EMMA WILLIAMS explores whether political correctness is a restriction on freedom of speech

Political correctness initially occurred in politics but now it relates to many areas of language and linguistic behaviour such as race, culture, and feminism. To begin with it was used in the US supreme court but it never really took off until the 1960s. Political Correctness causes numerous disagreements as many see it as a matter of affecting free speech, whereas on the other hand some individuals think that it plays an important role in society.

Numerous people consider political correctness as a restriction on freedom of speech, which prevents us from saying what we really want to say, whereas others disagree with this and believe that actually it helps prevent bullying of the minority groups that Political correctness aims to protect, such as women, disabled people, black people and so on. A lot of why political correctness has such bad connotations, is because of the constant coverage it obtains from the media. Allan and Burridge (2006:92) declare that the media create a ‘PC scare’ which means that they report on ‘over-the-top speech codes’ which lead to a hostile attitude towards Political correctness.

Political Correctness is deemed by many people as taking away free speech; Becker and Becker (2001) suggest that ‘The term ‘politically correct’ partly in virtue of its historical association with the communist party, also implies that the democratic liberties are being interfered with, most notably free speech and academic freedom’. What they suggest here by referring to the Communist Party, is that political correctness is about wanting us all to be the ‘same’ in the way we speak and you could also go further and say it regards thought control too.

Battistella (2007: 111) claims that ‘[t]he 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’. Here Battistella is suggesting that people are too afraid to say what they really mean to say in fear of being accused of being racist or sexist etc. where in actual case they don’t mean anything offensive by what they say. Gallagher (2013) states that while ‘the original intent of political correctness may have been good, the effect of political correctness has been to make everyone avoid the topics altogether’. Gallagher makes the point that the initial aim of political correctness had good intentions to protect people, but groups of people are now taking PC too far and are using the term subjectively.

Hughes, G (2010:4) suggests that ‘political Correctness inculcates a sense of obligation or conformity in areas which should be (or are) matters of choice’. Hughes’ point is that people feel obliged to say or think in a certain way, in order not to offend people. The whole notion of ‘Political Correctness’ could well and truly be linked to George Orwell’s 1984 novel. He predicted a world where everyone was controlled by the government, your freedom speech was taken away and you could be arrested for saying the wrong thing. Some aspects aside, I don’t think Orwell’s prediction was very far off.

EMMA WILLIAMS, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Allan, K & Burridge, K. (2006) Forbidden Words: Taboo and the Censoring of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Battistella, L.E. (2007) Bad language: are some words better than others? Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Becker, C.L. & Becker, B.C. (eds.) (2001) Encyclopedia of Ethics. New York: Routledge.

Gallagher, B.J. (2013) The Problem with Political Correctness. The Huffington Post [Online], 25th February [Accessed 6th November 2013], 1. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bj-gallagher/the-problem-political-correctness_b_2746663.html

Hughes, G. (2010) Political Correctness: A History of Semantics and Culture. West Sussex: Blackwell Publishing.





One thought on “EMMA WILLIAMS explores whether political correctness is a restriction on freedom of speech

  1. Priya Bali says:

    Hello Emma,

    I really enjoyed reading your well written blog, it address the topic political correctness in a cohesive and fair way.

    Firstly, the blog highlighted how political correctness originated and how it “took off in the 1960s in the US government”. One question I would ask is how and why did political correctness become imposed more on society at this particular time?

    I can see how people can deem political correctness as a “communist way of control” because initially communists did use this as a way of keeping the speech of the people as the “same”, however, this is the ideology of one out dated group of people that can be said to not be used in the modern day. I believe the points included by Gallagher are indeed true, the intent of PC had originally been good as it was created to avoid offence against people; however, some people are using PC incorrectly and creating too many anxieties in speech. These anxieties have also been amplified by the media, it is obvious just by picking up any article about PC in the newspapers that the editors/writers exaggerate on the control PC has on society.

    In my opinion I can understand why some people would consider political correctness as generating connotations of conformity and taking away freedom of speech, because of how the idea of PC originated and the exaggeration the media cultivates. Nonetheless, I feel PC is needed in society in order to retain unity, if people are aware of the “taboo” words then they can refrain from using them as most people like to save face. I do not agree with Orwell’s prediction because I think society has a strong enough control above the government when it comes to communicating their views. Today’s society has been labeled “polite” [http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/oct/09/politeness-good-manners-english] therefore, speech would not be intended to create a negative face so if they are aware of words that create offence they would avoid them.

    One thing I could suggest that would further the discussion of this blog is to maybe include examples of how PC is exaggerated in order to develop the argument against PC. Overall, the blog encapsulates both sides of the argument and the argument will most probably remain divided.

    Thank you for the great blog.

    Priya Bali

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