Language, Thought, and Action
According to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, we think through language. The words we use to talk about the world reinforce our attitudes and, occasionally, our prejudices. Changing our language so as to eliminate offensive language, many argue, may change our attitudes as well. At the very least, becoming aware of the biases in language practices may make us more sensitive to the feelings of those who are the targets of these biases. Thus, we try our best to avoid sexist and racist language by substituting new, more “politically correct” usage.
What do you think about this issue? Does language affect thought and behavior? Does changing our language habits make a significant change in the ways we think and behave? Have some efforts to be more politically sensitive gone too far? (For example, recently it has been suggested that the term “addiction” be changed to “substance use disorder” to avoid the negative connotations connected with the former term.) What kinds of changes, if any, do you think are justified, and what kind are too extreme? What is the difference between being “politically correct” and using “newspeak?”
More generally, should people be free to express their feelings, no matter how offensive, or should some limits be placed on what can be said?
To stimulate your thinking on this topic, read this short article: What’s Wrong with ‘Retard’?, watch these videos: 1) The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis in Interpersonal Communication (available in Course Videos), and 2) Not Acceptable PSA, and view this infographic:
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