Local Language Choices as Part of Broader Social Change: A Talk by Anne Curzan


Location: Morris Inn, Private Dining Room

Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English at the University of Michigan, Anne Curzan also holds appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education. Widely published on historical and contemporary linguistics, especially gender and language, Curzan currently is completing a popular guide to English usage and serving as a regular contributor to blogs and public radio.

Politically correct (or "PC") language has acquired negative connotations over the years. It is sometimes dismissed as "silly" or as "threatening" or as not really addressing the underlying social issues. Yet, we probably all agree that at the most fundamental level, language matters. Words may not break our bones, but they have great power and can do real harm. So does that mean that every language choice we make, no matter how small and how local, matters? This talk will focus on words we use every day that have been the focus of conscious language reform efforts to promote a more inclusive and equitable language (e.g., "he" vs. "he or she" vs. "they"; "gay" vs. "homosexual"). To what extent do social attitudes shape language-- or is it that language has the power to change social attitudes? It is a difficult question but an important one for all of us to consider as speakers and writers.

The talk has been made possible by support from the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, Department of English, Gender Studies Program, Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, and Medieval Institute.