PC Language: a ‘change’ and ‘diversity’ topic

PC (or ‘politically correct’) language is a topic in English Language A Level that rather nicely illustrates how artificial it is to separate ideas into topics like ‘change’ and ‘diversity’. But, of course, we have to draw lines for the purposes of curriculum organisation. What this actually means for you as a student (or a teacher, of course!) is that it’s really all fair game and you don’t need to worry about whether you’re crossing those lines in an exam question – as long as you are answering the question that has been asked.

So, for example, you might be asked about why people object to politically correct language. These objections might relate to:

  • what people perceive as ‘top-down’ change rather than natural change
  • simple prescriptivism and resistance to change of any kind
  • ideas about ‘purity’ and ‘others’ infecting the language
  • concerns about ‘correctness’ and ‘accuracy’

As you can probably see, most of those are ‘change’ arguments, and you’d link them to ideas like Crumbling Castles and standardisation, but they aren’t so different to arguments made against dialect usage.

More conceptually, people also argue about ‘offence’ and ‘identification’, particularly when it comes to gender and pronouns. These arguments relate far more to ideas in the realm of representation, and you might want to bring in concepts like Muted Groups to construct your argument.

It is likely that most of you will have encountered the idea of PC language under the heading of Language Change, as it is a key driver of new vocabulary in the last 50 years. However, it is well worth remembering that the Diversity topic (for AQA, at least), asks us to consider language used ‘about’ and ‘to’ social groups, not just ‘by’ them, and this is definitely also a place that PC language is important.


What do you think?