[lg policy] Not quite the end of mankind

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Wed Jun 13 10:43:46 EDT 2018


 Not quite the end of mankind
13 June 2018

The University of Queensland does not have gender-neutral language policy,
or list of banned words. This has been misreported in the media.

School of Political Science and International Studies Head Richard Devetak
responds:

Outrage is a powerful emotion, but is not always helpful when analysing the
facts. Let me employ some common sense and dispassionate reason to respond
to recent stories about university essay guides.

Has the University of Queensland banned the use of words such as ‘mankind’
and ‘workmanship’? No, and there is no evidence they have, despite the
lurid headlines. Does the University deduct marks specifically for using
gendered language? No, not as a rule. And no one has presented me with any
evidence that marks have been deducted for gendered language in essays. Can
the use of gendered language affect the overall quality of an essay?
Perhaps, but only at the margins, and it depends on the extent.

The truth is that there is no university policy to ‘mark down’ student
essays for using gendered language any more than there is for splitting
infinitives, misplacing apostrophes, or committing any other grammatical
infelicity, as Acting Executive Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and
Social Sciences, Professor Julie Duck, pointed out.

The public quite rightly expects universities to uphold high standards when
it comes to formal communication. Naturally, these standards will differ
from what’s expected in other parts of life. What’s acceptable in the pub
may not be appropriate in a newspaper. What’s acceptable in a newspaper may
not be appropriate in a piece of academic writing. This is just plain
common sense and has nothing at all to do with political correctness. It is
about informing students of professional standards and expectations across
different fields.

Professional environments both inside and outside universities have writing
conventions. Universities have a responsibility to inform students about
these conventions and expectations, which is why they issue guidelines to
help a highly internationalised and diverse student body. They guide
students in their formal academic writing, they do not dictate how they
communicate in other contexts.

If students wish to ignore grammar and revert to using the passive voice or
splitting infinitives, if they choose to use colloquialisms and slang, or
if they insist on using gendered, racist or foul language in other
settings, that is their business. But in an academic essay, as in many
other professional contexts, it is best to avoid them.

So, are universities pushing an ‘agenda’, as Minister Birmingham implies,
by upholding widely accepted writing conventions? No, of course not. To
suggest otherwise is simply a convenient fiction to create outrage. The
awkward truth is that universities are following style guides used in many
professional organisations, including the Commonwealth Government and News
Ltd.

The Minister might care to consult the sixth edition of the *Style Manual*
published by the Australian Government as a guide to its publications since
1966. This includes the same advice about inclusive language as is found in
university guides.

Readers of the *Courier Mail* may also like to consult the third edition of
News Ltd’s *Style: The Essential Guide for Journalists and Professional
Writers*, edited by long-time News Ltd editor, Kim Lockwood. It says:
‘Avoid words or phrases implying men are viewed as the norm and women as
the exception’.

Ironically, as it turns out, both Minister Birmingham’s own government
departments and News Ltd are dictating “nanny state stuff” and “lingo
lunacy” through their style guides too.

It is important that universities defend their autonomy and integrity
against the assault on academic standards, and maintain good writing
practices. To do this, we must not allow shrill culture warriors to twist
the truth and turn common sense writing conventions into weapons of fake
news.

*Read more: philosophy, language and gender experts Associate Professor
Deborah Brown and Dr Dino Willox apply critical thinking to gender-neutral
language. <https://small-change.uq.edu.au/blog/2018/06/words-are-deeds> *


-- 
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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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