Friday, August 18, 2006

"PC gone mad" parts 301 & 302

Two stories in yesterday's papers re-hash that tired old phrase "Political Correctness gone mad". In one piece in the Daily Mirror, council workers in Newcastle have been "re-educated" about their use of terms such as "pet", "love" and "hinny" (Read the article for some more on this obscure northern lexeme! "This political correctness is getting ridiculous," claims one rent-a-quote Tory MP in response to the story.

My normal reaction to stories like this is to see them as part of a right wing agenda which seeks to discredit any attempt to get peopel to look at the language they use and how it might offend others. "Common sense" ideas about "PC gone mad" are put forward, but really they're just reactionary ramblings that see any attempt to remove racist or sexist language as part of some weird communist plot. But is that all that's going on in this case?

Another element to this story is the issue of dialect and identity. As one council worker puts it, "It's like they are trying to kill the Geordie language. It's totally bloody crackers". This point is developed later in the article:

But Peter Arnold, 62, chairman of the Northumbrian Language Society, said: "I am horrified that these words, which are part of the native language of people living in Northumbria, are to be banned. It is just part of the way ordinary people speak.

"Some think the Geordie dialect is sexist and male oriented. It then follows that people think Geordies are male chauvinist pigs. This is a mistake.

"People who use these words - hinny, which is a term of endearment whose origin is lost in time - are speaking what is to them the first language of many people from this part of the world. It is part of our heritage."

The connections between dialect and identity are riddled with issues of self-esteem, regional insecurities and perceptions of domination by metroplitan elites (in other words, that London's New Labour-supporting middle classes want to control the language we all speak).

So, should regional varieties of English be allowed to keep their old-fashioned and perhaps patronising terms? Is it even a good idea to try to regulate language use in this way? Can it even be done? And who is making these decisions anyway?

In another article, this time in The Guardian, an employee of Orange is being investigated for his remarks on a web discussion site in which he pokes fun at what he calls a "lefty lexicon" or what he sees as the abuse of language by "lefties" and especially the "rights industry", according to the article. Everyone's entitled to an opinion, you might say, but if you're the "community affairs manager" of a huge mobile phones company should you be able to vent your spleen about minority groups (many of whom are your customers)?

And in today's Mirror, there's a really great guide to the different terms of endearment used around the country. Click here for the online version (less impressive to look at than the print version which I'll try to scan and post up on the site in the next week or two).

Your views on this whole issue of patronising terms and language control would be welcome as comments (click below to add your points).

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation
ENA5 - Language Change

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