missing variable in intro courses

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Aug 13 03:25:37 UTC 2000

At 11:04 PM -0700 8/12/00, Rudolph C Troike wrote:
>         Thanks so much for bringing up a genuinely significant question
>for the list, and thanks to Larry for sharing a suggestion. Larry -- it
>would be helpful to have also at least an outline of your lecture, and, as
>Mai asked, any suggestions on how you handled the topic.

Most of the relevant lecture last time I gave it dealt with the
putative attributes of gay male and lesbian speech.  We saw that some
of the factors associated (with or without reliable evidence) with
women's speech (in particular, the lexical and intonational variants
defining Women's Language nominated by Robin Lakoff (and Jespersen
before her) are also seen as characterizing gay male speech styles.
(The sibilant issue brought up by Frank Abate in his recent post
would be a case in point.)  This led outward to a consideration of
the issue of how gay speakers and communities can be identified by
such variables; there's a lot less literature on defining lesbian
speech communities, but there are a couple of useful articles
(Moonwomon-Baird's and Queen's) in the Queerly Phrased anthology that
I had students read in last year's Langauge, Sex & Gender class.

>         In my American English course [still avoiding the term "dialect"
>because of its inescapably perjorative meaning] last year, I too-briefly
>included the topic under 'Slang', which I also usually deal with rather
>briefly, although it is the one topic most undergrads resonate to most
>readily. This is one context in which the topic can be easily introduced
>since most of the usages tend to fit into this label. I usually give a
>small survey assignment, and this time one student chose to do it within
>the gay/lesbian community, looking for possible regional variation in
>terminology (or difference in familiarity based on length of residence).
>         It is also easy to bring the topic into the standard part of the
>discussion of why linguistic differentiations of any type develop or are
>maintained or lost (Yiddish being a prime historical example).
We use "Dialects of English" as a way to lure students in, but we do
spend a lot of time talking about the dangers of the term "dialect".
Besides, according to today's New York Times Magazine, I am, after
all, a dialectologist ;)

I'm not sure most of my discussion of orientation as a linguistic
variable really fits within a general discussion of slang, although
we do touch on some issues in that intersection in a different part
of the course.  I wish we had time to go over some of the issues
Lynne Murphy touches on in HER paper about bisexuals and identity in
that same (Hall & Livia) anthology, but the Dialects courses moves
too quickly.

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