Is political correctness right

Political Correctness - Why We Need Politically Correct Language

The debate about a gender-equitable national anthem shows how deep the rifts are between supporters and opponents of politically correct language. The linguist Anatol Stefanowitsch reacts to the most common allegations in his new book

Canada and Austria have already formulated their national anthems in a gender-sensitive manner / picture alliance

Author info

Anatol Stefanowitsch is professor for the structure of today's English at the Free University of Berlin as well as a science blogger and speaker with a focus on loanwords, language policy and linguistic discrimination.

Photo: Bernd Wannenmacher / FU Berlin

How to contact Anatol Stefanowitsch:

Since right-wing movements and parties have been on the rise again, their inhuman ideas have also pushed the public into a use of language that has met with widespread rejection due to its obvious brutality. When refugees are considered a flat rate Asylum invaders and Rapefugees disparaged and as part of onePopulation changethat Germany becomes one Muslim dump then there is agreement that not only derogatory ideas are expressed here, but that this is also done in derogatory language. [...]

This unity stands in strange contrast to the usual reactions to attempts to counter a derogatory use of language. As for example Otfried Preußler in 2013 in a new edition of his children's book, first published in 1957 the little witch from two costumed and in the original as No, no designated two ethnically indeterminate children Knife thrower made, the German-language feature section saw it as the “red pen of political correctness” to which our “cultural heritage is falling victim”, or even an “Orwellian obliteration of our past”.

The accusation of speech corruption

In the most recent major reform of the road traffic regulations - a dry legal text with no potential for nostalgic childhood memories -, also in 2013, the masculine designations of persons since the original enactment of 1934 were largely replaced by gender-neutral formulations: instead of Pedestrians is now from walkers the speech, instead Cyclists must ride one after the other is it now Bicycles must be ridden one at a time, and from every road user has been who on the traffic participates. Here, too, there was violent rejection: those responsible were accused of politically correct "language abuse", that they were "gaga" and afflicted with "gender madness".

There were similar reactions when the University of Leipzig used masculine terms in its statutes until 2013 (Student, professor etc.) replaced by exclusively female (Student, professor etc.), when the Greens decided in 2015 to only use "gender asterisks" (Politicians) to write, or as from the Home of great sons the Austrian national anthem the Home of great daughters and sons has been. [...]

The charge of iconoclasm

How do you explain the violence of these reactions? And what exactly is the accusation of “political correctness”?

First of all, this is the accusation of linguistic iconoclasm. Individual words in older texts may seem problematic from today's point of view, it is said, but that is precisely the choice of words of the authors, which corresponds to the linguistic usage of the time. One should not interfere with the resultant linguistic and literary total work of art. If Preussler once N ~ no wrote, he should stand by it fifty years later, and even more so a text should not be changed if the author - as in the case of Astrid Lindgren - has already passed away.

At first glance, these ideas may sound quite reasonable: texts are (also) evidence of the times that are falsified by subsequent interventions. However, it can be doubted that the critics of political correctness actually believe that children's books fall into the category of contemporary historical documents that are worth protecting: Children's book publishers often intervene much more deeply in the original text when it comes to translations and new editions than in the cases described above, without that even a faint grumbling could be heard in the features section. In Enid Blyton's classic children's book “The Adventurous Four”, published in 1941, the Arnold children discovered a secret Nazi submarine base off the coast of Scotland during World War II and were captured by German soldiers wearing swastika armbands. When the book was translated into German in 1969, the German Nazis were made apolitical and arms smugglers of unnamed nationality, but the story continued to play out during World War II. The feuilleton worries about the resulting falsification of the literary work or recent German history is still a long time coming. [...]

The accusation of incomprehensibility

Other critics of political correctness do not dwell on literature and culture, but rather worry about the German language as a whole. They say that they can only develop organically on their own and would be irretrievably destroyed if one intervened in the development from outside. For example, suppose there are newfangled twists of speech like the participles mentioned above Students or on foot unsuitable for creating personal names, as they do not refer to general properties but to specific processes. The otherwise clear-sighted Max Goldt argues in a frequently quoted (and strangely morbid) gloss that one cannot say after a massacre: The population weeps for the dying students. You cannot “die and study at the same time”. Here, too, the criticism is very selective: These forms are only criticized as illogical if they are intended to serve gender equality. Nobody cares about the words Chairperson, traveler or person present. [...]

To be taken more seriously is the objection occasionally raised against the "politically correct" language that it disrupts communication. In some cases, such a disruption is actually deliberate: radical interventions in the language should then draw attention to certain linguistic structures, for example with the "dynamic" underscores and x-forms by Lann Hornscheidt (Hornscheidt is a former professor at Humboldt University). But in general the language should be made fairer, but not less understandable. In this respect, linguistic reform proposals can and must of course be checked to see whether they could lead to misunderstandings. [...]

A question of morality

So it is neither the integrity of literary texts and cultural traditions (...) nor a general aversion to language bans that drives the critics of politically correct language. All of these arguments are only brought up where it is a matter of avoiding derogatory terms and linguistic structures in order to create linguistic equal treatment of previously discriminated population groups.

If we subtract all allegations of censorship and falsification of history, distortion of language and literature, what remains in the examples described is that they are directed against the linguistic degradation of certain groups. Since there is actually nothing worthy of criticism about it, it is made ridiculous by words such as “do-gooders” or “moral apostleship”.

In doing so, the critics involuntarily hit the core of politically correct language - it is actually a question of morality.

“A Question of Morals” by Anatol Stefanowitsch will be published by Duden-Verlag on March 12th, 64 pages, 8 euros.

Joachim Wittenbecher | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 12:24 pm

Today I see a dirty word like "Muslim dump" for the first time, and it is your dubious credit for having circulated it widely, Mr. Stefanowitsch. In general, I find the attempt to create "politically correct language" frightening. The term "politically correct language" already implies partiality, so it cannot be in the general interest at all. It can only be an instrument of rule. That we should be expected to do this in all seriousness shows the intention of the mental incapacitation of the common man; It unmasks a self-proclaimed leadership class - often disguised as cultural workers - as following a totalitarian claim to power. I can reassure anyone who is genuinely worried about any linguistic brutalisation: agitators, whipers, whip-hunters, professional people of all stripes are very quickly through in everyday life and in a normal social environment.

Christa Wallau | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 12:25 pm

Language is an expression of thinking and feeling, a first-class means of communication and a creative space for art (poetry, epic, drama).
What it absolutely must not be in my eyes is a means of educating the people! Because then the free thinking loses its possibilities of expression! It is forced into a corset that
self-appointed moral apostles
put on him. With what right ???
A community (e.g. a religious community = church) or a club that has its own guidelines and admission criteria may request and use a certain language, but not the state responsible for all citizens, which has to behave neutrally - apart from the containment of certain excesses, but for what the
Courts are competent and not
the politic.
Language must retain its naturalness and originality and itself
can develop freely - just like thinking and feeling.
Otherwise people will too
synchronized robots.
I dread it.

Benjamin Beldea | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 12:36 pm

Right in the opening lines I read that right-wing movements and parties automatically represent and spread brutally inhumane ideas. And that's it for me with the reading - one click and away.
Mr. Stefanowitsch, you and many others who believe they are on the "right" side of history are in fact revealing a structurally totalitarian outlook. Because it's not about "left" or "right". It's about whether I make an effort to treat people who think differently and to understand them fairly, to explain their misconceptions and fallacies to them. It will always be about the struggle to win others over to the truth and to remain open to the truth in a self-critical manner.
But no, with ladies and gentlemen like you, the new angels of light, the evil one is already certain - and that can't possibly be you ...

Michael Theuring | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 8:01 p.m.

In reply to "WE good, THE bad" - well then everything is clear ... by Benjamin Beldea

"Right-wing movements and parties" - the AfD or the Kandel-ist-everywhere movement are probably meant - are equated with "inhuman ideas". If something is inhuman, it is this presumptuous blanket insinuation.
At the same time you are doing something that all the left and the Greens do: you withdraw from any discussion of content, tacitly invoking the true (!) Democratic attitude.

This blanket equation is itself in the highest degree inhuman and presumptuous. is cleverly placed at the beginning so as not only to be hair-dusting and inhumane to the extent you accuse your political enemies. At the same time this equation enzihem you in any debate about content that is

Markus Michaelis | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 12:46 pm

The serious point is not on intelligibility or any of the above.

The author rightly says: "that they are directed against the linguistic degradation of certain groups". That is the point. Only: this is a fine line. Some people feel that too often one side falls off the ridge. That some groups in society are now better protected or receive a certain amount of satisfaction for old injuries. But that too often happens at the price that a new air sovereignty is simply distributed to new groups and other groups are marginalized because their thinking, life, work and writing are supposed to be hurtful all at once.

Claus Bänsch | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 12:51 pm

Basically, I largely agree with the article. But if the author is not even able to write a term originally used (here: "N ~ lein" instead of Negerlein) - for fear of being called a racist? - the problem of this topic is shown very nicely. If I am afraid of having to face reprisals from any kind of statement, I am no longer free. That, in turn, is not really good. In this sense, I am very critical of such changes to old texts.
So we should think hard about what we can do with such "transformations".

Jan Burgdorf | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 12:55 pm

In his first sentence, the author already uses the already generalized term "right" as a synonym for "inhuman ideas." He unwittingly shows why political correctness is poison for society. Just as for the author (left = good, right = bad), in politically correct language there is only black and white. Either you use them and thereby show you belong to the mainstream verbal system or you don't do this and are quickly disqualified and sorted out in public life.
An open-ended discussion, the basis of democracy, cannot take place like this. The article therefore leads itself ad absurdum in my opinion.

Mathias Trostdorf | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 5:24 pm

In reply to Right = Humane by Jan Burgdorf

It is cited as an example that "asylum seekers" were referred to in a generalizing and derogatory manner as "rapeugees". Where does the term "asylum seekers" come from? Surely an agency came up with it because they were looking for a positive term. As we have learned in the meantime, the people who have come to us are by no means all "seekers of protection", but, as we have known since the New Year's Eve events, also people from whom protection must be sought.
The term "rapeugees" is used to generalize negatively, while the term "protection seekers" is intended to generalize positive things.
Clearly thinking people do not need either of these.

Markus Gerle | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 6:21 pm

In reply to Right = Humane by Jan Burgdorf

Mr Burgdorf, I would like to add something to your very appropriate comment. Are we really angry about Newspeak? No, actually others are welcome to change their language as long as they don't expect me to do the same. But that is exactly the problem. Those who try to hammer Newspeak into the heads of others are thus revealing their authoritarian attitude. They also do this by defaming unpleasant opinions as right and therefore not worth discussing. This paternalism is annoying. Why does none of the literary scholars wonder why the term "do-gooder" comes across so negatively, even though the two syllables of the word have positive connotations. Well, a do-gooder is by no means someone who does good. It is someone who thinks they are doing good by telling others how to live, speak, and think. Sensible adults do not appreciate this totalitarian tutelage. Well, kids don't either. But it's still legitimate there.

Andreas R. Klenke | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 12:59 pm

Even the term "politically correct language" is gross nonsense. And the conclusions drawn from this are corresponding!

ulrich pohl | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 1:09 pm

Annoying: The article ends where it actually gets interesting, namely with the freak, which arguments speak in favor of linguistic correctness, or refers to a "morality" that has not been further developed. You sit there and understand: you have to buy the book to find out what you were actually hoping for when reading the article. It's not OK.

Wolfgang Tröbner | Tue, March 13, 2018 - 9:27 am

In reply to ad block? by ulrich pohl

I fear that it is no coincidence that this article does not contain arguments in favor of political correctness. And I'm sure the book doesn't contain any either.

ulrich pohl | Tue, March 13, 2018 - 13:57

In reply to coincidence? by Wolfgang Tröbner

Michael Sander | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 1:11 pm

The sole task of language is to formulate thoughts and thus enable meaningful communication.
Therefore, language can of course also be derogatory or even hurtful if the person who uses it wants to derogate or hurt.
Language is subject to constant change. However, this happens simply through daily use, through the struggle for terms for a more appropriate and thus better communication, but never through administrative enforcement.
The state does not have sovereignty over the language. Language cannot be prescribed. The language does not belong to the professors or Duden Verlag. It belongs to everyone who uses this language and is constantly changing it in a gigantic democratic exchange process.

Michael Sander | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 1:12 pm

The generic masculine simplifies everyday language use and has never devalued anyone. The alleged discrimination is based solely on the allegation of self-appointed language guards who are pursuing a dubious political agenda.
PC prevents the free exchange of thoughts and arguments by rejecting certain arguments from the outset.
If, however, the right solution can no longer be struggled openly and in free discourse, problems remain unresolved and give rise to further problems.
PC is therefore anti-democratic and totalitarian by nature.
It is an illusion to believe that one can change thinking by prescribing a certain language. In the end, that's not what it's about.

Michael Sander | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 1:12 pm

Nor is it really about protecting "minorities" from discrimination. Language would really be the least suitable instrument for this. Rather, it is a matter of forcing the political discourse into a certain path, of making counter-arguments impossible through moral discrediting.
Therefore, bans on thinking and speaking ultimately lead to the rule of a comprehensive, anti-liberal political ideology which, through the rule over what may be said, no longer allows for contradictions and, in this protection, can ultimately pursue any political agenda.

Philippe Schannes | Tue, March 13, 2018 - 9:44 am

In reply to 3 by Michael Sander

Very good (three-part) comment. They speak from my soul and hit the nail on the head. Many Thanks!

ulrich pohl | Tue, March 13, 2018 - 13:56

In reply to 3 by Michael Sander

I find it legitimate when there are those affected by language who would like and try another word for "cripple", for example. to enforce that socially. What is annoying is that a lot of gender and whatever officers have turned it into a business idea. And yes: In any case, the state has to remain neutral on these issues, unless it goes into the criminally relevant area.

martin falter | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 1:14 pm

that should always be changed unilaterally.
Where are the "perpetrators" initiatives?
Here is one of many examples. If language is not to degrade groups, then something like that needs to be changed. Here men alone are referred to as perpetrators. You see, Mr. Stefanowitsch, that is not so easy and very exhausting - right.

Giesela Kramski | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 5:38 pm

In reply to weird is only by martin falter

I would particularly like "dear tax evaders."

Gregor P. Pawlak | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 1:15 pm

A person driving a car ran over two street-crossing Sutdende who were on their way to an absentee who was missing a lecture ...
Like that?

Albert Keller | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 1:26 pm

If clear language is a question of morality then I am immoral. Really.

Mathias Trostdorf | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 1:31 pm

I think what bothers many about political correctness is the patronizing know-it-all attitude of their lobby. There are commissions and non-commissions from people who deal with something like that, whereby the majority of the population has completely different problems. For me, political correctness is an outgrowth of the affluent society, because often nothing changes with the "renaming", it is just wasted. If all professors have been renamed, aren't the professors disadvantaged?
And how many women - that would be interesting - ultimately it actually bothers if you call them road users instead of road users?
So: will the world be fairer or will any problem be solved if the language is messed up with mostly silly terms?

Bettina Diehl | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 4:24 pm

In reply to Prosperity Problem by Mathias Trostdorf

I would like to give you my answer to the question you asked in the last paragraph: Those women who are recognizable as such at first glance, who feel comfortable as women, who like to hear a compliment, who are happy that a man will give their Keeping the door open etc. doesn't give a damn about this gender nonsense.

Michael Müller | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 4:51 pm

In reply to Dear Mr. Trostdorf by Bettina Diehl

Perhaps this whole gender madness is actually the wallflowers' retaliation on the beautiful and successful.
To be noticed or to be respected cannot be forced.
PC leads to further division of society.

Benjamin Beldea | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 5:55 pm

In reply to Prosperity Problem by Mathias Trostdorf

Dear Mr. Trostdorf,
actually PC is not a problem of prosperity - I don't know that the people of Monaco pass their time with such self-made problems.
It is a statism problem: Without the state that has gotten out of hand with its tax robbery and the wasters of tax money, also known as civil servants, we would not have such "excesses of the affluent society", but simply a great affluent society.

Tomas Poth | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 1:45 pm

one for his chair. Understandable, after all, he lives from it. A disruption in communication is intentional, this is how it is written here and this is exactly how it is also noticeable. The living conditions in our world, be it in our small German or worldwide, be it in technological social systems or in those that are still organized in the Stone Age, are not remedied by communication disorders. It distinguishes social systems like ours to deal with useless.

Chris Lock | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 13:54

It is not about syntactic and aesthetic language issues, but about the use of language rules as a means for thinking rules. Anyone who uses the wrong language should come out as a contemptible element.

The thoughts are free, and in principle my words too in a free democracy. And I defend myself against this form of gagging, because deviating from thought and word is a lie. Victor Klemperer worked this out very clearly - on a completely different scale, of course - but in principle in a way that was comparable at the time.

I will not allow a language to be imposed on me that is not mine. Everyone can think of their part and point a finger at me and consider me a ruthless macho and women oppressor. But I will not be stamped by STATE ordinance as a macho and women oppressor.

Bettina Diehl | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 2:08 pm

opens his essay, however, with the words "right-wing movements and inhuman ideas". When "right-wing" movements name the obvious problems, they have inhuman ideas. So so. Words like racists or Nazis find no criticism in the text. So is it okay to equate the National Socialists' reign of terror with critical citizens? You don't have to say anything more about * inside. They already need safe spaces when they see high heels (also called high heels). I would like to recommend the following text to the author regarding the term "do-gooder": "The German concept" do-gooder "has existed since the 19th century. The idea itself can already be found in Jesus:
“They bind heavy and unbearable burdens and place them on people's shoulders; but they themselves do not want to lift a finger for it ”(Mt 23: 4). (Source Dushan Wegner Blog)

Mathias Trostdorf | Thursday, March 15, 2018 - 8:54 am

In reply to The author writes about politically correct language, by Bettina Diehl

Yes, the sovereignty of interpretation is now being fought hard.
Before the Leipzig Book Fair yesterday a crowd of 400 people demonstrated "against" right-wing "publishers, but also for" diversity and freedom of expression "at the same time.

Philippe Schannes | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 2:24 pm

I am also one of those many "opponents" of "politically correct" language. From the arguments mentioned in the article. In my opinion, the counterexamples are not convincing (I also think that art changes due to the Nazi theme are wrong !; You are only chairman as long as you are chairman, traveler only during the trip; the same applies to those present).

The problem is that the alternatives suggested so far are, in my opinion, not good. The BGB does it quite well and tries to rewrite personal names through activities. I think that's right. I also think that it is important to use a more gender neutral (or generally more politically correct) language (language is a mirror of time and culture), but it is not unimportant HOW it happens. Unfortunately, I don't have an ideal suggestion myself, but the current methods (X_innen, /innen, *innen, etc) are neither correct, meaningful, beautiful nor fair (feminine is always mentioned first).

Karin Zeitz | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 2:45 p.m.

personally, I have never felt discriminated against using the terms “student”, “patient”, “passenger”, “cyclist” or similar. The addressing of letters that are sent to the family under the family father's first name has never bothered me either. I consider the respect that people show me as a woman to be more important than any political correctness imposed from above. Funny is the matter with the groups of people who used to be called “Gypsies” and who should now be called “Sinti and Roma” in a politically correct manner. Those so named are not happy if they happen to belong to neither of these two ethnic groups. In the past, our baker offered "Americans", which were called "ammonia discs" after the fall of the Wall.
One should take care of the real problems, of which there really are enough in Germany, instead of distracting and bothering people with such sideline scenes

Jacqueline Gafner | Mon, March 12, 2018 - 2:54 p.m.