Language and Reality: Who Made the World? – From Man Made Language – Dale Spender
Spender’s central contention: Our supposedly ‘objective’ reality is shaped by the categories which our language gives us to interpret it. The power holders in patriarchal societies have been able to embed sexist thinking into our language, which continues to influence the way we view the world.
- ‘language is a powerful determinant of reality’,
- ‘When there are a sexist language and sexist theories culturally available, the observation of reality is also likely to be sexist’
‘the potential to create a world in which they [existing power holders] are the central figures, while those who are not of their group are peripheral’ (through language)
- Male-as-norm, ‘nigger’, ’queer’
He/man becoming enshrined as the generic form ‘was neither insignificant or accidental’
- Men have had the opportunity to consciously embed their ‘superiority’ into the language
- C18th prescriptivist grammarian Kirkby argued for male as neutral – ‘more comprehensive’
- ‘making his subjective meanings the decreed reality’
- ‘the 1850 Act of Parliament which legally insisted that he stood for she’
- Engineered in exactly the same way that PC opponents rage against
‘today exerts a considerable influence over thought and reality by preserving the categories of male and minus male’
‘literally a man-made product which serves to construct and reinforce the divisions between the dominant and muted groups’
‘use of the [linguistic] symbol man is accompanied, not surprisingly, by an image of male’
- ‘a pseudo-generic’
- Allows us to eradicate women from our mental pictures of history
- ‘the visibility and primacy of males is supported’
- Studies (and jarring of sentences like ‘man as a mammal breastfeeds its young’) show that we think male, not neutral, when we hear ‘man’ – ‘the imagery which is operating’
‘For women to become visible, it is necessary that they become linguistically visible’
- Continual use reinforces negative stereotype (male-as-norm, male supremacy)
- Like ‘snowman’, ‘Oriental’
Language the Loaded Weapon by Dwight Bolinger (1980)
“the writer or speaker has to chose between perpetuating sexist language and making a mess of the grammar”
– ‘he or she’
– ‘himer/hiser’ (suggested by feminist, Ella Flagg Young 1912)
An Act of Parliament in 1850 decreed that ‘he’ should be used for both sexes in all parliamentary language because men were the ones with all the power. Our language now reflects this male ‘superiority’ where the pronoun ‘he’ is used when the sex of the subject is not known. It clearly shows that women are seen as on the sidelines (the ‘deviant’ sex) because the mental picture we get when ‘he’, ‘him’ or ‘his’ is used is male unless it is -supposedly- likely that the individual referred to is female e.g. ‘the nurse put on his hat’.
“Linguistic asymmetry is everywhere”
– ‘doctor’ for male ‘lady doctor’ for female
– ‘Mr’ for a male but women have two: ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’
The noncommittal ‘Mr’ implies that only men can be free agents in their sex lives. Language helps enact and transmit every type of inequality, and here women being treated as property is obvious as their title quickly reveals them marriageable or not.
Not politically correct as it reinforced the idea women are ‘objects’ rather than ‘subjects’ – the ‘property’ rather than the ‘possessor’. Same goes for the distinction between ‘actor’ and ‘actress’, these sex-marked nouns are not necessary and provide nothing besides gender stereotypes.
“The gun of sex-biased language may be rusty, but it is there, and the greatest danger is unawareness that it is a gun, and is loaded”
– 320 terms in English for ‘sexually promiscuous woman’
There are no male terms to match the contempt embodied in the words ‘hag’, ‘crone’ and witch’ for an old woman. They have sexual connotations too: ‘old and unattractive’, ‘old and sexually useless’. Not particularly PC as it reinforces the idea women are just objects of attractiveness that become useless when they no longer have good looks.
Verbal Hygiene – Deborah Cameron
The meaning of political correctness must be inferred from context.
- Does this imply that some words are okay to use in some situations but not others.
- g “nigga” – Not politically correct in most situations yet appears in music. Is this okay?
- The essay then goes on to mention that there is no one ‘standard’ definition of political correctness. It is very much judged by the individual.
- Is this a problem? How can it be changed?
[Opponents of PC would argue] The elimination of gender distinctions such as the suffix –ess actually makes the language less accurate.
- Hostess, stewardess – like French shows that a female is being spoken about.
- Host, Steward – original form – Somehow better/more dominant?
- Is this making our language ‘less efficient’ or more inclusive as a whole?
Whatever the ‘polite’ term is now, in a few years or decades will have acquired negative connotations that someone will feel compelled to propose a new one [word].
- Handicapped – disabled – physically challenged
- Language is constantly evolving and often very representative of the culture in which it is being used.
- Does this mean that PC will always be an ‘issue’?
Dwight Bolinger – Language the Loaded Weapon (1980)
Chapter 10: Power and deception
“A damaging truth most people will naturally evade. Short of telling a literal lie, Western society generally permits this with a clear conscience.”
- Leads to (excessive?) use of euphemism
- Such euphemisms can encounter criticism as they are often, essentially, mistruths or falsehoods e.g. Kellyanne Conway’s coinage, “alternative facts”, is a euphemism for “lie”. This term is now the subject of much ridicule and is not very politically correct due to its implications of lying and deceit.
“Traditional authority … secures itself by ritualising what it approves and tabooing what it does not”
- Bolinger speaks of the “privileged class” (conservatives/traditionalists) who are quick to place a taboo on ideas they consider to be threatening to their established social position, resulting in the coinage of derogatory terms like “snowflake” and “feminazi”.
- Ironically, whilst such terms are intended to ridicule or deprecate the groups of society (millennials and feminists) who are supposed to be the most prone to taking offence, this in itself is offensive to traditionalists and the coinage of such terms is a reaction to this.
“Loaded words can influence memory as well as perception”
- Language with heavy social implications can influence people’s attitudes in the long-term, not just their instant impressions.
- For example, the perpetuated use of gendered expressions in everyday life such as the concrete nouns, “chairman”, “fireman” and “policeman”, can make woman in these professions feel undervalued and promote the idea that these are inherently male jobs.
Guy Deutscher’s “Crying Whorf”
Man Up: This phrase isn’t seen as politically correct since it insinuates that there is something strong and stable about masculinity which everyone should strive for. Even if someone isn’t raised to believe that men are supposed to be strong, by using phrases like this throughout their lives they could subconsciously start to believe that men are inherently stronger than women, adopting a sexist view of the world. Russell claims that we “must be on our guard if our logic is not to lead to a false metaphysic,” such as the belief that masculinity and strength are correlated.
Snowman: Although it can be hard to see how words as innocent as “snowman” or “fireman” can be toxic, the incessant use of male pronouns in otherwise gender-neutral contexts can completely change someone’s worldview. Children are impressionable, and those who grow up believing that male pronouns and characteristics are default could end up believing that femininity is inferior which is a damaging idea for young girls in particular. This links to Whorf’s view that language “in itself is the shaper of ideas, the programme and guide for the individuals mental activity” because over time, this ‘male as norm’ belief can manifest itself into actual sexism.
African-American: Despite this being a commonly used adjective, it actually goes against all the rules of political correctness by not only suggesting that all black Americans are from Africa (when many, in fact, have no ties to the continent) but also by labelling them separately from white citizens, who are simply American. This treatment of black Americans as ‘others’ in the country can lead to the false narrative that they’re less deserving of their place in the country just because of their skin colour. Sapir calls this the “tyrannical hold that linguistic form has upon our orientation of the world,” because one simple adjective can lead to years of racial discrimination as seen in America today.
Beyond Sexist Beliefs – Sczesny, Moser & Wood – 2014
What is the central contention of the article?
The author seeks to argue that generic masculine language perpetuates negative gender stereotypes and can sometimes result in the exclusion of women from certain social roles. The author also argues that gender-exclusive language use is related to sexist beliefs and attitudes. These aspects of language use may be transparent to users, so it is unclear whether people explicitly act on these beliefs when using gender-exclusive forms or whether they are more implicit, habitual patterns.
Gender-exclusive form e.g “he, “his”, “him”
Gender-inclusive form e.g “he/she”, “his/hers”, “him/her”, “they”
What examples does the author use?
- Between the 1960s and 1990s, spoken language in Australian radio programmes and parliamentary debates decreased in the frequency of use of generic masculine pronouns, increased slightly in the use of ‘he or she’ and more obviously in the frequency of use of the singular they
- This has come about, in part, as a result of the ‘prescriptive language requirements’ of scientific and other professional associations which increasingly specify that writing avoids sexist terminology and uses gender-inclusive terms
- Female job applicants perceived a lack of fit between themselves and potential position openings when job advertisements and job interviews used masculine forms rather than gender-inclusive expressions
- In public opinion polls (Stohlberg and Sczesny, 2001) and court decisions (Hamilton, Hunter and Stuart-Smith, 1992), masculine formations may bias outcomes in favour of men
- Italian language descriptions of occupations (e.g. lawyer) with feminised terms implied lower competence than gender-inclusive or masculine terms (Merkel, Maass and Frommelt, 2012)
- During a mock job interview, women experienced a lower sense of belonging, less motivation and less expected identification in reaction to gender-exclusive language
- Men score higher on instrumentality and on sexist attitudes, as well as using more masculine generic pronouns than women
- Sexist language has been considered an example of subtle sexism (Swim et al., 2004) and is known to contribute to gender stereotyping (e.g. Maass and Arcuri, 1996)
- Cralley and Ruscher (2005) found that non-sexist men used gender-inclusive language when they were not cognitively busy with another task. Thus, such language use appeared to require explicit, intentional decision making
- “Forms of personal pronouns are considered gender-inclusive when they prompt a balanced representation of men and women.”
- “Language functions as a device not only for transferring information but also for expressing social categorizations and hierarchies… it contributes to the construction and communication of gender.” (Maass and Arcuri, 1996) – language has the ability to communicate far more than just information – it is able to subtly manipulate people’s thoughts and opinions, especially by creating (false) stereotypes, often on gender
- “Research has linked gender-exclusive language with sexist beliefs and attitudes.” (Swim, Mallett and Stangor, 2004) – evidence to support the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that the language which we use affects the way in which we think – arguing that the use of sexist/stereotypical language is one of the causes of sexist beliefs
- “The generic use of masculine forms prevailing in many languages has far-reaching consequences in restricting the degree of female visibility.” – in many of the world’s cultures, male is seen as the norm and anything that deviates from the ‘male norm’ is seen to be ‘inferior’ – this is a concept which has a massively negative impact on women
- “Due to the close link between language and cognitive representations, language use activates associated cognitive concepts and schemata and may thereby perpetuate stereotypical thinking and expectations.”
- “The use of gendered pronouns and nouns conveys meaning about the persons involved and their likely dispositions” g. McConnell and Fazio found in 1996 that perceivers, especially those who had more traditional gender-role beliefs, interpreted an individual’s personality as more masculine in response to occupational titles with a man-suffix (chairman) than in response to a suffixless term (chair) and as less masculine in reaction to occupational titles with a person-suffix (chairperson)
- “The use of generic masculine pronouns such as he, him and his in English language books decreased greatly across the 20th century” – Twenge, Campbell and Gentile, 2012 – this could be seen a bi-product of political correctness as people and society start to become aware of the language that they use and how it can perpetuate negative stereotypes and thoughts, so they begin to use these words/phrases less
- “Habits form as people repeatedly perform the same behaviour and learn associations between the behaviour and recurring features if the context, including physical location, time of day, and preceding actions in a sequence… Habitual forms of speech could develop through imitation and shared social norms or could initially be practiced deliberately until they become habitual… they tend to be brought to mind automatically and to be performed with minimal input from intentions and attitudes.” – Sapir-Whorf – the language we use affects the way that we think
I found the author’s argument to be quite convincing as they accumulated various other notable works and referred to them in order to provide evidence to what was being said. They also used several examples to illustrate their points, showing how and why people use sexist language, including gender-exclusive pronouns, and the detrimental impact that it can have on women in different contexts.
- Reading a personal pronoun such as engineer – male and reading a personal pronoun such as kindergarten teacher – female
This shows that language functions to express social categorizations and hierarchies and contributes to construction and communication of gender
- Perceives interpreted a social targets personality as more masculine in response to occupational titles with ‘man-‘ suffix e.g. chairman than in response to suffix less term (chair) and as less masculine in reaction to occupational titles with a ‘person-‘ suffix e.g. chair person
This shows use of gendered pronouns and nouns conveying meaning about the persons involved and their likely dispositions, and also shows language use activates schemata and therefore influence stereotypical thinking and expectations.
- Male and female college students possessing more favourable attitudes towards gender equality also expressed greater favourability towards terms ‘flight attendant’ instead of stewardess
This shows that gender related beliefs systems can lead people to adopt certain language forms
- Participants completed sentences by choosing among pronouns and nouns e/g / he/she/the client / him or her. Participants with stronger sexist attitudes chose non-sexist pronouns less frequently than participants with less sexist attitudes
This shows a link between sexist attitudes and language use
- Cralley and Ruscher – non-sexist men used gender inclusive language primarily when not cognitively busy with another task
Tis shows such language use requires explicit, intentional decision making
- Swimmer al’s participants described how they would act as the main character in 3 scenarios involving a nurse, business executive, and a professor and those who enclosed modern sexual beliefs used more sexist pronouns to refer to people in the story.
This shows individual differences in gendered belief systems, including gender ole identity and endorsement of modern sexist beliefs are associated with use of gender inclusive language
- Ouellette and Wood 1998, Verplanken and Aarts 1999
Language use also may be guided by less deliberate mechanisms perhaps activated habitually by environmental cues.
‘As a tool of social practice, language functions as a device not only for transferring information, but also for expressing social categorisations and hierarchies’
- Language contributes to construction and communication of gender
- Fits in with larger debate as it effects how we view people I/e/ if you read the term nursery teacher you think of female or If you read the word builder you think male – this shows how language categorises into gender specific roles
‘The generic use of masculine forms prevailing in many languages has far-reaching consequences in restricting the degree of female visibility’
- There are negative consequences for using this type of language
- Women are less visible than men and are disadvantaged due to this language
- Fits in with larger debate as it means females may perceive a lack of fit between themselves and potential job prospect when masculine forms are used rather than gender inclusive terms – has this powerful effects because it is a subtle way of conveying information and stereotypes about men and women – sexist/ not a balanced representation
‘Habitual forms of speech could develop through imitation and shared social norms or could be initially practiced deliberately until they become habits’
- The root of these habits always stems from social ideologies and ideas regarding women
- Relates to wider debate – once habits form they are brought up automatically and are performed with minimal input, increasing use of gender exclusive language
‘Gender inclusive language is a part of both deliberate and habitual factors’
- Some people mindlessly used sexist language forms as they had in the past – more likely to rely on the standard language form without considering alternatives and implications for social change
- Some used or failed to use gender inclusive forms more deliberately – acting on intentions along with positive or negatives attitudes towards it.
‘Due to the close link between language and cognitive representations, language use activates associated cognitive concepts’
- Language use perpetuates stereotypical thinking and expectations
- Use of gendered pronouns and nouns convey meaning about a person and their likely disposition
‘Sexist beliefs would indirectly influence gender- inclusive language use by affecting attitudes, norms and perceived behavioural control which in turn, would influence intentions and habits’
- Definite link between gender inclusive language use and sexist beliefs and attitudes
- Joint influence of deliberate and habitual processes
- Broader issue of social representation of genders
Crying Whorf – Through the Language Glass – How Words Colour your World – Guy Deutscher 2010
What is the central contortion of the essay?
The essay focusses on the beliefs of linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, both of which developed the idea of ‘linguistic relativity’, they claimed that the structure of a language affects the way in which it’s respective speakers think about and perceive the world around them, the author of this essay discusses this idea and gives insight to reasons why today it is seen as ‘farfetched’ or ‘bogus’ but also how the notion of language affecting thought isn’t something that should be dismissed completely.
- Nootka language – There is no verb that corresponds to the English verb ‘to fall’ when describing the state of a specific falling object, this language however uses the verb ‘to stone’ for example to refer to the movement of a stone in particular. This verb is combine with the word ‘down’ to describe the act of the stone falling. Therefore in Nootka the act of a stone falling would be translated as ‘It stones down’. This is clearly different to the English interpretation, this arises the question of; does this mean that speakers of different languages with this degree of variation see things differently to each other?
- Hopi language – Whorf made Hopi famous as he stated that it had ‘no concept of time’ and ‘has zero dimensions’ e.g. he said they do not say “I stayed for five days” but “I left on the fifth day”. He then went on to claim that someone who has only ever known this language and the cultural ideas of their own society would be unlikely to share the same notions of time and space that we have. I think the author disagrees with Whorf as he mentions how Whorf did no actual fieldwork on this language and used information he found out though a Hopi informant in NYC. The author also mentions how a book written by Ekkehart Malotki disputes his research by providing numerous expressions for time used within the Hopi language.
- The Matses tribe – Their language was discovered by David Fleck who found that it compels them to make distinctions of ‘mind-blowing subtlety’ whenever they report on events. E.g. the three degree of pastness found in the Matses language; You cannot just say that someone ‘passed by there.’, you have to specify with verb endings whether this even took place in the recent past (up to a month ago), the distant past (from around a month ago to fifty years), or the remote past (more than fifty years ago). In the Matses language if an event in reported but the incorrect verb form is used, what they are saying is considered a lie and an event cannot be reported in the present tense. This language shows how different languages can vary in the kinds of information that they oblige their speakers to convey. The author doesn’t agree that the Matses think differently because of their language as he mentions who, despite their required amount of detail we can still understand them and can easily express them in English.
- What other theorists does the author refer to?
Wilhelm Von Humboldt – He travelled to Spain in 1799 and was intrigued with the Basque people and their language as it differed greatly to the other European languages, described as ‘being from a different stock’. Once home, he decided to look into this new language but came up short after finding little to no reliable information, thus deciding to carry out serious fieldwork in attempt to learn the language first hand. During this experience he began to realise the extent to which the structure of the language diverged from everything else he knew and from what he had previously taken as the only natural from of grammar. This unveiled to him that not all languages derived from Latin. He then went on to look into other remote languages and argued that ‘The differences between languages, is not only in sounds and signs but in world view. Herein is found the reason and ultimate goal of all the study of language’ and ‘Thinking is dependent not just on language in general but to a certain extent on each individual language.’ He also claimed that grammatical differences not only reflect pre-existing differences in thought but are responsible for shaping these differences in the first place. I think the author neither fully agrees or disagrees with his findings, for example he notes how, due to what we now know today, Humboldt’s findings ‘barely scratched the surface’, therefore I believe the author may agree with some of what Humboldt argued but see’s what other have found since to be of higher value.
Franz Boas – In 1938 he made an observations about the role of grammar in language, writing that ‘grammar performs another important function in addition to determining the relationship between words in a sentence. That it determines the aspects of each experience that must be expressed.’ He also said that obligatory aspects vary greatly between languages.’ – I think the author agrees with this idea as later on in the text he builds on it how to show that what a language allows you to say with the words provided is not necessarily linked to ones understanding of the world.
Six important quotations:
“Our mother tongue determines the way we think and perceive the world” – Here the author is showing the view of Sapir and Whorf which he then goes on to explain is an ‘idea of disgrace”, as he does not believe this is true, the rest of the essay is centred on this view.
“So there is a profound difference in the way our languages express the event of raining, but does this mean that you and I have to experience rain in a different way?” – Here the author is using rhetorical questions to provoke the reader to think about what he is saying. As mentioned many languages have different ways of saying things but it is likely that they don’t experience or think about the situation they are talking about in a different way to someone of a different mother tongue, as Sapir and Whorf believed.
“Do Germans, whose language uses one and the same word for ‘when’ and ‘if’, fail to understand the difference between what might happen and what will happen?” – Here the author is once again using rhetorical questions as a means of going against Sapir and Whorfs belief, as it would seem absurd that a language as popular and advanced as German would not allow its speakers to understand the difference between when and if.
“The crucial differences between languages are not in what each language allows its speakers to express – for in theory any language could express anything – but in what information each language obliges its speakers to express” – This quote shows that the differences in mother tongue do not affect the way in which people think, however the way in which the language allows them to put forward their thoughts changes between languages due to how the language allows them to say it.
Do you find the authors argument convincing?
Yes I think the author convincingly argues reasons why Sapir and Whorfs beliefs cannot be taken as seriously in the modern world. He has found counter arguments against Whorfs beliefs such as the Hopi language not possessing a concept of time and has continuously used his own opinions throughout with reasons or examples as to why something is or isn’t true, by showing evidence of his points through examples this makes the essay appear legitimate and therefore convincing. He uses the example of the word ‘factivity’, stating that unless you are a professional linguist you would not know of or understand this word, but this does not mean that your mother tongue prevents you from understanding it and as there is no evidence that any language forbids its speakers from thinking anything, the individual mother tongue cannot be said to influence what a speaker can or cannot think.
Other Key Quotations:
“Since language is the forming organ of thought, there must be an intimate relation between the laws of grammar and the laws of thinking” – Wilhelm von Humboldt
This quote from Humboldt again supports the Sapir-Whorf theory of language, saying that our grammar is influencing how we think.
“Hopi time has zero dimensions” “It cannot be given a number greater than 1” instead of “I stayed 5 days” “I left on the 5th day”
From Whorf’s studies on the Hopi that back up his argument of language changing the way we think, because of Hopi language having a different set of words for the concept of time, they do not see it the same way as English speakers do but still can understand it
“Thinking” he concluded, “is dependent not just on language in general but to a certain extent on each individual language” – Humboldt
Humboldt’s quote again supports the theory, saying that thinking is based on each different language, rather than just language in general, saying that different languages affect how people think
“The real difference between languages, [Humbolt] argued, are not in what a language is able to express but rather in what it encourages and stimulates its speakers to do from its own inner force.”
Deutscher again quotes Humboldt in saying that each language “simulates” its speaker to do something based on its “inner force” for example, think differently, and that is how languages should be differentiated, this also explains how different languages do not change how someone views the world, but the language that they use does
“So there is a profound difference in the way our languages express the idea of “raining”, but does this mean that you and I have to experience rain in a different way?”
With this quote Deutscher is almost questioning Sapir-Whorf’s theory, by saying that even though languages express raining “differently” people who speak different languages do not think of rain any differently (disagree with strong SW)
One of the common arguments against the strong Sapir-Whorf theory is that if each language represents a different reality and creates different thoughts, how can work be translated from one language to another? Yet essays / books and so forth are translated regularly with ease. But the weak theory…
Politics and the English Language by George Orwell (1946)
There are a few main points that George Orwell talks about throughout the essay, such as language being ‘an instrument for expressing thought’. Political language is another main focus for Orwell, he comments that political language mainly consists of ‘euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness’ this is one of the stronger points through the essay as he talks about what happens in political writing and speech and the effect it has on the audience. Throughout the whole essay George Orwell comments on how the English language is old but also becoming more simplistic perhaps due to our culture.
What examples does the author use?
George Orwell gives various examples of ways in which the English language is becoming weaker and lacking meaning. He puts them into categories such as: dying metaphors, operators or verbal false limbs, pretentious diction, meaningless words. He comments that ‘dying metaphors’ are old metaphors which have become more like everyday words and therefore do not create a visual image with the audience. People often use these without knowing the true meaning behind the metaphors, this may be due to how over time they have been used more frequently by people that they lost all true meaning and became vague. Even the spellings can be changed to fit a particular meaning more suited for the speaker for example ‘toe the line’ can become ‘tow the line’.
What other theorists does the author refer to (or could refer to)?
George Orwell could refer to Sapir-Whorf when he talks about how taking a moment to think about what we are going to say could change the language said, improving it. Or even stopping ourselves from falling into the trap of saying the everyday terms. Linking all of this with Sapir-Whorf would create an interesting theory as they believe that the language spoken and thought are interlinked however they believe more strongly in language controlling thought whereas Orwell thinks it could work well both ways.
Six important quotations:
‘The defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning’ the importance of this quotation is that because people are using words which contain more syllables and perhaps is used among those with a higher status. However the word ‘democracy’ has been used so much over the past that perhaps those using the word are not entirely sure of what they are saying which would result in the fear of being tied down. Various meanings that there may be a cultural confusion in what democracy is however as they are all debating over politics and the link to the word, each individual thinks they are correct. They cannot be proven wrong nor right because society has allowed various meanings to be invented to fit the needs of whoever is speaking because they did not have time or could not be bothered to create a word to fit how they actually felt.
The next quote I have chosen is very short because Orwell gets straight to the point with what he is trying to say and gives us the main focus immediately, the quote is ‘political writing is bad’. I have chosen this as an important quote because it expresses Orwell’s opinion on the matter of political writing and follows the his criticisms of how to get across meaning it just has to be simplistic rather than using larger words which lead to vagueness, which political writing is often guilty of. Saying this causes us the reader to want to understand how, as we often listen to political speeches and are told they are good due to many factors, such as metaphors. However Orwell informs us that in fact they are often vague and ‘is designed to make lies sound truthful’.
‘If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought’ personally I found this thought similar to Sapir-Whorf where language effects thought. It is a statement which cannot truly have a stable correct answer because nobody knows which controls which. Having this at the start of a paragraph makes the reader begin to wonder which one is the stronger argument. Could changing thoughts improve our language? Or could changing the language mean we have more thoughts, more developed metaphors, verbs, and adjectives?
‘The mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose’ this ties in the idea that the English language is no longer precise and the use of ‘complex’ words is no longer true because they have been used so much that they are now part of everyday language and no longer have a creative impact, but as a society we are too lazy to stop and think of anything new because it is too convenient to use something that already exists.
The argument made by Orwell was well constructed as he explained the reasons for his arguments and negative comments. However he does not include any true examples or data supporting his ideas about language being weaker and vaguer as it is due to his thoughts. Words with more syllables can be used in the wrong context therefore causing a sentence to become vague but often in political writing they are used with the correct terminology and create a greater image for the audience. If political writing was bad like Orwell said, politics would be less popular as people would not understand. Yet those who do take interest, do understand points made in politics which enables them to either disagree or agree with issues.
Orwell slags off political writing because it seeks to confuse and be vague – to hide what is really happening. If Political correctness seeks to mask society’s racism, sexism, etc. – isn’t that a bad thing?
However, as Orwell concedes “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought” – therefore wouldn’t he agree that the PC project, if not advisable, is at least possible: to shape the way we see the world and undermine negative stereotyping and prejudiced thinking by controlling the language in general use?
Power & Deception – Language the Loaded Weapon by Dwight Bolinger 1980
The central idea of the essay is exploring how language is used to deceive people. This includes by lying, withholding the truth, using euphemism and dysphemism, manipulation of word meanings and avoiding using certain words.
For example in advertising, certain words are avoided as they conjure up a bad image: ‘fun size’ is used instead of ‘small’ as ‘small’ suggests that you are getting something inferior, less than you wanted. Also the word ‘rinse’ is used instead of ‘dye’ as people are reluctant to admit that they dye their own hair due to the negative reputation it has, therefore ‘rinse’ sounds more appealing.
Additionally, in the food industry, the adjective ‘natural’ can be used as a wide range of produce could be classed as ‘natural’. It deceives the consumer into thinking that what they’re buying is good for them, however once ‘100% natural fibre’ turned out to be wood pulp added to bread.
In surveys, words can be used to deceive and mislead the survey taker. In a survey about a car crash, the word ‘hit’ had a different connotation to the word ‘smash’ therefore when the word ‘smash’ was used in the question, the people remembered the crash a lot worse than when the word ‘hit’ was used.
Six important quotations:
‘Advertising requires no microscope. Its euphemisms add up to a world of promise grander than life’. Advertising can get away with deceiving the consumer by using euphemisms, and as long as they are not lying about the product, they do not come under scrutiny. The consumer can be manipulated by using certain words to create a positive image of the product, glossing over it’s flaws, to help it sell.
‘The military of course only have to work harder because they have so much to tone down’. This refers to the military using certain words to convince people that what is occurring isn’t as bad as it is and to keep morale high. For example ‘dead bodies’ are referred to as ‘casualties’ or ‘fatalities’, which deceives people into thinking that these deaths are simply a side effect of war.
“collateral damage” – modern example
‘A device similar to the missing agent in a passive is the missing conclusion in a comparative construction’. In advertising, advertisers can get away with saying that a product is, for example, ‘better’ or ‘quieter’ than another unspecified object. Not specifying what the product is ‘better’ than allows the advertiser to deceive the customer, without actually lying. (Ford Example – the ford car is “500% quitter” – but than what? Other cars? No. Than the outside.)
‘syntactic functions of elements in the sentence can be used to partisan advantage’. This refers to how the word order of a sentence can be used to deceive the reader. ‘Bike collides with car’ suggests that the cyclist is at fault, whereas ‘car collides with bike’ places the blame on the driver. Although the collision was mutual, the word order can be manipulated to place the blame on one party.
‘Euphemism is everyman’s sin. Dysphemism is more selective’. Although there is little bad naming in advertising, there is a great deal of it in politics, for example. Words are used to de-humanise certain groups of people. For example in WW2, Hitler referred to the Jews as ‘creatures’, to create an image of them as parasites, vermin etc. This manipulated many peoples opinion of Jews.
‘It’s hard to draw the line between euphemism and mystification’. It can be difficult to tell whether someone is just using euphemism or is purposely misleading you in order to get what they want.
“Literalism is a common safeguard in commercial advertising and labelling” – implies that literalism is used to hide the truth in advertising by tricking the reader. The author here is informing the reader how literalism is used to alter the viewer’s perceptions.
“Literalism is also a smokescreen” – The author here again is implying that it is used to trick the reader as a distraction technique.
“Crafted for manufactured” – The author here is explaining how certain synonyms are used interchangeably in order to delude the public that, in this case, something has been carefully and lovingly made by hand.
“Euphemism is everyman’s sin. Dysphemism is more selective” – Here I believe the author is suggesting that since dysphemism’s allow people to convey how they truly feel regarding a particular subject, it is better in comparison to euphemisms which create a smokescreen
“Loaded words can influence memory as well as perception” – He implies that words of similar denotations yet different connotations. He continues by providing an example.
I do think the author puts forward a convincing argument and it enlightened me as to how my views and opinions can be manipulated by the words used, the word order, or even how it is said. People may argue that the author is looking too deeply into the language used, and that the public cannot be swayed so easily, however I believe this kind of subtle manipulation of thoughts using language is very prevalent in our society, particularly by advertising and the media.
Key Questions for PC
- If language can be used to manipulate us – e.g. buy a car we don’t need – then surely language can be used to create a more positive and respectful society.
- Is political correctness a matter of obfuscation? i.e. is it like using euphemisms to disguise what we are talking about? Is PC a lie?
- Language is meant to facilitate a clear description of how things are – but can it ever be truly objective / fully transparent?
- The speaker / writer always has an agenda – is PC just another layer of bias making communication difficult?
Language and Political Correctness: ‘Verbal Hygiene’, Deborah Cameron, 1995
- the negative portrayal of political correctness in the mass media has shaped society’s views on political correctness.
- Introduces the idea of verbal hygiene, which is ‘the urge to meddle in matters of language’, and argues that it is an attempt to impose order on the social world and a way to make sense of language. (or Allyson Jule said that according to http://grammar.about.com/od/tz/g/verbalhygieneterm.htm)
Throughout the entirety of her essay, Cameron takes a fairly neutral stance regarding the idea of political correctness; she appears to take several arguments into account, weighs them analytically, yet never takes a distinctive side herself. She considers the effect that political correctness has in relation to differing political parties (and their supporters), as well as political movements (such as feminism), and recipients of such parties/movements: the civilians. This leads her into taking the idiosyncratic (at least, at the time of publication) stance that political correctness is not a threat to our freedom of expression as language users, but rather something that “threatens only our freedom to imagine that our linguistic choices are inconsequential” – or, in other words, that we can say whatever we want, but we must be prepared to face the consequences, something which she is attempting to convey to the reader.
This is because a user of the English language can no longer use said language without revealing their own political stance, to some degree, as language choice has “altered the value of terms and removed the option of political neutrality.” If one were to refer to refer to a “chairman” as opposed to a “chairperson”, for instance, they could be said to be discrediting women as equal to men, and in doing so demonstrating an indifference to the feminist movement. While not exactly to be seen as misogyny, this does belittle the feminist movement, and hold it back in doing so. Cameron says that this politicizing of their own words, against their will, is “what people dislike” about political correctness.
Cameron states that, “considered in its totality”, political correctness is a debate about how “democracies made up of diverse populations subscribing to a variety of beliefs and customs are to preserve a common culture.” Here, she is effectively saying that when considering political correctness as a whole, it becomes a means of preserving social solidarity amongst people of differing social, ethnic, and political backgrounds. In trying to form a common language in society, it is hoped that a common culture will follow – since language is said to be reflective of society. The opposite of this would be a society without a common language, and thus a society of fragmentation between different people, be it on account of race, gender, social, political, or ethnic backgrounds.
Cameron explains how the media can prevent this from happening, on account of the “discursive drift”. As interest has grown in political correctness, the debate has been taken up in the mass media, where certain keywords have undergone this discursive drift. With political correctness comes a range of neologisms (newly-created words), and the media can reference these words far quicker than other forms of communication (such as word-of-mouth, face-to-face communication), but the words are often not met with sufficient context, and so their meaning must be inferred by the recipient. This can often lead to misunderstandings, where the words are taken to mean different things by different people, and so it begins to “drift” away from its intended meaning. This means that these neologisms can begin to “lose their precision, acquire connotations they did not have before, and start to overlap with other forms from which they were once distinguished.” As Cameron goes on to explain, the word “gender” is now used as a polite way of saying “sex”, a synonym, but when feminists first put the word “into circulation”, their intention was to use it as a technical term taking its meaning as a contrast with “sex” and meant to show the contrast between the biological and the social, not the more and less polite usage.
With regards to other theorists, Cameron writes that many linguists did not feel the need to put their own views across, while those who did offered only “contradictory and simplistic statements.” David Crystal is one such linguist, as he notes that the feminist campaign against sexist language was among the most successful instances of prescriptivism (1984). By this, we can assume that Crystal is simply saying that said feminists have successfully managed to elevate their idea of language as superior to other forms – probably on account of the fear of sounding sexist. Cameron herself is not supportive of Crystal’s stance, and says that his view on the matter “glosses over” the subject, and results in this being infrequently discussed, on account of an “over simple assumption.”
Overall, I find that Cameron’s argument is not particularly convincing: the topics that she touches upon are interesting and well-explained, but she fails to offer much in way of her own opinions regarding the matters; her essay lacks substance. Her part on the discursive drift is very well put, and I agree with her saying that the mass media can sometimes be held accountable for confusion regarding the meaning of a neologism, in that it does not always offer sufficient context. However, the fact that she argues that some theorists such as David Crystal simply gloss over the subject of increasing feminist neologisms is fairly hypercritical, in that she barely goes on to elaborate on this, herself.
- A typo in an American newspaper read “back in the African American” instead of “back in the black” This suggests a find and replace tool has been used to remove the deemed unpolitically correct ‘black’ and replace it with ‘african-american’. The story of the newpapers error made bigger news than the original story which shows how negativity surround PC is a big focus for the media.
- She uses an analogy of Humpty Dumpty and Alice, where Humpty claims that when he uses a word, it means whatever he chooses it to mean. This means Alic must infer meanings and this may result in miscommunication. Cameron asks the question “how would we communicate if everyone acted like Humpty Dumpty?” This shows that without some form of restriction and control we would struggle to make sense of language.
- She suggests the phrase “politically correct” has undergone discursive drift, meaning that since it has been taken up in mass media it’s meaning has began to drift away from it’s original one. Cameron argues that it’s portrayal in the media is very detached from its present context and thus the public have developed a very general idea of the term PC.
- Cameron also uses the example of sexism and the debate on use of non-inclusive job titles as one of the less radical sides of PC. She suggests that there is need for it to be equal to both male and female sexes and there are many persuasive arguments for and against this issue, which relates to the bigger issue as this is also the case with PC.
Cameron quotes Abraham H Miller when discussing the fact that the discourse around political correctness comes from those who oppose it. Cameron discusses this, saying that people who do not understand verbal hygiene should not oppose it. This supports the larger argument that the media has portrayed PC wrongly in the media causing people to be confused about what it is and see only the fact that it is almost ‘policing our langauge’. This causes them to fear and oppose PC.
“It pushes to the limit established belief about what a language is, or ideally should be and therefore it causes considerable anxiety.”
—Here Cameron is explaining the effect verbal hygiene has on language and that this can provoke fear upon the language users causing them to dislike it. This raises one of the reasons there are such negative connotations surrounding PC.
“How would we communicate if everyone acted like Humpty Dumpty”
—Cameron argues that if everyone chooses what they mean when using a term, ie have a less controlled language, it would be very difficult for us to communicate effectively as everyone infers things in different ways and wrong assumptions can be made. This is one reason why having some sort of code of conduct with language can help it function better as well as stop perpetuating negative stereotypes.
“Do we control language or does it control us?”
—Cameron uses this rhetorical question to make readers question this fact as on the one hand, we could control the language and communicate easily and effectively without shaping society’s views, or we could use language freely and consequently perpetuate negative stereotypes and in a sense be controlled by language.
“Getting rid of this mystification does not magically produce consensus, but it clears the ground for more focused arguments about what (and whose) restrictions on our linguistic practice were are or are not willing to accept. “
—Cameron argues for verbal hygiene as it identifies linguistic practices that perpetuate stereotypes highlighting larger issues in society, and that it is a way of controlling and understanding the language we use in a very critical way. This is persuasive as it makes the reader feel as though they are able to have an input into language.
I agree that PC has had a very harsh and trivial portrayal in the mass media resulting in a negative reputation, and for this reason the values of today are to be against verbal hygiene.
When discussing the positive impact PC has, she explains how it addresses issues in society rather than supressing them and helpt to make sense of and control our language. I agree with these points to an extent as language change is fundamental in society, and it is important to stop perpetuating negative stereotypes. However, new words always come about, for example the term ‘spastic’ was deemed offensive so changed to ‘retarded’, which now also has negative connotations. I also think that some views are instilled into society through morals and not just language so the negative connotations will always manifest themselves in the language as long as people still have those views.
Man Made Language: To Believe or not to Believe by Dale Spender (1980)
The central point of the essay is whether women should change their language, to accommodate men and how they believe women should speak. The author seems to argue against this point and believes both men and women should be treated equally in language.
The author uses Dubois and Crouch as an example of how men and women are assumed to be different in language, however the case is not what most people would assume. They found that ‘men were found to use more tag questions than women’ whereas the case is believed to be that women used more tag question as they ‘exercised hesitancy and qualification.’ This suggests that women are constantly unsure of themselves, causing them to check with others that they are correct- e.g. ‘isn’t that right?’ However there is a difference with forceful tag questions and tentative tag questions that means this theory cannot be proven, as women may be being forceful ‘you will do that, won’t you?’ rather than being unsure of themselves. Similarly the author uses Jespersen as an example when he stated ‘women lacked such qualities and could make no such contribution, their language was perceived as a threat’ which suggests that women have no place in being upset or believing that the linguistic rules are wrong, as they have made no contributions to language. The author, however, states that Jespersen had no evidence and was overlooked by his modern counterparts, which disproved his theory.
The author refers to Robin Lakoff throughout the article, as she claims that there is something wrong with women’s language that makes them deficient, ‘women are tentative, hesitant, even trivial’. However the author disagrees with this as they believe that the women are measured against the male norm, and the two have different linguistic features, which means that women do speak differently to men but that isn’t to say women’s language is wrong, or unsure of itself. Lakoff also claims that when a person states ‘he is a professional’ people have the idea of a lawyer or a doctor, as men are taken more seriously than women, who would be perceived or assumed to be prostitutes is they were said to be ‘professional.’ This is because men use language to perceive women negatively, even if this is not the case, clearly there are double standards when using the same word for men and women, due to men historically creating linguistic rules.
‘Once a name or a word become associated with women it is rarely again used for men.’ This can be proven, when previously a ‘slut’ was a male who was negligent of his appearance, however over time this word changed to mean a sexually promiscuous woman, showing how words used negatively for women were not previously used, however possibly due to social changes, or language changes, these words have changed to a different meaning of a woman, not used again for men.
Virginia Woolf said ‘the history of England is the history of the male line’ is referring to how women always take the last name of a man, and not the other way round as women became somewhat of property to men in the past, or a sex object through marriage. This could tie in with how women are perceived to be more sexually promiscuous (200 words associated with women, 20 with men) and so have to take the male name to carry on his family line, therefore dating back to men originally in the past.
Kramer said ‘a talkative woman is one who talks as much as a man’ suggesting that people perceive women to be the talkative ones in society, however studies show that women are the ones who talk less and men are socially more adapted to talk. However as a woman’s language is less valued, their speech is not taken into consideration or listened to as much, which is why people believe that any talking is irrelevant and therefore, too much.
I do believe the argument by the author is convincing as they give lots of evidence and other theorists to refer to, throughout history, showing modern and old fashioned view points.
Similarly in the last paragraph they state ‘I do not accept the deficiency of women’ or the concomitant supremacy of males: this is my bias’ which gives a valid reason for all the arguments within the essay, and the reason for the conclusion that patriarchy and males making the linguistic rules are the reason for women’s oppression.
- The suppression of women is hardwired into our language in complex ways
- It’s not just a matter of certain words – e.g. (200 words associated with women, 20 with men, for sexually promiscuous) – not just that the word “slag” or “tart” exists
- Can PC get rid of sexism in language? Avoiding certain words won’t be enough. (is that all PC is?)
- What else can we do to speak in a politically correct way other than avoiding certain words?
- Can we change the way we speak of / to women? Can we change the way we relate to women in our language style?
Man Made Language – Language and Reality by Dale Spender (1980)
The central contention of the essay is the question of who decided on the division, organization and classification of our language and the understanding of how this creation was accomplished. The author argues that language is a limitation to our world and constructs our reality, giving those in powers, in this case men, the ability to manipulate our world in the favour of themself. Also that our language is ‘only ever serving as an approximation’ suggesting he does not trust the system of order that has been constructed as it has no hard evidence.
Spender uses the example of the brain. The brain too can only deal in symbols and never known the ‘real’ thing. And the programme for encoding and decoding those symbols, for translating and calculating, is set up by the language which we possess. What we see in the world around us depends in a large part on the principles we have encoded in our language. This particular example is evidence that when one principle that has been encoded in our language, such as sexism, the implication for ‘reality’ can readily be seen. When there are a sexist language and sexist theories culturally available, the observation of reality is also likely to be sexist. This makes language a paradox for human beings as it is both a creative and an inhibiting vehicle. On the one hand it offers immense freedom as it allows us to ‘create’ the world we live in but also we are restricted by that creation, limited to its confines and fearing any modifications to the structures we have initially created. This constitutes language as a trap.
Other theorists the author refers to is Alan Chalmers (1978). Chalmers tackles some of the misapprehensions that are held about science and scientific method, whereby the naming of something as ‘science’ has implied ‘some kind of merit, or special kind of reliability’. Spender agrees with Chalmers to an extent as he too takes up some of the issues of language, thought and reality when he readily demonstrates that not all of human beings – scientists included – are led to the same view of the world by the same physical evidence, for what observers see when they view an object or event ‘is not determined solely by the images on their retinas but depends also on the experience, knowledge, expectations and general inner state of the observer’ which, as Chalmers illustrates, may very often be culturally specific which is largely determined by language.
“The growth of every human being is a slow process of learning ‘the rules of seeing’, without which we could not in any ordinary sense see the world around us.” The point Spender is trying to make here is that the information that we receive through our senses from the material world around us has to be interpreted according to certain human rules, before what we ordinarily call ‘reality’ forms. The author is trying to convince the reader that human beings cannot envisage a world constructed in any other way than what we have already created by our language. Another important quote is “it could be said that out of nowhere we invented sexism, we created the arbitrary and approximate categories as male-as-norm and female deviant”. Spender is trying to convince the reader that the supposed ‘language trap’ that the male dominant created in theory, was all in their own interest. The author makes the point that given that language is such an influential force in shaping our world, it is obvious that those who have the power to make the symbols and their meanings are in a privileged and highly advantageous position.
e.g. For every major religion the word “meaning” has different connotations and even a different denotation – has this implications for PC ? How words shape our view of the world? Or our view of the world shape our language?
Dale Spender’s Language Trap – can PC counteract it?
An example the author uses of the way language has constructed our reality is sexism, they argue that we invented sexism by constructing categories and thought patterns which we have now been trapped in through language. They believe this has formed due to males being the dominant group produced language, thought and reality in a way that shaped the world to consolidate their male supremacy.
Furthermore the author discusses the way language impacts the way we think, shaping our world. An example used is that when observers view an object or event it is not determined solely by the images on their retinas but depends on experiences, knowledge, expectations and general inner state of the observer.
What other theorists does the author refer to?
The author refers to James Britton who argues that ‘the objects and events of the world do not present themselves to us ready classified’ therefore he argues that we divide them, specifically men divide them and have created a world in which women must inhibit.
Susanne Langer is discussed due to her view that humans are symbolising creatures and we are constantly engaged in the process of producing symbols as a means of categorising and organising our world. Like the author, she believes it is foolish to have complete faith in the system of order we have constructed because it is imperfect and only ever serves as an approximation and it is our capacity to symbolize and the use we make of the symbols we construct that constitutes the area of language, thought and reality.
Richard and Gilman looked into the nature of languages telling us about the hierarchical structure of male-female relationships, and example is the use of ‘he’ and ‘man’ as terms to denote a male, but on occasion to encompass a female. The author sees this as a convenient means for creating difficulty for women by representing them as a male term and making women invisible and ‘blanketing’ them under a male term.
‘It is language which determines the limits of our world, which constructs reality’
Here the author is arguing that the creation of language has limited our mind to only the concepts which we are able to use language to understand, this limits our reality by restricting the brain to what we already know. Here the author has used this quotation in a way to convince the reader that we are being held back as a society due to the infinite source of language.
‘On the other hand it offers immense freedom for it allows us to create the world we live in; that so many different cultures have created so many different worlds is testimony to this enormous and varied capacity.’
Here the author looks at the opposing view of Berger and Luckermann who have the view that language is ‘world openness’ , however disagrees as he believes we are restricted by the creation, limited to its confines.
‘Given that language is such an influential force in shaping our world it is obvious that those who have the power to make the symbols and their meanings are in a privileged and highly advantageous position’
This quote is argument of men have created our language to suit their own ends and hold the power to ordain a structure of language, thought and reality has the potential to create a world in which they are the central figures, while those who are not of their group are peripheral and may be exploited.
“It is Men who have made the world which women must inhabit.”
Spender is saying that men are the ones who have made the rules of language and that is why we have many male linguistic terms, such as “mankind”. This is turn, creates a gender biased language where women feel left out of language and to which, many feminists see as sexist.
“Language is a shaper of ideas; it is the programme for mental activity.”
This means that different languages have different terms to describe and explain ideas which allow different people to shape their ideas. This shows us that language changes how different languages change the perception of the world.
“Language is a paradox for human beings: it is both a creative and an inhibiting vehicle.”
This shows that, language offers immense freedom for it allows us to create the world we live in; that so many different cultures have created so many different “worlds” is testimony to this enormous and varied capacity. But on the other hand we are restricted by that creation, limited to its confines, and it appears, we resist fear and dread any modifications to structures we initially created.
“We as humans have created sexism; we created the arbitrary and approximate categories of male-as-norm and female as deviant.”
Spender is saying that, having constructed these categories in our language and thought patterns, we have created a pervasive trap that we cannot envisage a world constructed on any other lines.
“’He’/’man’ makes women outsiders, and not just metaphorically.”
Through the use of “he/man” women cannot take their existence for granted: they must constantly seek confirmation that they are included in the human species. The only way women can achieve humanity is by labelling themselves as man and this means losing their identity.
Overall the author argues that language is the influence of thought and reality and our world has been shaped by this, through the actions of men. Throughout the article this argument is held through evidence such as historical structures, categories and meanings that have been invented by males and they have been validated by reference to other males, therefore women play little or no role. However, the author does not take into account other factors which may influence the way our language forms a reality, not just gender roles.
1984 (Chapter 5), George Orwell – (1948)
Chapter 5 of 1984 is a discussion between characters about the progression of ‘newspeak’, a variation of the English language that will ‘narrow the range of thought’ by reducing the number of words with the aim of stopping independent and rebellious thoughts, meaning that ‘thoughtcrime’ would become impossible.
In the chapter examples of ‘newspeak’ are used by one of the characters who is involved in developing it. The explain how because we have the word ‘good’, there is no need for the word ‘bad’, and that instead ‘ungood’ would be a better option because it is the exact opposite of ‘good’. They then go on to explain how if you have the word ‘good’, there is no need for words like ‘excellent’, because you can instead extend it to be ‘plusgood’ or even ‘doubleplusgood’-The idea of this being that the whole notion of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is covered by only a single word, ‘good’.
Even though George Orwell wrote 1984 before Political Correctness as a theory properly developed, a lot of what is discussed and described by the characters is still important. The idea that a group of people have the power to decide what words you can and cannot use is significant considering today we have something similar happening with groups of people, such as council workers, deciding what can and cannot be said, all with the aim of political correctness. Sapir-Whorf’s ideas on Linguistic Determinism and Linguistic Relativism are similar to those in the book. In 1984 Syme describes ‘oldspeak’ as vague and having useless shades of meaning, however ultimately the point of creating a whole new language is not to remove this so called vagueness, but to strip a person’s creativity in language and control what they say, meaning they cannot have rebellious thoughts. They have the belief that because the language has changed and reduces the number of possible words, people therefore cannot speak negatively and so the language they speak will not determine or influence the world around them.
However language can only go so far, and just because you are speaking in one way, does not mean that you are thinking in another. Political correctness today often only restricts what a person can say, but doesn’t actually change the way they think. The view by some people to change ‘Christmas’ to ‘Winterval’ as so not to exclude non-christians would not stop people from thinking it as ‘Christmas’, and therefore goes against the idea that the language we speak influences how we think. Similarly, in 1984, you can consider how even with ‘newspeak’ fully implemented, there is now way of stopping people from having negative thoughts, even with the lack of vocabulary someone could still decide that something or someone is ‘ungood’.
Ultimately I believe that even though 1984 is not a modern text, it is still relevant today when looking at how Political Correctness plays a part in our lives. While the idea of ‘Newspeak’ (reducing the number of words as much as possible so that thoughtcrime becomes impossible and the state maintains their power) is largely different to the aim of Political Correctness, I still believe that it’s important to consider how Political Correctness often just masks the true meaning of what people are trying to say, similar to how the true meaning of what people who speak ‘newspeak’ will also supposedly also be masked because they don’t have the vocabulary to say it.
Although Orwell did not write 1984 against the idea of political correctness (as the theory of PC didn’t come around till much later) for many people, large parts of 1984 could be applied to the theory of political correctness. For example, in 1984, Orwell sates that ‘controlling’ the way people speak and changing their language is an authoritarian strategy to change the way people think.
An example of how Orwell attempts to make the concept of people having their speech ‘controlled’ seem authoritarian is from the quote “How can you have the slogan ‘freedom is slavery’ when the concept of freedom has been abolished” This shows how Orwell believes that if the word for freedom is removed, then people will never experience ‘freedom’ again. He is also arguing that controlling how people speak is almost removing their freedoms. This shows how he believes PC is controlling of people.
This is the strong Sapir=-Whorf hypothesis – you cannot think outside of your language – if there’s no word for it, there’s no idea. (comprehensively proven false – no one accepts this anymore)
Although, at the time Orwell did not know it he was almost presenting the original ideas of Sapir and Whorf, as they originally believed that the language we use shapes how we view the world; instead of just influencing how we view the world. For example, in the previous paragraph Orwell believed that if the word “freedom” was no longer used in the English language or by one group of people, then these people would not be as ‘free’ as a community where a word for freedom existed. In this case Orwell may agree with the original hypothesis presented by Sapir and Whorf, however this fictional text was written before the theory of political correctness came about and before Sapir and Whorf had presented their hypothesis. Although Orwell may agree the language we use does effect we see the world, if around today, I believe he would oppose the idea of PC and view it as controlling and authoritarian.
Is PC an attempt to obfuscate? If so, Orwell would have been against it. But is it????
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought” Orwell suggest that controlling the way people talk, and the language they use is almost making the speaker simple-minded, it also limits the speaker and doesn’t let them express themselves freely. This could be applied in modern day society many people (usually racists) believe that you should be able to express yourself freely no matter what, and use this as an argument against political correctness.
“We’re destroying words” (thereby destroying thoughts / concepts) This idea of “destroying” words are often common in anti-PC narratives in modern society. Instead of people seeing it as a positive thing introduced to create a more equal world many people see it as an attack on the English language.
“He speaks too clearly and speaks too plainly. The Party doesn’t like that”. In 1984, people are persecuted for even saying one thing that the state doesn’t like and many are often hanged. Many of those opposed to political correctness also hold a similar, less dramatic view. Many people believe that they are unfairly attacked, persecuted and labelled racist simply for using a word or speaking “plainly”. This is a stance many disagree with. Furthermore, this casts PC in a kind of authoritarian light, people do not like being told how to speak or act.
“When the concept of freedom has been abolished” in this passage a character is explaining how he is changing the definitions of words and their meanings. Here Orwell is showing how he believes this constant changing of the language is removing people’s freedoms, and if they no longer have a true meaning of freedom will people really be free? This can also be applied to PC, as many people feel threatened by a ‘loss of speech’ under PC.
Although Orwell doesn’t argue for or against, looking at 1984, as an example of why political correctness theory can be seen as wrong is stupid. However, PC is not an authoritarian strategy, and it does not ‘limit’ our language. It only ‘limits’ our language if we are already using slurs, which are deemed un-politically correct. I believe political-correctness is a good theory that will lead to a more equal society.