Monday, February 06, 2012

People first and PC

This link on the excellent Linguistics Research Digest blog takes a look at the "people first" movement in Politically Correct (PC) language reform, which (as Jenny Amos explains) involved a switch in the type of noun phrase being used to label social groups, from pre-modified noun phrases to post-modified noun phrases. Pre-to-the-what-now?

It's quite a simple idea. If you look at a noun phrase such as disabled people, the adjective disabled premodifies the noun people. The people first approach would be to shift the noun to the front and add the modification afterwards in the form of a prepositional phrase, so it becomes people with disabilities. The argument here was that the former version placed emphasis on the condition - and by extension defined the people by their disability - while the latter foregrounded the people themselves, with the disability coming after.Jenny Amos's blog post then looks at some interesting research by Helena Halmari into the use of such terms in news reporting.

PC is clearly about more than just rearranging words; it's primarily about rearranging ways of thinking about different groups in society, and specifically it's about removing offensive and derogatory words from the language. The arguments about PC were recently surveyed in an interesting Observer article by Miranda Sawyer, where she looked at some of the background to the PC movement and its more modern manifestations: Twitter spats, rape "jokes" and the bandying around of terms like mong and sket "for a laugh". If you're looking for material to bolster your ENGA3 Language Discourses understanding, go no further.

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