Political Correctness

I hate out-of-control political correctness, folks. It’s stupid and counter-productive. Let me just give you one example. My department used to be called “Department of Foreign Languages.” I like this name very much because it’s clear, self-explanatory, and easy to find in the course catalogue.

However, out of a misplaced sense of politeness, people have set out to eradicate the word “foreign.” We, the actual foreigners, are supposed to feel hurt whenever the fact of our foreignness is mentioned. As a foreigner, I don’t see absolutely anything wrong or upsetting about my foreign condition. In fact, I even cherish it because it is a huge part of who I am. Still, in order to avoid hurting the feelings of foreigners (who never mentioned being bothered in the least), we will be renaming the department. It will now be called “Department of World Languages and Cultures.”

I cannot begin to tell you how much I hate this stupid appellation. How come we are “world languages” while the Department of English is not? Is English not a world language? And how are students supposed to find us in a catalogue? It would have never occurred to me when I was a student to look for Spanish under W. Will anybody manage to register for our courses?

I love working for my university but the idea of working at a “Department of World Languages and Cultures” is extremely unappealing.


59 thoughts on “Political Correctness”

  1. Ugh…I definitely agree. I accidentally said “a foreign student” to my boss and she snapped back with “INTERNATIONAL student!” Whoops. Also coming from an immigrant family, I don’t really find it offensive at all. I hate feeling like I have to really think about what terms I use before I speak because they may not be politically correct. Mind you, I’m not the type to brazenly insult people, but not being able to use some words, like “foreign”, just makes everything more complicated.


  2. It makes me feel awkward, because it’s like the petty accountant who will pull you up on the small calculation errors. I’m not a precise person and perhaps at times not sensitive enough to questions of identity. Actually, scratch that. I’m well aware of matters of identity, but I see them in very different terms from those who take up a politically correct line. Identity, to me, is roots. But identity to these other guys is the boundary they wish to draw between themselves and others. I trip over this boundary party because I see the boundary in geographic and emotional terms, not in political terms and also because I do not like this boundary line.

    Also I despise petty accountants more than I can say. If they are keeping score of me and my errors, I will work hard to give them a lot of errors to record. I’m their enemy not for having an identity but for making it a matter of keeping accounts.

    My only recourse is to make bigger and bigger accounting errors. It’s not like I have control of this. My subconscious mind takes over and makes them for me.


  3. Political correctness (in this incarnation) has three primary purposes:

    1. To make people feel stupid (not knowing the latest non-word and it’s officially approved replacement)

    2. To deceive people (Oh, we’re not that horrible Burma you’ve yeard about, we’re Myanmar!)

    3. To make people fearful of speaking without official minders. The ultimate goal of the bureaucratic mindset that furthers this nonsense is to make the government or other PC entity an intermediary between every human interaction (see the UK for where this is leading)

    I’m all for not willfully offending people but replacing non-offensive words with less clear alternates is where I draw the line. (nb I’m a foreigner where I live and the concept doesn’t bother me in the least.)


  4. I suspect that this kind of word-switch has the function of letting the people who order it believe that they are doing something for diversity, tolerance, and all that good stuff without requiring them to put forth any real effort (by, say, talking to the people they are supposedly trying to respect).


  5. This is a symptom of an intellectual backwater. Any university that takes itself seriously has a department for each language. If there is an administrative need for an academic unit encompassing all language programs (say, to run a language lab) the place to do that would probably be a “division,” which would be a level of organization between department and college. At the very least, a language family (say, Romance languages) should be department level. For the most part I’ve seen such divisions referred to mostly as “Division of Modern Languages” (in the case of modern languages). This has the virtue of being neither politically correct nor politically incorrect. I seem to recall taking Russian in a department called “Russian and East European Studies” and classical Hebrew in a department called (in a public university, no less) “Ancient and Biblical Studies.” In general, the more “high res” your department chart, the more seriously your university takes itself.

    I’ve probably said it before at this blog, but if so I’ll say it again. Like probably everyone, I find political correctness very annoying, and insulting to my intelligence, but I find the backlash against it to be even more so.


    1. We can’t be “Modern Languages” because we offer Latin and Ancient Greek, too. As for a department foe each language, that’s just not realistic. We offer many languages, including Yoruba, Arabic, Chinese, Turkish, Russian, etc. Imagine the size of the university that has a separate department (which means a Chair, a secretary, and at least two T or TT profs) for each language. All this will achieve is more bureaucracy, more waste, more paperwork.

      We also can’t have Romance languages because historically our university’s strongest foreign languages are German and Spanish.


    2. “Any university that takes itself seriously has a department for each language.”

      – Yale had all that. Yet the level of instruction was abysmally poor. I maintain that compared to my university, Yale absolutely is an intellectual backwater.


  6. I was always under the impression that various language departments in universities were called “Department of Modern Languages”. Such a name leaves out stuff like Latin or Ancient Greek, but also includes other languages that while not English, cannot be necessarily called foreign (like American Sign Language).


        1. Yeah, salsa lessons and pinatas. We do the pinata several times a year to explain to the students what our department is all about. I have managed to avoid the pinata until now but the future does not look promising.


  7. Personally, I prefer the title “Department of Classical and Modern Languages.” I don’t find “Foreign Languages” offensive at all though and I do think it’s a clear and serviceable departmental title. But to me it sort of inspires the question: “foreign to whom?” Presumably Americans since we are in the USA. But then I wonder where something like American Indian languages fit. Are American Indian languages foreign to the US? No. They are indigenous. But they aren’t the primary language of the country either… (not that many schools in the US teach Cherokee or anything–but it’s something that I still think about.)

    But I do agree that “Department of World Languages” is clunky and awkward. And I definitely agree that it’s weird to assume that somehow English is not a world language. It actually promotes this idea of American insularity in a roundabout way. There is the USA on one side and then the “world” on the other. So I actually think that whoever came up with the title is perhaps causing the very perceptual issue they originally sought to avoid. 🙂


    1. Come to think of it, “Department of World Languages” sounds like where you’d want to learn the languages of the UN or something like Esperanto, a language that is interesting in its own right but rather meh as an IAL.


    2. We also dropped the word “literature” from the title and substituted it with “culture”. Even though we don’t have any specifically “culture” courses, whatever that even means. I’m not sure that the students who want to study Spanish literature will even find my courses now. 😦


      1. P.S. why is it that people think literature is so bad? I have my ideas … it is challenging and bad teachers make it deadly … but still, people don’t like organic chemistry, or statistics either and we do not change their names.


        1. This happened right in front of my eyes but I still have absolutely no idea why all of my colleagues but one voted to remove “literature” from the title. I was appalled but the only people who were against this are two untenured junior faculty members.


              1. OK, so yes, more or less. These are the ones who got embarrassed about being in literature, or something like this. I am sick today so I am just posting and commenting on blogs. I think I will post about this.


              2. The end-of-semester cold? I feel your pain, my friend. I barely just recovered myself.

                Unfortunately, there is a drive within the department to turn it into a glorified language school. If that happens, I will unfortunately have to leave. I love languages but it makes no sense to get a PhD to be a language teacher.


              3. Or even a B.A., really. I studied five foreign languages in high school, three to a high degree of competency, and all with good teachers. I worked at a Berlitz type language school during part of college which correctly considered me competent. I could have just stayed without graduating — they would not have cared.


  8. We had “Modern and Classical Languages” at UM. At UVic, we have the languages divided up departments, for instance, since I study Japanese, I’m in Pacific and Asian Studies.
    And Evelina, the University of Montana offered Siksika (Blackfoot) Language studies. 🙂 That was offered through Native American Studies though, not the Modern and Classical Languages Department.


  9. Classical and Modern is the way to go. Foreign Languages is what they use at 2d tier institutions and World Languages at 3d and 4th. I realize how snobbish I sound but hey, academia is snobbish.


  10. Z is right. I would bring back Philology and Letters. Z is also right about terminology and prestige, unfortunately.

    At my institutition, tenured professors in my Dept. of Modern Languages and Literatures would never dare to offer a course entirely on literature, for the sake of ‘numbers.’ If they offer a literature course it is in English. If it is in Spanish or French then the course has to be bits of novels (or very contemporary novels), poetry, movies, song, and visual arts. Focusing on literature in our teaching practice has been considered conservative for a variety of reasons; I think that focusing on literature and teaching literature today is rather daring and avant-garde.


    1. “At my institutition, tenured professors in my Dept. of Modern Languages and Literatures would never dare to offer a course entirely on literature, for the sake of ‘numbers.’”

      – One just has to be a good teacher. In my very first semester here, I had 8 students in my literature seminar. Next semester, 23 students are registered for my literature seminar. Of course, one reason is that the program is growing. But another reason is that students know me and want to take courses with me. Even to the point of getting over the terror the word “literature” inspires in them. 🙂


  11. I don’t get the name change either. It can’t be out of sensitivity since any person who is that sensitive will be upset about the anglonormativity of having an English department and a “Department of World Languages and Cultures” or the non-US-centricness of having the same. :p Maybe they feel the name sounds more inclusive and exciting? How much culture are the language professors really teaching anyways? On a hilarious note, Rosetta Stone software looks like Benetton ads and National Geographic had a bunch of stock photography babies. You’re not learning culture from Rosetta Stone.


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