The term ‘political correctness’ is not only hard to define in this day and age but it’s difficult to decide where we cut the line on it. The origins of political correctness go back to the First World War but it is quite difficult to trust the definitions of the topic when considering that women had only just been granted the vote and homosexuality was still illegal. Hughes (2010) relays the point that Mao Zedong first coined ‘political correctness’ in 1929 but again I don’t think taking the idea of a man who was responsible for at least 45 million deaths can be validated as politically correct. A more fitting definition by Barbara Gallagher (2013) is that political correctness is there to encourage tact and sensitivity to others’ feelings around issues of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and physical abilities; and since its reprisal from the feminist movement in the 1970s this is what it has done.
In essence political correctness is there to come to aid of those discriminated against and simply help people view others as equals, rather than inferior and superior. Racism permeated through British culture heavily in the 1970s leading for stricter calls on language regulation. With shows like ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ referring to his West Indian neighbour as “those nig-nogs next door” or ‘Only Fools and Horses’ often “nipping to the p*aki’s on the corner” it is not hard to understand why we needed language regulation. . . But really how far have we come? Although Ed Richards, former media watchdog, stated these programmes from a previous generation were no longer suitable for today’s more enlightened audiences (Knapton, 2014) there are still shows present that may conform semantically to political correctness but not behaviourally. Shows like ‘Little Britain’ which extolls the stereotypical Thai woman as a concubine with the name Ting Tong Macadangdang still exist. Have we actually progressed at all?
Alas there is hope and common decency amongst us somewhere that someone is encouraging sensitivity to Gallagher’s five spheres of political correctness. Cardiff Metropolitan University have recently come on the radar by introducing their ‘censorship’ on gender neutral language. ‘Fireman’ is now expressed as ‘firefighter’; ‘salesman’/’woman’ is now ‘sales assistant’; ‘sportsmanship’ is now ‘fair play’. The list goes on. However, the term ‘censorship’ is used rather aggressively in this instance by stating it’s a bad thing you cannot say its original term, but this is guidance to help create a politically correct world, well a start to it anyway. There is the common belief from this change in language that we will be able to dismantle, slowly, the ideals of a patriarchal society and both men and women can coexist as equals.
Although the aspect of gender regulated language is being undertaken by the university and accordingly across the globe, in what instances does language regulation go too far? The word ‘woman’ contains the word ‘man’; ‘women’ contains the word ‘men’. Does this mean we have to re-write the terms for the female sex? And even Cardiff universities list of alternative proposals for words can be brought under scrutiny. Their idea that ‘mankind’ should be recognised as ‘humanity’ only counteracts its own argument as there is still the embedded notion of ‘man’ within their substitute, so surely political correctness can’t solve every debate.
Browne (2006, p.7) states that the “pervasiveness of political correctness is closing down the freedom of speech and open debate” and rather than say “I wouldn’t like to hear your side, the politically correct insist you can’t say that” (p.5). In most cases it’s almost inherent to use language that others may find offensive. You’re not allowed to say ‘manhole’ as there is the notion only men can enter these holes but I personally cannot see the offensive nature in this. When speaking about first born languages it is inherent that you use the phrase ‘mother-tongue’ but yet again I don’t see the offensive nature in this.
The control of language can work two-fold, which I hope you have seen from this blog. You either support it or don’t. For the likes of me and you I hope you understand the implications of using certain words rather than others but as years go by words change as do their meanings. We are simply living in a stage were people want to accelerate this cycle to fully remove those words that cause offence. Think of language regulation as “a healthy expansion of moral concern” (Allan & Burridge, 2006, p.90). It is here to help those who feel like they need it, so accept it and continue the movement.
LUKE WHITE, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK