A recent post on Language Log blog discusses a mad anti-PC rant from a respected Yale University computer scientist. Among David Gelernter's concerns are the use of he/she or they to replace he, the replacement of fireman with firefighter and person or human to replace man.
Of course, the logic behind such gender-neutral alternatives should be fairly clear to most AS and A2 Language students. Linguists have for a long time argued that he is a "false generic": in other words it's believed by some to really mean both genders, but in reality is rarely interpreted as such. Man or mankind are the same: linguists have expressed concern that they exclude women or render them invisible.
Gelernter's arguments are nothing new. They're part of an anti-Political Correctness backlash which casts feminists as deranged, dungaree-clad thought fascists who are trying to destroy the traditions of our language with their crazy (and probably hairy-legged) new language. But as the erudite* linguists of Language Log point out, so many of these arguments about the language being changed are actually very dubious. There has been a long tradition of using the pronoun they to avoid assigning gender, and he has always been contested.
So for ENA6 students thinking about Language Debates for this June's paper, why not have a look at both Gelernter's rant and Language Log's great response, and then think about other arguments about Language and Representation that often crop up. You could always try searching this blog with key terms like Political Correctness, Sexism, Racism and even ENA6 for some links to good articles about these issues.
Go on, you know it makes sense...
ENA6 - Language Debates
*look it up for a bit of A2 vocabulary stretching, ENA6 students!