Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Political Correctness Impaired

For well over ten years I have had a sign in my office (actually a "cube") which makes this polite request, "Please be patient with me: I am Political Correctness Impaired."

It was initially intended as a self-referential joke. As a joke, it was a member of a family of jokes that was popular at that time, such as saying "folically challenged" for a bald man (such as myself). These sayings were not seriously intended to be politically correct, but had a similar form and were poking fun at the advocates. Being self-referential, it was calling upon advocates of political correctness to exercise the compassion due to one who had a particular handicap (oops, I mean "disability", sorry--see what I mean?): not being able to go along with their program.

Over time, I have begun to wonder if the sign isn't actually true of me. Part of this comes naturally, from my generation--educated before the days of political correctness. Part of it may be simply that I am a member of so many of the majorities that political correctness advocates consider unduly privileged.

Maybe I will post more examples of my thoughts on this subject, but for now, I'll just mention one. I grew up in a country deeply divided by two official languages (and two unofficial cultures). In western Canada we spoke English, yet I spent about ten years mostly speaking French, starting just after high school. This included seven years actually living in France and French-speaking Switzerland and visits to French-speaking Belgium (two other countries divided by official languages).

Many years later I heard of an incident in Alberta, Canada which changed my opinion of language issues, and considerably deadened my sympathies for the (locally) disadvantaged French speakers in western Canada. The French speaking minority in northern Alberta had formed a private school where their children could be educated in their native language. An English-speaking family had petitioned the school to allow their children to attend so that they could learn French. The school denied permission, explaining that the school was only open to children from ethnic groups that had traditionally spoken French through generations.

It's hard for me to understand exactly what this minority group in Canada really wants. Apparently they don't want any converts. What they have obtained is for the government to make every service available in both French and English. For, example, I once made a border crossing from the U.S.A. into western Canada speaking only French to the official.

Oddly, this bilingualism includes stop signs, which feature the French word "arrêt" as well as the English "stop". Or is it English? When I lived in France (and the other French-speaking countries), all of the stop signs only said "stop" (but generally didn't have the octagonal shape--see the image from Tonga).

As is generally the case when political correctness bears sway, the situation is asymmetric: The stop signs in non-French-speaking Canada are bilingual, but apparently in Quebec (French-speaking Canada) they are not (judging by this image). Hmm.


Myrna said...

Glad to read your post, big brother!

David said...

Quite an interesting argument. I see the whole language issue in Canada as really odd - especially since Quebec looked down on french speakers from France (up until a few years ago when they realized their population was in decline).
I recall that there are similar debates with gender issues. A male advocate has a gender bias. A female advocate is a feminist. Scouts Canada is called that because females sued to join and won. Females counter-sued a boy who wanted to join girl scouts (to make a point) for harassment. The barrier is being torn down for guys, but is very prevalent for girls. At least females now wear girls clothes and aren't taking everything that's half decent from the guys sections (which only comprise about 15% of the department stores).

Kelline said...

David, I love guy shirts and jeans....but that's me...

I like your post Uncle Bruce. I think everyone just makes too big of an ordeal on matters. In the end, does it REALLY matter?

Mail Person, Mail Man...Bonjour, Ola, or Hello...to ma toe, toe may toe?

I am excited that the charter schools in Utah have seen a need and desire for bilingual! (The twins go to a bilingual daycare.)