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[RD] Language “purity,” “respectability,” and “competency”

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by amadeus, Jun 10, 2021.

  1. amadeus

    amadeus Civ2 / Law and Order!

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    I’m not sure where to come down on this but I was thinking in the shower about language “purity,” “respect,” and how skillfulness in language is correlated with competency. Now there are two examples I want to take that I think both address this similarly, but the reactions to them were very different.

    I am aware of the personal histories of the people/cases cited below; those issues are to me outside this discussion.

    Case one—Bill Cosby: the “Pound Cake” speech in which Cosby criticized the use of AAVE (“ebonics”) among, particularly, young black men. Whether or not AAVE constitutes a language or a dialect, there are good scholarly works on the subject; the point however is that Cosby offended some people who argued that this respect-competency question should be separated from language.

    Case two—Donald Trump: particularly in the initial nomination phase there was a lot of media buzz about Trump’s use (or depending on your point of view, misuse) of the English language and this in part was used as evidence to disqualify him from public office on the grounds he could neither demonstrate respectability nor competence, in part because of his choice of language.

    I may very well be missing something of critical contextual importance here, however I feel that the two cases above ultimately lead to two contradictory conclusions: on the one hand, language shouldn’t be used as a yardstick to judge someone’s worthiness in society insofar as the command of language is necessary. On the other, judging someone by their language ability gives us deep insights into their abilities as a whole.

    My personal feeling is that too much adherence to prescriptivism for its own sake isn’t meritorious; I find importance communicating ideas and finding the best way of doing that.

    (Feel free to let me know if I’ve been unclear here in anything.)
     
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  2. Valka D'Ur

    Valka D'Ur Hosting Iron Pen in A&E Retired Moderator

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    Definition, please.
     
  3. PhroX

    PhroX Deity

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    I feel part of the difference between your two examples is that Trump was apparently trying to speak a relatively conventional form of English, but making mistakes in doing so, wheras many users of AAVE are criticised for using that dialect* even when they are doing so correctly according to it's conventions.

    That said, I'm of the opinion that ultimately language is a tool for communication, so if you have successfully communicated your meaning, you've used language correctly.

    *I believe the correct term for AAVE is actually sociolect, as dialect indicates a version of a laguage spoken in a geographical region, whereas AAVE is more widespread but limited to a particular social grouping. But I'm certainly no expert on the subject, I've just watched a few YouTube videos from people who seem to know what they're talking about....
     
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  4. amadeus

    amadeus Civ2 / Law and Order!

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    For prescriptivism? Broadly, that there is a "correct" language that is formalized and needs to be protected. This could be described as a "top-down" approach.

    The opposite, "bottom-up" approach is descriptivism, where the rules reflect how language is used and shouldn't be governed.

    I don't mean to sound nitpicky or pedantic, but there is correct in language communication and correct in the non-language messaging.

    "Me make for good leader. Stronger country. Economy get bigger. Big waste cut."

    This faux caveman English does a perfectly good job at communicating the intent, but are you going to vote for them? :)
     
  5. PhroX

    PhroX Deity

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    Depends on who they were running against....

    But on a more serious note, I do see what you mean, and I guess there are limits to how far I would go with these things. Speaking like that would suggest a lack of education which would put me off a politician. That said, if speaking in that way was a dialect or sociolect that was actually used by people in their normal speech where that politician was from, it would be another matter as it would be an indication of their origins and not education. And if that were the case, at least my conscious decision making wouldn't take it as a negative.
     
  6. EnglishEdward

    EnglishEdward Deity

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    It is a nice word.
     
  7. AmazonQueen

    AmazonQueen Virago

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    Rather than George W or Trump sure.
    George W and The Donald both received excellent educations at expensive schools and universities and were still inarticulate. That tells you something about them.
     
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  8. Farm Boy

    Farm Boy The long wait

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    I don't think it does.

    I think it tells us something about ourselves.
     
  9. Valka D'Ur

    Valka D'Ur Hosting Iron Pen in A&E Retired Moderator

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    Thank you for explaining.

    There's a former Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, who served in Parliament for decades, finally making it to the top job in 1993 and winning successive elections until party infighting resulted in his getting pushed out by Paul Martin (the PM who brought in same-sex marriage in Canada).

    Chretien had a very strong French accent, which was complicated by the fact that he'd had polio as a child. The result was partial facial paralysis. There were times when he was very hard to understand. But Chretien is a very intelligent man who just happens to be hampered by the results of a childhood illness (there was a series of TV ads mocking this in one election, and the public backlash was immense).
     
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  10. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    Not etymologically sound, though. Since "dia" alludes to others sharing that way of speech, and dialect is not a late coined term but an ancient one which always meant language used to converse (hence the "dia").
    Eg the koine (greek) was the common dialect of the hellenistic world.
     
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  11. Arwon

    Arwon

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    Well, one common denominator here is both involve criticising known sexual abusers.

    At any rate, Phrox has the right of this. AAVE dialects are perfectly valid varieties of English in use by native English speakers, which like all dialects feature some grammar, phonology and lexical items not found in standard formal American English, and these dialects are stigmatised mostly due to racism and to a lesser extent classism.

    Trump's speech is basically a Queens variety of New York English and he is mocked for the bad brain stuff. He's not an example of a stigmatised dialect or sociolect, his use of language isn't notable for using non-standard but grammatically consistent rules and constructions along the line of, say, the AAVE habitual "be". He's just an old guy who likely has dementia or something similar, and who speaks in run-on sentences, loses his train of thought, and says weird stuff out of nowhere, while being hilariously and unjustifiably boastful.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2021
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  12. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    In the end (double meaning) everyone uses their own monolect :o
     
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  13. Samson

    Samson Deity

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    I think the real problem was not that Trump was unable to form intelligible sentences. It was that the concepts he was using to get elected would have been overtly evil had he expressed them in the accurate and consistent language he used when talking about real estate. Had he expressed his "punching down" politics in clear and concise english everyone would have seen what he was about, and only the 30% of "deplorables" that form his base would have voted for him. As it was he talked in incoherent phases stuck together in whatever order they appeared in his brain, his base heard what they wanted to hear and the non-deplorable right heard a load of nonsense and assumed he would lower their taxes.

    I do not know much about the AAVE thing, but we had in the UK a thing where the BBC used to only use the Queens english, and people with regional accents were excluded. The beeb changed, but it is still a thing in employment and more widely, and is clearly unjustified discrimination.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2021
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  14. EnglishEdward

    EnglishEdward Deity

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    It is a very reasonable requirement in primary places of employment (outside
    Wales) that people talk in such a way that other people can understand.

    Many pronounced English regional dialects and accents are not generally
    inter-comprehensible so the BBC requirement was not unjustified.

    I will give you another example; international English.

    Many cosmopolitan workplaces communicate very effectively using this.

    A problem for English people in seeking employment in such cosmopolitan workplaces
    is that most English people do not know what international English is and what it is not.
    The English people can understand it alright, but they do not know its boundaries
    and use words from standard, if not dialectic or sociolect English that the other employees
    can not understand. This means that they may find difficulty getting work there.
     
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  15. Arwon

    Arwon

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    Fun fact: the term idiolect is actually used for this purpose
     
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  16. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    Same root as "idiom", which connotes particularity of a small group up to one. But mono- only means one :)
    They can be thought of as the natural language equivalent of the existential (Ǝx) and the unique quantifier (Ǝ!x).
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2021
  17. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Hanafubuki Super Moderator Supporter

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    When I watch British TV shows or movies, I usually need the subtitles on or I will quickly lose track of the conversations.
     
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  18. AmazonQueen

    AmazonQueen Virago

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    Some people in the UK need subtitles to understand others from the UK.



    That is not a strong accent IMO (but I did live in Scotland for 7 years).
     
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  19. Farm Boy

    Farm Boy The long wait

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    I agree that is not a strong accent, I caught that all first go.

    Granted, if there was any noise in the background, I'd probably have missed it all.
     
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2021
  20. stinkubus

    stinkubus Emperor

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    Formalized rules of language are power plays. Any number of lectures on this topic, by Chomsky himself, are available on YouTube.
     
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