В приложении к нашим урокам «TOEFL Sample Lessons» мы хотим представить вам лингвистическую сказку-шутку «TOEFL Fairy Tale», написанную Ларисой Коптеловой. Полное название сказки - «A modern politically correct TOEFL cram story for everybody who is not linguistically challenged». Эта история называется «cram story», поскольку в ней используется много слов и выражений по теме «Образование», которую мы представляли вам в наших предыдущих уроках (cram - переполнять, втискивать, впихивать, вбивать в голову; to cram for an exam - зубрить/натаскивать к экзамену). В этой истории используется также много выражений, относящихся к области политкорректности - социального явления, которое имеет широкое распространение в таких странах, как Канада и США, и которое проявляет себя в создании особых правил в отношениях между людьми, а также специфических языковых оборотов. В своём предисловии к сказке Лонни Харрисон представляет краткую характеристику и объяснения такого важного и такого сложного явления как политкорректность (political correctness).

A modern politically correct TOEFL cram story for everybody who is not linguistically challenged


Politically Correct Language and the Power of Rhetoric

It is difficult to understand the concept of political correctness if you do not live in a country where it is a primary concern. In those places where the democratizing - or tyrannizing, depending on your point of view - influence of political correctness has taken hold, its effects on language and everyday life are profound.

It is important for any student of English - the language which has proved to be the most fertile ground for the growth of linguistic political correctness - to understand this critically important yet sometimes frustratingly confusing phenomenon.

The impetus behind political correctness (PC) is, in truth, very humanitarian and democratic. In any social organization, there are dominant groups and minority groups. Existing power structures usually strive to keep the dominant groups in power and subordinate minority groups. The means of coercion used are subtle - they are embedded in the very fiber of society, woven into the fabric of cultural tradition. The systems which keep power structures intact are therefore often very hard to see, and harder still to change.

From a historical perspective, PC is only a very recent phenomenon - but it is one that challenges the very foundations of Western Civilisation. In simple terms, PC aims to challenge those traditional structures which tend to distribute wealth and power unjustly.

To disclose the full implications of such a radical thing as PC would be impossible in a brief introduction to the topic. The battlegrounds of PC are very wide-ranging: they cover government policy, gender relations, worker-employer relations, racial discrimination, the interpretation and writing of history, and many, many more fundamental aspects of modern society. Rather than make a superficial overview of this entire spectrum, let us take a closer look at one of the areas in which PC has arguably made its most important inroads: language.

One of those mentioned above means by which dominant groups preserve their positions of power is rhetoric. Rhetoric is the use of language as an instrument of persuasion. Although we do not usually realize it in our day-to-day interactions, the very names we assign to things, people, activities, etc, are sometimes charged with rhetorical force. In other words, language is seldom neutral, and its impact is most often underestimated. The point is that, historically speaking, words and language play a primary role in the construction and deconstruction of social hierarchies. They define the dynamics of power relations and their legitimacy simply through the labels they give to them.

PC as it is manifest in language has the aim of changing these labels to achieve a more democratic - or, because that word has taken on some very negative connotations, we might rather say egalitarian - balance in the organization of society. Thus, PC language is language that does not unjustly place any group above another, or in short, does not discriminate against any group of people.

Let us take some examples. We no longer say " policeman" because it is a gender-specific word. As we know, there are not only men, but also many women in the police force. The appropriate PC word, therefore, is " police officer" . Another example: it is considered politically incorrect to say "Indian" to describe the native peoples of North America because this name was given to them erroneously. When Christopher Columbus discovered the North American continent, he thought he had reached the West Indies and therefore called the inhabitants of the land "Indians". Because of the gruesome treatment these people faced at the lands of the conquering Europeans and the discrimination endured in subsequent years, it is understandable that the label "Indians" is offensive. Thus, it is now considered more proper to say "Native Americans" or "First Nations" people.

Essentially, we see that PC changes to language have very positive and humanitarian motivations. In practice, however, PC language sometimes goes too far. It might even seem to some like a stifling language tyranny that limits freedom of expression. Take, for instance, the euphemistic term "metabolically challenged" to replace the matter-of-fact descriptor "dead", or consider "esthetically challenged" instead of "ugly". Such examples are, of course, merely humorous parodies of PC language and are not to be taken seriously. They do have an important significance, though: they indicate the ridiculous extremes to which PC can sometimes take language.

The "TOEFL Fairy Tale" that you are about to read is an inspired work written by an extraordinary language enthusiast. It takes a light-hearted approach to PC language and presents it in all its subtle and often hilarious nuances. A fable of the private lives and personalities of politically correct letters and words, it gives us a delightful introduction to the perhaps bewildering phenomenon that I have attempted here to describe. Prepare to enter a world where language literally comes to life and is, alas, very, very politically correct.