Friday, 5 March 2010

"Political Correctness" and Hate Speech (Lakoff)


Patricia Bou said...

Well done, Joaquín! I feel more work is needed regarding the second part of the paper. But here go a few questions, which ANYONE (not just you) in class can answer

1) What's the point of mentioning Austin's word-as-action views in relation to political correctness?

2) What is the Water Buffalo incident and how does it relate to pc?

Gema Olaso said...

Here are a few questions regarding this paper:

1- Does Franklyn Haiman support the Theory of performative Speech Acts? Are words world-changing for him? Why/Why not?

2- What are fighting words?

Joaquín Primo said...

Thank you very much, Patricia! You are absolutely right about the second part of the paper, that is why I uploaded a second presentation dealing with it. I hope there is no problem and that you find it appropriate!

Moving on to the first two questions you suggested:

1) What's the point of mentioning Austin's word-as-action views in relation to political correctness?

As I read through Lakoff’s article, this is one of the points which I found most amusing, namely because I would have never thought that there could be some kind of connection between hate speech and Austin’s theories. Basically, Lakoff considers that it is relevant to mentiont Austin’s theory of performative speech acts because, quoting her, “Austin concluded that language was equivalent to action, in that all utterances were performative and all performatives were world-changing—that is, actions.” This is, within the field that Lakoff is here dealing with, it means that language (or hate speech, in particular) constitutes and creates actions. Therefore, to speak plainly, we could say that insulting someone could be equated to hitting someone’s face (I might be wrong, but this is the idea that I understood). Hence, as Lakoff says, “those who believe in Austin’s formulation are likely to follow it to its logical conclusion: that linguistic misbehavior is a type of bad action and should be treated as such by the law, criminally and civilly.” Therefore, if one agrees with Austin’s word-as-action view, hate speech and political incorrectness should be dealt with legally, as an illegal action (in the same way as murder is dealt with legally and considered an illegal punishable action). Do you agree with Austin’s theory, and with its possible influence on the field of hate speech and political correctness?

2) What is the Water Buffalo incident and how does it relate to pc?

The Water Buffalo incident is mentioned on two occasions in Lakoff’s paper, but I had to consult the Wikipedia entry on the incident in order to know more about it. It took place in Pennsylvania in 1993, when a student called Eden Jacobowitz shouted “Shut up, you water buffalo” at a noisy group of fifteen African American women that were outside his bedroom. Jacobowitz was charged allegedly with violating the Racial Harassment Policy, when he was not the only student shouting at the women, and apparently, was also not the only one that made use of “hate speech” at shouting at them. The University believed “water buffalo” to be a “racial epithet”, despite Jacobowitz claimed it was not, even with the help of some experts which agreed with him in that it was not a racist insult. The incident gradually became more and more controversial, arising media attention. Finally, the fifteen women decided to drop charges on Jacobowitz.

In any case, I really recommend people to read about it on the Internet. I think it is really a very interesting event to read about when dealing with p.c. Besides, what really surprised me was the fact that (if I am not wrong) Jacobowitz was a Jew. I mean, that he also belonged to what could be considered a powerless or minority group, in the same way as the fifteen women were African American (another minority), and not white, for instance, which I think would have changed the events drastically.

What do you think about this incident? Do you think it was fair or unfair on the side of Eden Jacobowitz? I really don’t know what to believe. What is clear to me is that it must be only one case in a million in which to consider the effect and importance of language is controversial and ambiguous. In any case, I believe that the intervention of law is positive on the one hand, but also negative, because it distorts the overall perception of everything. Of course, what was Jacobowitz to say but that “water buffalo” is not a racist epithet? He might have spoken the truth, but he might have also been dishonest and might have lied in order to avoid charges. What do you think?