:-) mostly -- McWhorter on "standard English"

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM
Fri Jan 15 17:46:31 UTC 2010

> Of course evi;-doers will exploit dialect differences to bully, ridicule,
> and tyrannize. The frequent reduction of the situation, however, to "good
> dialects" battling heroically against bad "power language" (with the help
> of
> heroic linguists) is a caricature of reality.
> JL

I think this goes a little too far in rejecting the element of social power
(monkey politics) in language use, and (unfairly?) shifts Judy Prince's
"power language" (on the analogy of "power dressing") into the realm of
"power politics".

I think the concern isn't that "evil-doers will exploit dialect differences
to bully, ridicule, and tyrannize," but there's still a real danger of
certain kinds of speech being silenced, though not perhaps to the degree
that a major segment of the nineteenth century black American voice was
effectively silenced.  (How did Nat Turner really speak?  I haven't a real
idea, but I sure as hell don't think he sounded like a white middle class
male mid-nineteenth century New York reporter, which is what comes out the
other end of the report of the interview with him when he was in the death

>> Well, maybe we need to start putting "dialect" in after "Standard
>> English". I think I might start putting "Standard American Written
>> English dialect" in my composition syllabus to emphasize its
>> linguistic parity with Appalachian dialects, Southern dialects, etc.
>> ---Amy West

As an exercise, I thought to transcribe Amy's paragraph above into a Glasgow
speech pattern:

    "Aye, mibee wi need ti stert pittin "dialec" in eftir "Stanar English".
Ah think Ah might stert pittin "Stanar American Writtn English dialec" in ma
composition syllabus tae emphasise itz linguistic parii wi Appalachian
dialec, Southern dialecs, etc."

Strictly, this is an accent shift rather than a dialect shift, as there's
only one lexical substitution, "Aye" for "well".  In restricting the
transcription to the conventional letters of the alphabet, the major loss
was the inability to signal a glottal stop.  If I'd allowed myself a "?" for
the glottal stop, the above would read "pi??in" (for pittin/putting) and
"par??i" (for parii/parity).

This illustrates one problem with moving from a common-denominator
transcription, in that it's more difficult for [even] me to read (as it's
not my natural or default spoken accent) than Amy's original presented in a
Received Standard English transcription.

But accent aside, the words are the same (with the one noted exception).

So yeah, bland is necessary and can even (often?) be, good, but it shouldn't
be everything.

But one last thing, I'd just lightly like to question the homogeneity of
"monkey politics".  The reverse, mapping the varieties of non-human primate
behavior onto human activity, has been going on for years, but part of the
force [I originally wrote "power"] of this analogy is the *variety of
territorial and social strategies found among monkeys, if we take that as
the generic term for all non-human primates, embracing gorillas, baboons,
chimpanzees, orangutans, et alia.

If I were an orangutan, with an ability to co-operate, and even indulge in
symbolic social exchange, I'd find it annoying to be lumped in with a
silver-backed gorilla whose highest aspiration was to be top of the noyau

Robin Hamilton

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list