missing variable in intro courses

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Aug 13 06:09:26 UTC 2000

At 12:28 PM -0500 8/13/00, Mai Kuha wrote:
>At 11:04 PM -0700 8/12/00, Rudolph C Troike was like:
>>  >   (...) 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. (...)
>And then, on Sun, 13 Aug 2000, Laurence Horn was all:
>>  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.  (...)
>Still, it's an interesting alternative for organizing the topics. Instead
>of having, so to speak, a "sexual orientation day" on the course schedule,
>a general discussion of pragmatics and cross-cultural communication could
>be a good place to discuss e.g. the exchanges with subtle "gay-centered
>messages and meanings" that Leap reports. Other aspects could be brought
>up during discussions of language & identity, and so on. Done right, this
>organization of topics might even send a more inclusive message.
Good point.  There's another aspect of the issue that hadn't occurred
to me before teaching it.  We're always trying to bring out the fact
that no variety of English (or whatever) is intrinsically the default
or unmarked or basic version, although some variants might be
socially less or more stigmatized in some contexts.  In addition to
the standard Labovian type arguments for the logic of non-standard
English, a nice way to show this is in dealing with both gender- and
orientation-related varieties, where it appears to be straight male
speech patterns that are arbitrarily constrained, while the
corresponding (stereotypic) female and gay male patterns are defined
by the absence of these constraints on expressiveness (e.g. in pitch
range over a specified interval).  So we're not necessarily dealing
with a marked "gay" or "women's" pattern, but rather with the absence
of the (stereotypic) straight male features (characterized by
monotone, restricted lexicon, etc.).


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