September 15, 2003


When Linguists Attack: Fed up with the PC domination of the academic linguistics, one professor fights back against the establishment. (David Skinner, 09/12/2003)

Sometimes the efforts to ward off stereotypes become just nonsensical, as when the authors complain that men appear too often with cars and that they are always the ones fixing them. "No females fix cars in any of the ten textbooks, while 53 males do so." According to the Department of Labor, this is not only true of language textbooks: Less than two percent of automobile mechanics are women. Also laughable is the authors' complaint that "males far outnumber females (by a 6-to-1 ratio) as the perpetrators of violence." Indeed, this is another stereotype that happens to be true. Men are responsible for several times more violent felonies than women are. It really is no wonder they should be responsible for more violence in example sentences.

Furthermore, making a practice of having women fixing cars and committing assault in example sentences would only single an author out as tendentious. (Ex: "Ms. Macauley hotwired the car and ran over her assailant, screaming 'Take that you linguistic chauvinist! Who's getting tenure now?'") With academics like Macauley and Brice making the case for expanded vigilance regarding gender bias and sexual stereotypes in example sentences, no wonder this fantastical policy has come in for a beating. Now the beating--the real beating, from a fellow linguist.

[....] WRITING IN THE Spring 2003 issue of Language, Paul Postal of New York University questions every possible rationale for the LSA's policy and visits many an argument offered by Macauley and Brice. Stating the obvious, Postal begins by noting that political considerations are not central to the mission of LSA or to that of linguists generally.

Then with the most withering sarcasm, Postal attacks the LSA policy for its exclusive focus on one type of offense. "There are many possible sources of offense, for example, those involving personal hygiene or dress habits (both potentially relevant to LSA meetings). Military organization and children's summer camps have codes about such matters. Should the LSA develop recommended lists of soaps and suggestions about how often to use them? Should shorts be banned or ties and brassieres required?"

Next the respected linguist asks why the guidelines don't address obscenity, racial epithets, "characterizations of people in drastically unkind ways," and so on. Good question. "As a consequence of the limitations, for no stated or justified reason, it accords perfectly with LSA policy to fill one's examples with . . . the most vicious hate-spewing, racially, ethnically, religiously, etc., demeaning remarks, but use of 'waitress,' 'chairman,' or generic 'man' puts one beyond the pale."

If I weren't such an emotionally-repressed male, there would tears of laughter streaming down my face. . . . .

Posted by John Resnick at September 15, 2003 8:16 PM

When I was growing up (early eighties) in an
all-white elementary school, my textbooks always
reserved one third of all children's names to
be hispanic (Just over half had to be girls).
The girls always seemed to excel at something
unusual. The textbooks also assumed that we had
already switched to the metric system (of course
little did they know Reagan had just come to
office). This kind of thing has been pervasive
since the mid-seventies.

Posted by: J.H. at September 16, 2003 9:34 AM