"ese" suffix insulting/racist?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Apr 8 14:54:41 UTC 2003

Beverly writes,

>Unlike the other terms cited, "motherese" isn't pejorative; it's the term
>child language scholars use for the kind of simplified and affectionate
>speech that mothers (and others) use with babies.  It's also called "baby
>talk" and, more recently and pc-ishly, "caretaker speech."  "Teacherese"
>wasn't a good cite on my part; "educationese" is better (though "teacher
>talk" has been used).

I have the feeling that while not pejorative, "motherese" is somewhat
jocularly intended, as if this were a technical register or jargon
practiced by mothers, such as "journalese" or the others we've been
discussing.  "Journalese" is well over a century old--

1882 Pall Mall G. 6 Apr. 2/1 Translated from 'Journalese' into plain
English.  [OED]

--and I think possibly the model for the others.  The OED provides a
1975 first cite for "motherese" has, from the developmental
psycholinguist Elissa Newport (who may or may not have coined it) and
(attention Jesse et al.!) "bureaucratese" has no listing at all in
the OED.

Larry, who's been wondering if anyone else would bring up the fact
that the suffix in "Portuguese" differs from the others (Chinese,
Japanese, motherese, journalese) in being optionally voiceless
(rhyming with "geese" rather than "please").
[The OED doesn't provide the "Portugueece" option, but I know I can get it.]

>At 08:40 AM 4/7/2003 -0700, you wrote:
>>Beverly's examples touch on the grain of truth behind the misguided
>>"Sinaian's" rant.  This suffix has become productively extended from a
>>meaning "language of" to a meaning "jargon of."  As such it usually carries
>>a pejorative connotation of "bad style."  Thus legalese, bureaucratese,
>>educationese indicate styles of written  English prose that is turgid by
>>virtue of long, convoluted sentences and technical terms that the lay
>>reader finds incomprehensible.  I interpret medicalese and teacherese as
>>probably having similar connotations, even though I've never run across
>>them before.  I'm not sure about motherese, which I have also not heard
>>before, though it doesn't seem to fit the mold.
>>The "Sinaian's" fallacy apparently lies in an assumption on his part that
>>this extended use of -ese has contaminated the basic, neutral use which
>>simply identifies the language of a country or ethnic group.
>>Peter Mc.
>>--On Sunday, April 6, 2003 12:38 PM -0400 Beverly Flanigan
>><flanigan at OHIO.EDU> wrote:
>>>Legalese, medicalese, teacherese, motherese ....
>>                               Peter A. McGraw
>>                   Linfield College   *   McMinnville, OR
>>                            pmcgraw at linfield.edu

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