conforming to a strict liberal perspective. It also raises questions. Are we not allowed to speak freely and use language humorously when we have no intention of it meaning to cause offense?
The problem with political correctness is that it is purely subjective. What I take offence to, might not necessarily offend somebody else. Therefore, how do we realistically define what is politically correct or incorrect?
Whilst I believe that people should be aware of different cultures, societies and health issues, we need to refuse to conform to the exaggerated speech codes that are imposed upon us in order to stop it. If political correctness is allowed to perpetuate, it will curb our right to free speech.
DAISY PHELAN, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK