Print

Print


There is a great deal in this thread that I'd like to respond to, but haven't had the time or inclination. However....

--- On Wed, 10/17/12, And Rosta <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Mike S., On 17/10/2012 20:27:
> The point that I was trying to make here is that speaking is a part of
> being competent in *some* professions in a way that skin color is not.

RM: true in some professions--
 medicine and associated things like nurses, law, the upper level etc.-- if you don't speak something resembling Standard Engl. you're simply not going to get the job. 

> If a given human resources manager is responsible for hiring technical
 support
> personnel who spend most of their time talking to frustrated customers,
> then surely it's reasonable (for everyone involved) to favor hiring the
> person who speaks the idiom of a majority of the customers.

And: Because dialect differences would give frustrated customers something 
extra to get angry about, or because dialect differences would interfere
 with communication?

RM That is true; but here we get into the question of "dialect" prejudice. Someone with a heavy AAVE accent _is_ going to put off a lot of people, likewise a heavy Hispanic accent. But many blacks tend to have a slight Southern accent when speaking Standard, and most of us can't tell the difference, white person or black. Because I know Spanish quite well, I can usually tell when I'm speaking with an Hispanic speaking Standard. The intonation and occasional mispronunciations give it away. How many ordinary customers would detect those things, I don't know. They certainly don't get in the way of
 communication.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
                                                                           

And:  I don't think dialect differences necessarily impede communication (Is "you was" really harder to understand than "you were"?). 
 
RM: No, but many people would think, 'if this person can't speak "proper" English, maybe s/he doesn't know what s/he's talking about.'

And: As for the other reason, in Britain most telephone call-centres are in 
India, but complaints-handling call-centres (and even call-centres in 
general) for more upmarket firms tend to still be in Britain-- but I 
think the basis for this is pandering to the unreasonable prejudices of 
the customers.

RM That is true over here too, though maybe with a preponderance of Indians (either in India or perhaps in the US, who knows). Sometimes I get chatting with the person, e.g. about the weather, and then it becomes clear what country they're in. I have dealt with a few Indians that I had trouble understanding, and have to ask for a lot of repeats.

<ike S. (I think) > Likewise, wherever I go in the USA, I expect the local evening news
> to be delivered in the local regional accent.  It would be odd to
> visit Indianapolis and hear the weather forecast on the radio given
> in a Chinese accent (even an intelligible one).

RM: Unless you're watching TV, you really don't know the ethnic or regional/linguistic background of the newscaster.  "Radio Announcer School" tends to indoctrinate every student in a sort of Midwest/Chicago accent.  I found this to be the case when I lived in the Boston area, as well as NYC, and on visits to Florida. In the 1950s, when the Army stationed me in South Carolina  one would hear both local and "Standard" accents on the radio.

And: If I were to read the evening news in New York, ought I to adopt a New York accent? 

RM If you lived there long enough, you might. But I don't think it's a requirement.  Cf. Andrew Sullivan, who is British by birth and educated and employed in this country; he has lost most of his English accent.

And: (My natural accent is RPish.) Or ought I to be
 ineligible for being a local evening news reader in the USA?

RM Not nowadays, ha ha. English accents (esp. RPish ones) are viewed as a sign of intelligence by many Americans.

Mike: >> There are pros and cons to having a standard dialect, but overall on
>> balance I think it is a really really bad thing.

RM  Perhaps in countries like France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, with many regional varieties, that may be true. But I don't believe it to be the case in the US, where we have only three main dialect areas-- New England (moribund, I suspect), the South (several varieties), and all the rest of the country (minor differences, we are told, on the west coast).

Mike:  The standard is the native
>> dialect of the privileged and not of the disadvantaged and serves to
>> entrench the privileged and the disadvantaged in their positions, and to
>> reinforce attitudes and myths of superiority and correctness.

RM Not generally true, IMO. Yes there are dialect prejudices,esp between North and South but that probably has historical roots.True, too, there is an uneducated underclass in every region, but they would be discriminated against no matter what part of the country they lived in.

> Interestingly, I don't think that all leftists and progressives have
> regarded the standard dialect the way you do.  In fact I think many
> leftists and progressives would view the standard as a great device for
> equalizing and democratizing society.

RM And that is a Bad Thing???

And: I know, and even some linguisticians I know and respect take that view. In general I think it's because of the genuine extreme levels of ignorance most people have about language, and in the
 case of the linguisticians  it's because of the inchoacy and immaturity of the politicolinguistic debate.

RM: I'd want to hear more before I comment. As a card-carrying linguist, and a well-traveled citizen of the US, I realize there are distinct differences between upper(-middle) and lower class speech at least in Boston, the South, and NYC. Much less so in the large area where "standard" Midwest Engl. is spoken, where the differences depend far more on level of education-- wider vocabulary, "correct" grammar, prevalence of vulgarities etc. (At least in my experience over 60+ years of adult life.)

Speaking of dialects: when I had a place in Florida, I hired two black guys to help me build a deck. Both were from the Caribbean area (Anguilla IIRC); one was a Seventh-Day Adventist minister, with  an MA from a college in Michigan of all places, the other was just a pal of his. Both spoke quite decent "Standard" Engl., but when chatted with each other in their Anguillan dialect, AFAICT they might as well have been speaking Urdu. Utterly incomprehensible to my ear.

Mike: >> Having said all of which, I hope David might see his way to moving us back
>> to the topic of leftist ideology in twentieth century linguistics.

RM I honestly don't know where this idea comes from. Maybe because Chomsky is an avowed leftist? But he only became prominent in the 1960s et seq. The founders of American linguistics-- Sapir, Boaz, Bloomfield and others in the 20s-50s-- can hardly be called Leftists IMO. Maybe the fact that many were Jewish (and therefore "leftists"?) rankled some people? I don't know. But they were the ones who promulgated the idea that dialects were as valid as "standard" languages, and worth studying. Plus the fact, perhaps, that their early work dealt with Native American languages, thus exposing them to vastly different cultures.? 

>> I mentioned the matter of dialect prejudice only because that was the only
>> example I could think of.  (I promise not to accuse anybody of reading the
>> Daily Telegraph...)
>
> I am interested in this topic, but from what little you've said so far,
> (and I honestly don't mean any offense) I find your understanding of left
> and right at least half a century out of date, at least for the USA.  The
> "bourgeois" that you seem to disdain control the corporate and political apparati....

RM I suspect most CEOs and their brethren, not to mention Mr. Romney, would deeply resent being called "bourgeois". The class structure in the US is quite different from that of the UK; mainly because we have no hereditary "nobility/peerage" (wealthy or not), though we do have an upper(-middle) class that is often based on wealth from at least 3 generations back; or the newly rich, who fancy themselves members of that class but usually are not--with enough education and luck, they can come from almost any level of society. Bourgeois, at least to my mind, refers to the vast (but now shrinking) middle class (small businessmen, some farmers, shop-owners and to some extent their employees; then a "proletariat" aka working or lower class, of laborers of various sorts. Finally, of course,we have an underclass of idlers, criminals (petty or not) and the genuinely disadvantaged (from many causes.).

> that are aggressively implementing all sorts of policies that seem leftist to me.....

RM You are entitled to that opinion......

> They are
> the ones actively subjecting White working class people to
> "sensitivity training" (leftist indoctrination)...

RM telling people not to refer to their fellow workers with racial epithets, not to harass the women they work with-- that's leftist? I call it common decency. And a valid attempt to decrease tension and produce a pleasant working environment , which will also increase efficiency.

> and "affirmative
> action" (job displacement and exclusion from university enrollment)

RM there have been abuses and mistakes in that policy to be sure.

> and voting Obama president.

RM Oh come now. A lot of those CEOS and many others voted for Obama because the policies of W's administration had created a near-total financial disaster.

 Most of the people who consume Fox News
> (if this might stand as a sort of US analog of the Daily Telegraph)
> are in the lower strata of society.

RM Whatever stratum (and all are represented) they may be in, IMO their main problem with Pres. Obama is....the color of his skin.

And: I wasn't equating leftism with being proletarian and rightism with being bourgeois. Rather I was equating leftism and rightism with a desire to overthrow versus preserve (or allow to persist) the social structures that create gross inequities of wealth, power, the ability to pursue happiness, and so forth.

RM I'm afraid that's not how it works in the US these days.

And: I don't concede that my understanding of left and right tout court is out-of-date, but I do concede that my
 knowledge of the USA is meagre. For instance, I hadn't known about the white working classes being forced to undergo sensitivity training; I had thought their main problem was lack of access to healthcare. To be honest, most of what I know about contemporary American life is learnt from ten seasons of the TV shows _The Wire_ (Baltimore) and _Friday Night Lights_ (small-town Texas). I'm sure you know that compared to elsewhere, the political Centre in the US is way way over to the right and consequently the political vocabularies are incommensurable.

RM: And, you need to watch more American TV !! (JOKE). But your last sentence is utterly true.

> Obviously that last paragraph isn't language related so I won't follow up
> on it, but if there is to be a discussion of leftism in linguistics, then I
> am curious as to what exactly is meant by "left".

And: Yes, I agree.

RM As do I. I do believe that Mike is conflating "left(ism)" with "liberal(ism)", as many do nowadays. But they are hardly equivalent.

Sorry for the NCNC rant, but I didn't start it :-)))))) (And sorry too, that for some reason, line-wrap didn't seem to be working in this post.)