Language issues addressed

By Brian Slupski

The freshman English committee has passed a motion to encourage instructors to confront the issue of non-discriminatory language.

Robert Self, director of freshman English, said faculty is being encouraged to address the issue but do not have to.

“It depends on the teacher,” he said. “Some won’t deal with it, others already are.”

The committee will distribute the American Psychological Association’s guidelines for “Non-Sexist Language in APA Journals,” but that is as far as the encouragement will go, he said.

Self said the guidelines address the problem of ethnic and gender stereotyping. Included in the text are ways to avoid problematic language, as well as alternative language suggestions.

He also said a student’s grade could be affected in a minor way by the guidelines, depending on the instructor.

Self said the committee passed the motion because “you can’t write in the real world without running into similar guidelines.”

Self said there was some controversy earlier in the year over the language issue when some students complained their freedom to express themselves was being trampled.

Self said this was naive. “We don’t write in a free world, but a world of convention.”

“Students are free to use any language they want in the real world, but they should be aware of the cost of that freedom,” Self said.

The purpose of instructing students in non-discriminatory language is to prepare them for constraints they will have to face after graduation, Self said.

Several English professors reacted positively to the motion.

English Professor Gerald Berkowitz said he feels the motion is necessary and not political at all.

He said any writer who wants to get a message across to a reader should be aware of anything which interferes with that communication, including offending the reader.

He said students’ freedom will not be affected in any way. “It’s not proscriptive, it’s constructive suggestions on how to communicate more successfully,” Berkowitz said.

Berkowitz said the guidelines are like telling someone not to use slang in a formal report or talk dirty to one’s grandmother. It’s bad only because it gets in the way of communication, he added.

English Professor James Mellard said he is in favor of the guidelines.

He said the committee passed a set of guidelines, not rules.

“In language a person always operates within guidelines, you don’t make it up as you go along,” Mellard said.

He said a person is always under some guidelines whether they are public speaking, writing a possible employer or writing a love letter.

“The committee is bringing NIU into the 1990s as far as the awareness of the condition of language,” Mellard said.