“Language has the power to expose outdated values and influence social change.” Discuss.
(This topic presupposes that language is fluid and flexible; that there is a link between linguistic expressions and one’s views/values and mindset)
(Paragraph 1) The linguistic prescription by public institutions and organisations to use non-discriminatory terms exposes outdated attitudes that may contain in-built sexist biases and stereotypical assumptions. These prescriptions as outlined in style guides identify lexemes that should be avoided in the interests of a socially harmonious and diverse society.
- See references to linguists/commentators.
- These rules prescribe the avoidance of lexemes that are gender-specific, as in suffixes and prefixes with “man” . Likewise, from a lexical and semantic perspective, users should use inclusive and lexemes to refer to “people with disabilities”; see an analysis of current examples, correlating values and analysis of relevant subsystems: “Inclusive language and Non-discriminatory terms.
(Paragraph 2) The use of non-discriminatory, politically correct and inclusive terminology also indirectly exposes language that reflects an intolerant and bigoted mindset towards ethnic and non-white people. The use of such discourse is considered to be linguistically threatening to people’s positive face needs. (“Racist language is the linguistic expression of racism.”)
- See quotes/comments from Professor Katharine Gelber, University of Queensland.
- See examples relating to First Nations people, including linguistic evaluation according to relevant subsystems.
(Paragraph 3) Formal language also has the power to influence social and lifestyle changes, often in ways that may impose upon people’s negative face needs. Public signage relating to public health restrictions make people aware of inappropriate and potentially harmful lifestyle choices.
- From a discourse and semantic/syntactic perspective, such impositions on negative face needs are often balanced by appeals to the “common good”.
- Likewise, Leunig defends his cartoon that some say demonised mothers. See comments regarding face needs and “mummy cartoon”.
(Paragraph 4) Whilst to some extent, bigoted and biased linguistic terms are changing for the better, some would say there are still “subtle” and covert ways of expressing prejudice and of camouflaging injustice. In many ways, public and formal language still uses euphemistic and “inclusive” language to conceal sexist or bigoted views.
- See an example of Meyne Wyatt’s speech on ABC’s Q&A (2020) and problematic examples of covert racism
- See quotes from Don Watson (Death Sentence) regarding “words as bullets”.
- See examples of, and an analysis of, double speak/ comments on bushfire; and slavery/euphemistic terms that conceal problematic attitudes towards social change, towards the environment and towards race relations.
- See Essays Made Easy: English Language
- Return to: Essays and contemporary examples 2020 for language variation
- References to linguists and relevant commentators (which ones?)
- A range of commentaries (formal/informal/spoken/written)
- Return to our Welcome Page: Overview of English Works Notes and Resources