University Of Michigan Professor: ‘The English language is sexist’

Professor: ‘The English language is sexist’

The English language is sexist, a University of Michigan professor told Iowa State University students Thursday evening during a guest lecture in The Hawkeye State.

Anne Curzan, an associate dean of humanities and professor of English at Michigan, made her remarks in a talk titled “Politically Correct: Do Our Language Choices Matter?” During the lecture, she reportedly discussed “everything from sexist language to preferred pronouns in order to dispel the stigma against politically correct speaking,” according to the Iowa State Daily.

Aside from teaching, Curzan hosts a show called “That’s What They Say” on Michigan Radio, where her biography states she’s an expert in the English language.

On Thursday, she spent a portion of her lecture explaining deep-seated sexism in the English language.

“The English language is sexist; it has a long history of being sexist,” she said.

From the Iowa State Daily article:

The first half of the lecture focused on modern language and looked at what Curzan called the sexist history of the English language.

Curzan pointed out that it wasn’t until 2009 that Congress recognized that government positions such as the chair head of a committee, formerly referred to as a chairman, should change their titles to encompass all potential candidates.

It is often thought that the suffix “man” is an all-inclusive and general term, but Curzan compared this to using “woman” as a position suffix. For example, “camerawoman” is not viewed as an all-inclusive title.

This is a practice dating back to the 1700s when male superiority was emphasized through saying in congressional documents, “the masculine encompasses the feminine.”

Curzan also suggested during her talk that it’s difficult to get people to change their language in order to be politically correct.

“It’s very hard to get people to change their language, but changing language does have the power to change attitudes,” she said.

Read the article.

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Guest lecturer explains impact of politically correct speech


There is no such thing as “just language.”

Anne Curzan, associate dean of humanities and Arthur F. Thurnau professor of English at the University of Michigan, uses her knowledge of linguistics to discuss the social power language holds. Curzan is the author of "Gender Shifts in the History of English" and is the subject of a 36-lecture series titled “The Secret Life of Words.”

In Curzan’s lecture, “Politically Correct: Do Our Language Choices Matter?,” she discusses everything from sexist language to preferred pronouns in order to dispel the stigma against politically correct speaking.

She spoke to students in the Memorial Union Thursday evening.

“It is never just language,” Curzan said. “As soon as anyone says it’s just language, it’s because they don’t want to deal with the real issue.”

Curzan’s lecture centered around the modern use of politically correct speech and worked to dissect what that truly means: Is politically correct language a violation of freedom of speech or is it a practice of good manners and respect?

There are set attitudes when confronting the topic of PC language, often surrounding negative connotation, Curzan said. Those who use political correct language often experience backlash, as it can be interpreted as being overly sensitive or as a form of sensory that violates a key First Amendment right.

Many view the emphasis of politically correct language as a way to avoid more important issues.

“This is not an either-or situation,” Curzan said. “ It’s very hard to get people to change their language, but changing language does have the power to change attitudes.”

The first half of the lecture focused on modern language and looked at what Curzan called the sexist history of the English language.

Curzan pointed out that it wasn’t until 2009 that Congress recognized that government positions such as the chair head of a committee, formerly referred to as a chairman, should change their titles to encompass all potential candidates.

It is often thought that the suffix “man” is an all-inclusive and general term, but Curzan compared this to using “woman” as a position suffix. For example, “camerawoman” is not viewed as an all-inclusive title.

This is a practice dating back to the 1700s when male superiority was emphasized through saying in congressional documents, “the masculine encompasses the feminine.”

“The English language is sexist; it has a long history of being sexist,” Curzan said. “Language has always been politicized; it always involves a negotiation of power.”

Curzan also touched on the proper use of pronouns. This is a difficult subject for many people to grasp, but Curzan said it holds growing importance in society.

“If someone said to you, ‘Hello, my name is Chris, but I go by Paul,’ you would not say, ‘Well, I am going to call you Henry because that’s easier for me,’” Curzan said. “And the same rule applies to any pronoun someone asks to be referred as.”

The English language has come a long way in the last one hundred years, but work still needs to be done to perpetuate an equal and inclusive society, Curzan said.

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Comment by Old Denmark on April 18, 2017 at 11:54am

So the university doesn't hire any educated people?

Comment by DTOM on April 18, 2017 at 10:51am

English is a Germanic language, predominantly influenced by other Germanic / Nordic languages as well as Latin and French.

So she finds the term 'man' offensive - in Old English man  - was a gender neutral term for a "human being" - one had to add the noun, wif, representing a female person, to man, to form a word that denoted a female person exclusively.

One minute these feminists demand equality, although the goalposts and rationality for these demands keeps changing - depending on whether they are celebrating their femininity that week or demanding total modification to the English language with gender neutral terms.

What about Latin / Romance based languages that use grammatical gender based nouns as the norm?

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