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Social Science Women's Studies

The Moral Parameters of Good Talk

A Feminist Analysis

by (author) Maryann Neely Ayim

Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Initial publish date
Mar 1997
Women's Studies, Ethics & Moral Philosophy, Sociolinguistics
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    Publish Date
    Mar 1997
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Should we not apply the same moral standards to language as we do to behaviour? Should we not demand fair treatment in how others speak to us or include us in conversations?

In The Moral Parameters of Good Talk, Ayim contends it is ludicrous to exempt language from the moral standards we apply to other behaviours. Language, like any other behaviour, is capable of creating harm or good — we should strive to talk in morally appropriate ways. While freedom of expression is a right we strive for in a democratic society, it is acceptable only when it is conducive to freedom of expression for all. Racist and sexist speech fails the moral test.

Ayim discusses her proposed moral criteria for language on two levels: on a theoretical level, where she applies her moral analysis to the major competing theories on the relation of gender and language, and on a practical level, when she examines one circumstance where such moral criteria have been applied to a study of women in educational administration.

With passion yet with logical rigour, Ayim provides a topical and controversial moral discussion of speech patterns which will interest everyone concerned with the effects of language use, in addition to scholars in the areas of gender studies, linguistics, philosophy, sociology and education.

About the author

Maryann Neely Ayim is a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Western Ontario and a winner of the much–coveted OCUFA teaching award. Author of a book on Peirce, she has been widely published in anthologies, in journals and in encyclopaedias. Her research has led her to explore such topics as gossip, the epistemology of gender identity and violence in academic discourse.

Maryann Neely Ayim's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"I recommend this book with this proviso, that it be the springboard for a discussion of these larger questions concerning social/global transformation not only of language but of how we think about the environment, racial/ethnic relations, relations between gender, sexes, abilities, classes, and geographic regions at a time when stopping the juggernaut of the global economy might truly present us with a challenge befitting a new millennium."

Resources for Feminist Research

"I find Ayim's argument both lucid and compelling....Throughout her book Ayim clarifies and deepens her argument by rigorous analysis of significant current research into theories in which issues of language, gender, race, ethics and violence intersect. One of her most fascinating chapters explores the level of violent metaphor we routinely accept in everyday language....Ayim's Good Talk is a clear call for all of us to re-examine the suit of words in which we clothe ourselves as we venture forth into the larger world. It is a reasonable and lucid book which should be required reading for every first-year college and university student – and all of their teachers."

Literary Review of Canada

"...this book is respectful in tone, qualified, thoughtful, well researched, cogently argued -- and a timely intervention into the debates on linguistic politics."

Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

"This is an interesting and intelligent book which will be fruitfully read by teachers and others interested in combating sexism in their everyday lives....The author's contribution is an application of reasonable moral principles to empirical data in defence of feminist conclusions about our current linguistic practices. This is an important task, and one which Ayim accomplishes well....Thinking about whether adversarial discourse really serves our own goals, and in what ways it is morally problematic, is a neglected but important task, and Ayim does well to focus our attention on these questions."