This study from the Journal of Pragmatics (a publication unlikely to be found at the local Borders I’ll venture to guess) exposes the use, or lack thereof, of politically correct language by two media sources, the Houston Chronicle and Google News, to refer to different social groups in society.  Results show that relatively euphemistic descriptions are more often found when describing stock characters that society is sympathetic to, such as children, followed by non-criminal adults. But for criminals,  standards are relaxed. When it comes to criminals, the thinking apparently goes, the preservation of the niceties of PC language rules can be scrapped.

Of course one would think that being disabled, or, rather, afflicted with a disability, should be conceived of independently of any crimes committed by such criminals if the integrity of this linguistic branch of modern liberalism is to be maintained, but alas that isn’t what appears to happen:

The early 1990s saw the proposal for ‘people first’ language: premodified nouns (disabled people) were to be replaced by postmodified nouns (people with disabilities). This usage was widely adopted in the fields of education and psychology. This article examines the distribution of both patterns in the electronic archives of the Houston Chronicle from 2002 to 2007, well after the suggestion for postmodification euphemism was launched, to investigate how widely the pattern has been adopted in everyday language use. The data from the Houston Chronicle are compared to the usage patterns in Google News .

Contrary to the usage in contemporary educational and psychological literature, the Houston Chronicle seems to favor the ‘non-PC’ usage: over 70% of the phrases resort to premodification. The distribution of ‘non-PC’ vs. ‘PC’ phrases, however, is not random: premodification refers to ‘undesirable’ societal elements (e.g., prisoners) or, for instance, to fictional characters in movie descriptions; by contrast, postmodification is reserved for children or non-criminal adults.


HT: National Affairs.

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