Do you roll your eyes, or do you nod your head in agreement when someone says they’re ‘politically correct’? Do you take the stance that ‘political correctness’ restricts your freedom of speech? Or that being ‘politically correct’ is simply just kindness and being considerate of other’s views.
Political correctness has always been a controversial phrase, ever since it started to fully emerge in the early 80s. The general acceptance of these new words and behaviours is still a matter of debate. Because of this, people define ‘political correctness’ differently. Nyguyen (2008, p. 5) believes that political correctness “refers to language and ideas that may cause offence to some identity groups and aims at giving special treatment to members of those social groups”. The main aim of political correctness is to challenge offensive words/expressions either by rules that restrict them known as ‘speech codes’, or by replacing words completely with new ones (Nyguyen, 2008, p. 5). Here, Nyguyen (2008) appears quite neutral on this topic. But others, like Hughes (2010, p. 1) believe that ‘political correctness’ “instructs a sense of obligation or conformity in areas which should be (or are) matters of choice”.
Some people feel that political correctness is responsible for the corruption of our ‘sacred’ language and how it replaces the more important issues at hand, concerning language matters (Allan & Burridge, 2006, p. 93). However, I agree with people like Singer (2017) who believe that using politically correct language leads us to a much more tolerant society. So surely if language can influence people to be more accepting and understanding, it should be regarded as an important language matter.
Cardiff Metropolitan University has been in the limelight recently for adhering to political correctness. The university has introduced a language policy, where both students and staff will be disciplined if they do not comply to it. Words such as ‘right-hand man’, ‘waitress’ and ‘forefathers’ have been banned on campus in order to “crackdown on gendered language” (Gray, 2017). Cardiff Metropolitan University offers a checklist of politically correct terms to use, rather than politically incorrect terms, for students and staff to follow whilst on campus. Instead of ‘best man for the job’, its politically correct alternative is ‘best person for job’. Also, it asks to say ‘women’ instead of ‘girls’ when addressing an adult female. This seems quite logical to me. I am a woman and I would prefer to be addressed as an adult rather than patronizingly addressed as a ‘girl’. The university believes that by doing this, they are making everyone on campus feel welcome and valued (Gray, 2017). Implementing this new language policy has riled some people, as they feel that the university are “attacking free speech and patronizing students and staff” (Gray, 2017). Views such as “these words have evolved over a long period of time and they don’t have sexist associations” and “the idea that in a university, people need to be dictated to in this way is really insulting to students and academics, we should be able to cope with words” were expressed about this new language policy (Gray, 2017). How would you react? Do you agree with the university banning certain words? Or do you think it is ridiculous?
Nanjiani (2013) expresses his view on using the ‘p-word’ – a word nowadays which is generally not acceptable in today’s society, but there are still people who use it. He describes his disappointment when the ‘p-word’ is thrown around carelessly (Nanjiani, 2013). It was a word that was often used to insult him when he was a child. He speaks of the dread he felt going into school when a new racist phrase was doing the rounds on the playground (Nanjiani, 2013). These racist catchphrases typically came from the popular TV shows at the time. Thankfully now, it is pretty much unthinkable that any pop culture references could include such offensive language, regardless of context. However, there are people who think that they can use these words and still not be a racist. But as Nanjiani (2013) explains “it gives permission to those who are racist to use it as a term of abuse” and when the ‘p-word’ is used as banter or in a non-racist way, it is still offensive. This takes me to my final questions. Is it pure ignorance that people use these offensive terms, or do they actually want to cause offence?
Words possess a power that can permanently alter how people see themselves. Once they are heard, they cannot be unheard. This demands a level of responsibility (Diaz, 2016). This responsibility should start with accepting and following language regulation and rules.
KATE MUNSCH, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK