LINGUIST List 7.834

Thu Jun 6 1996

Disc: Linguistic Society of America & Political Correctness

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  2. JOSEPH FREDERICK FOSTER, Re: 7.763, Disc: Linguistic Society of America & Political , Correctness
  3. benji wald, pc, the lexical item


Date: Tue, 04 Jun 1996 12:42:36 EDT
From: Greg Jacobs <gjacobsYorkU.CA>
The LSA (and other organizations) need to adopt a "look locally/think
practically" approach (my apologies to Eckert and McConnell-Ginet for
appropriating their terms).

The reality is that discrimination against gays and lesbians will occur
- and bashings will happen -- whether or not particular states have
anti-lesbian/gay discrimination legislation. So the argument regarding
the safety and comfort of LSA members is fictitious.

(I also recognize that there are some places which really do represent
a very real danger to lesbians and gays, and obviously the LSA should
not be holding its meetings there.)

What you have been really talking about here are those more
high-profile cases where states have either been targetted by
lesbian/gay activists to adopt anti-discrimination legislation, or
those states that are campaigning to adopt ANTI-anti-discrimination
legislation (or have successfuly done so already). As I stated above,
I question whether lesbians and gays will REALLY be at any more danger
in these states, than in any others.

So what the LSA is REALLY talking about is making a political

A boycott will provide an opportunity to raise important political
messages. And of course, if enough groups boycott, then an economic
impact will surely be felt. This raises the issue of whether the LSA
wants to be a political body. And of course, I suspect the answer is

So I am tempted to fall into the trap of taking the position: If there
is no REAL risk to the comfort and safety of ALL the members of the LSA
(on the grounds of sexual orientation, race, gender, etc.), then the
politics of a particular region should not at all be a factor in
deciding where meetings are held.

HOWEVER, having said that, we need to look about HOW legislation comes
to be. Believe me, it has absolutely nothing to do with the good will
and common sense of politicians. It has everything to do with
pressures that are put on them by NON-political bodies. So if all
non-political groups never took a political stand, then nothing would
every happen!

CONCLUSION: I am in favour of the LSA boycotting regions that have
legislation that actively allows discrimination against lesbians and
gays, or those regions that have been targetted by lesbian/gay
activists for l/g-positive amendments to human rights legislation.
However, I arrive at this for very different reasons that whether or
not lesbians and gays will be safe and comfortable in these places.

Members of LSA must recognize that all groups DO have political clout
(whether or not they want it), and therefore they must be
prepared to accept this responsibility (again, whether or not they want


| Greg Jacobs | YORK UNIVERSITY |
| | Office of Research Administration |
| Phone: (416) 736-5055 | S414 Ross Building |
| Fax: (416) 736-5512 | 4700 Keele Street |
| E-mail: | North York, Ontario |
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Message 2: Re: 7.763, Disc: Linguistic Society of America & Political , Correctness

Date: Sat, 25 May 1996 11:41:03 EDT
Subject: Re: 7.763, Disc: Linguistic Society of America & Political , Correctness
The Meetings' Boycott Policy Statement of the LSA makes it clear than
the boycott of locales does not just apply to sites that have a
history of discrimination or persecution aginst the "protected states
or behavior". That I could understand. Nor does it just apply to
states or cities that have overt statutes criminalizing such
"protected" states or behavior. That I could understand. But the LSA
Boycott Policy applies to cities and Sovereign States who have failed
to adopt overt ordinances of political and ideological conformity with
political positions and ideologies having nothing to do with the
scientific study of language. In so doing we leave ourselves open to
presumption of evidence that we are simply another ideologically based
Political Action Group.

Why not go even further and require that all members sign oaths of 
political and ideological conformity or face denial of membership or 
expulsion? Wouldn't that be the honest next step?

Joe Foster
	Joseph F Foster
	Dept. of Anthropology
	U. of Cincinnati 45221-0380
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Message 3: pc, the lexical item

Date: Wed, 05 Jun 1996 00:04:00 PDT
From: benji wald <IBENAWJMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: pc, the lexical item
I'd like to make some comments of a linguistic nature on the term
"political correctness", following from what Karl Teeter and
Vicky Fromkin pointed out. In so doing, I am not interested in
particularly joining the discussion about the LSA policy, which I
have no problem with -- except that even with the discounts I think
the hotel rooms are too expensive.

First, I must say that I agree with Karl and Vicky's assessment of
the "connotations" of the expression, as currently used -- and as
specifically used in the context of the LSA policy, viz. to quote Vicky:

"It has been and, as Karl points out, continues to be a
pejorative term used against those who are outspokenly in favor of, for
example, affirmative action, or are openly feminist, anti-racist, etc."

Wait, I don't mean that those who have questioned the LSA policy
are racist, etc., although they obviously have resentments, like
all users of the term (except comedians who use those resentments
for entertainment purposes). But I do mean that they are using the
rhetoric of such a perspective, and they are too close to that usage in
time to use that term frivolously.

It has certainly been pushed (since Souza's book, I think) to reinforce
"backlash" resentments. It's more specific connotations are that those
who observe "political correctness" are "smug, probably hypocritical,
and necessarily "intolerant" of other "opinions"." The most ascerbic
implication of the term is that its observers are "opinionated
busybodies who are not (or shouldn't be) personally affected by what
they support" (cf. "outside agitators" in the political rhetoric of an
earlier era.) This slur implies that "politically correct" anti-racists
are white, not non-white, "politically correct" feminists are men, not
women, etc., where etc even includes such things as they are already in
positions where affirmative action is not a "threat" to them.

The first messages to use this term with respect to the LSA policies
left out the point that those policies explicitly claim that the
LSA adopted this policy to protect its members. Whether that omission
was deliberate or an oversight I couldn't say. When that was pointed
out in defense of the LSA policy, it took the wind out of the sails
of the slur implied in "political correctness", since it asserted that
LSA members are indeed personally affected by what they support.
The counter-arguments then fragmented in all kinds of directions
containing elements like "priorities: linguistics vs. protection of
members at risk -- implying not all or even most members, cf. minorities",
convenience and "fairness" as far as travel for members not at risk,
and even that "gays" could obstain from at-risk practices during the
period of convention as a "courtesy" (I guess) to those who would be
convenienced by allowing conferences to be held in places where
discriminatory laws are in effect. Meanwhile, the term "political
correctness" did not go away. To me, that implies that those who
continued to use it did not believe that the rationale of the LSA
policy is what it is stated to be, or at least that if it is, it is
somehow misguided. That's a serious social problem, and a reflection
of the same problem in the larger society.

As an aside, I can imagine similar debate for and against holding the
1936 Olympics in Hilterian Berlin. In retrospect, pro could argue,
as Brundage did, that the Olympics were not "political" and, in
retrospect, that Jesse Owens' performance created trouble for the
Nazi racist doctrines (trouble that Nazism was able to overcome
fairly quickly -- and they had to, because Jesse Owens was becoming
a hero to many Germans, including school children). Con would argue,
of course, that it legitimised the fascist, racist regime in the eyes
of the world, and made it look "good" by playing the gracious host (even
going so far as suspending some of its racist laws while hosting the

Getting back to the present, "political correctness" belongs to
the same semantic complex that coopted the term "liberal" as a
pejorative term, and even played on its common root with "libertine".
"moderate" came in to fill the non-pejorative gap. Of course,
"moderate" did not maintain the implications of robustness and
"progressiveness" that "liberal" had for a long time before the
war in Vietnam, but that was how successful pejoration of "liberal"
was. Its real purpose was to oppose "liberal" to "conservative",
where any other position was either irrelevant or worse, and then
by making "liberal" pejorative, force "conservative" as the tacitly
"correct" poosition. Some of you realise from earlier things I
have said, that I perceive pejorative or at least stuffy connotations
to the word "correct" itself, preferring the word "right" in non-
technical (and sometimes even in technical) discourse. I don't think
that is simply an idiosyncrasy of mine, but a sense of the stuffiness
of the term in colloquial English, where it smacks of "school
culture" and associated authoritarianism. Anyway, in contrast to
the success of such words as "political correctness" and "liberal"
with regard to their intended connotations, unsuccessful,
at least in the universities, was the attempt by the same semantic
(or ideological) complex to pejorate the word "humanism". It failed
when the idea of presenting "creationism" as a "scientific" theory

For the future, we can keep watch on the term "political correctness".
It is a powerful term. As with other terms of its complex, its
denotations and specific implications are likely to change, while
its pejoration is its whole reason for being. It may even mean
something different to younger speakers at present than it does for
those of us that were aware of its purposes starting in the '80s,
and even of some of the less sophisticated expressions that it

By the way, we could bring Chomskyan political theory back into
linguistics by studying the role of the media in propagating the
term to the society at large. It was frequently featured in
editorials for a while, and even more frequently discussed in
letters to the editor and related letters type sections of newspapers.
Has it spread to other languages? What would that tell us about
the societies speaking those languages?

In the end, discussion will be necessary to figure out what any
two people mean by the term in argument. For the present, I think
that my understanding of it, along with Karl and Vicky's is adequate
to the understand its use in the debate about LSA policy. If I'm
wrong about that, I'd like to know why. -- Benji
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