Routledge – 1995 – 280 pages
Series: The Politics of Language
BAAL Book Prize Winner 1996
In this award winning book Deborah Cameron takes a serious look at popular attitudes towards language and examines the practices by which people attempt to regulate its use. Instead of dismissing the practice of 'verbal hygiene', as a misguided and pernicious exercise, however, she argues that popular discourse about language values; good and bad, right and wrong, serves an important function for those engaged in it.
A series of case-studies deal with specific examples of verbal hygiene: the regulation of 'style' by editors, the teaching of English grammar in schools, the movements for and against so-called 'politically-correct' language and the recent explosion of advice to women on how they can speak more effectively. In each case she argues that verbal hygiene provides a way of making sense of linguistic phenomena, and that it represents a symbolic attempt to impose order on the social world.
Addressed to linguistics, professional language-users of all kinds, and to anyone interested in language and culture, Verbal Hygiene, calls for legitimate concerns about language and value to be discussed, by experts and lay-speakers alike, in a rational and critical spirit.
'Cameron's new book should be on every ET reader's reading list. The book is written in a personal way, with anecdotes and a sense of the human writer behind the printed page, and many of the stories and examples are amusing. It's a good read.' - English Today
'Cameron provides us with some excellent teaching materials and some remarkable examples of public statements about language in use. Most important, she leaves us in no doubt about the normative and ideological nature of language in social affairs and the failure of some language experts who have become involved in educational matters to take full account of the practical importance of these things.' - James Milroy, Journal of Sociolinguistics