"ese" suffix insulting/racist?

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OHIO.EDU
Tue Apr 8 16:06:46 UTC 2003

I agree, Larry, and Newport is the first one I've seen use "motherese"
too.  I think it was coined (by whoever) to avoid the ambiguity of "baby
talk"--the talk of mothers or the talk of babies?  In fact, a well-known
video on child language is titled "Baby Talk," suggesting the latter
interpretation.  But many, if not most, cultures have a "baby talk"
register used by adults to infants, so an unambiguous term was needed.  I
don't think it was meant to be jocular, but it was also not intended to be
a technical term but rather a loose configuration of simplified sounds,
words, and grammar (not to be confused with UNgrammatical speech though).

At 10:54 AM 4/8/2003 -0400, you wrote:
>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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