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Study Skills

Inclusive language

Language that does not belittle, exclude, stereotype or trivialise people on the basis of their race, gender or disability

At university, You will meet people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds as well as people with disabilities, different sexual preferences and varied religious or spiritual belief systems.

We all have a responsibility to respect these differences and ensure that our speech and language is appropriate and non-discriminatory. This means avoiding terms that are offensive or using language that portrays certain people in negative ways.

Language and culture

An Indigenous Australian is someone of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander in the community in which he/she lives or has lived.

The term aboriginal, written with a small ‘a’ is used to describe indigenous people around the world and fails to recognise the uniqueness of Indigenous Australians.

The term Aboriginal, with a capital ‘A’, on the other hand denotes Indigenous Australians and is therefore a more appropriate word to use.

Indigenous Australians are not, however, a homogeneous group and prefer to be called by the language or cultural groups to which they belong. For example, in the Northern Territory there are many different groups such as the Larrakia (Darwin), Tiwi people who live on Bathurst and Melville Islands, the Yolngu from Arnhem Land and the Warlpiri from areas north and west of Alice Springs.


Indigenous Australian people

Aboriginal people


Black or blackfellas

Half caste, quarter caste, full blood

Language and Australians of language backgrounds other than English

It is important too to avoid ethnic or racist labels which create negative stereotypes. Any person, who was born in Australia or has acquired Australian citizenship regardless of their cultural background or origins, should be referred to as Australian.

Terms such as ‘wog’ or ‘dago’ or ‘chink’ should be avoided as they demean and belittle people and are seen as a form of racial harassment.

Language and sexuality

Language that humiliates or intends harm to people on the basis of their assumed or actual sexual preference is not acceptable and can be offensive.

Derogatory comments about gays, lesbian, bisexual members of the public are heard all too often. Unless members of these groups have used specific terms to reclaim their identity and as a means of empowerment, it is not generally acceptable to use terms such as 'dyke' or 'queer', 'poofter', and so on.


lesbian, bisexual woman/man

transgender person, transsexual person

dyke, faggot, homo, tranny, lemon


Language and gender

Historically language usage has privileged men and often rendered women invisible or inferior.

Here are some examples of appropriate and inappropriate language usage.


Humans, humankind, spokesperson, chairperson.

Man, mankind, spokesman, chairman

Office staff, doctor, cleaner, professor

The girls in the office, woman doctor, male nurse, cleaning lady, female professor

Actor, author, managerAuthoress, actress, manageress
Language and disability

It is important that people with a disability feel that they are part of university life and are not excluded through the inappropriate use of language. Language that constructs people with disabilities as victims and focuses on the disability and not the person is inappropriate. It is therefore important to put the person, not the disability first.

Person with a disabilityHandicapped or disabled
Person with a hearing impairmentDeaf
Person with a visual impairmentBlind
Person with a psychiatric disorderMad/insane

In summary, it is important to remember that inclusive language is required at university and students are encouraged to use appropriate terms and language in all their written and oral communications.

Did you know CDU Language and Learning Advisors offer a range of study support options?


a group of learning advisors at waterfront campus foyer
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