U-M Professor Anne Curzan and Linguistics Professor and Chair Robin Queen discussed the merits and the criticisms of politically-correct language during a popular presentation held on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, titled “Fights about Language and Political Correctness: What’s at Stake?” 

Efforts to render language more respectful and inclusive of all persons are sometimes perceived as policing other people’s language, and the term “politically correct” is not easily defined.

A standing-room only crowd attended the talk, which addressed such questions as: Who has the right to tell others how they should and shouldn’t use language—and when? Do “superficial” changes in the language we use really matter? What’s at stake in debates about language?

Curzan and Queen discussed specific cases that have received national attention as well as significant attention on the University of Michigan campus. Two overarching workshop themes were that language choices do matter, and that intention doesn’t outweigh interpretation.

In response to questions of how people can ensure that their language is respectful and inclusive, Queen said: “We’re always navigating meaning. Pay attention. Listen. Know that these choices matter.”

The event was sponsored by the U-M Department of English Language and Literature.