Monday, April 10, 2017

A Stupid Thing I've Seen Today

In the video above, Sargon takes a few minutes to make fun of a social justice warrior's stated desire that teachers countenance language anarchy in their classrooms for the sake of "marginalized populations" who may not feel "comfortable" using received American English. He's right on point when he argues that this proposal is racist; African-Americans are not uniquely incapable of learning the dominant - or correct - grammar and don't need to be molly-coddled by their instructors just because they use AAVE at home. To assert that black students should be granted special dispensation is basically enhancing any stigma that may be attached to AAVE by implicitly suggesting that its users are too stupid to learn something else.

But I'd like to add another point: This "researcher" - and interviewing a few people on your campus is not actually research, cupcake - has no clue what it's like to be white. Like every other social justice cultist, she presumes that white people never have to "code switch" and never deal with any stigmas attached to their manner of speaking. This is just not true. As anyone from the Southern U.S. or the Appalachian region will tell you, there is plenty of negative baggage attached to white dialects that don't fit the broadcast norm. Southerners and mountain folk are assumed to be idiots as a matter of course -- not to mention racist, sexist, homophobic bigots whose laughable idea of high art is a NASCAR race. If you're southern, you could be Doc freakin' Taylor - a bona fide rocket scientist - and yet still have to present your CV to elitist northerners before they'll accept you know what you're talking about. But nobody is talking about giving "hillbillies" and "rednecks" a pass on the whole standard grammar thing. My friends and acquaintances down here just accept "code switching" as a fact of life -- like, for example, my AP US History teacher twenty years ago, who admitted freely in class one day that when he goes back home to West Virginia, his style of speech completely changes on a dime. "I'm not Mike anymore. I'm Maaaaaaaaaike."

TL;DR: Academia is once again rewarding ignorance. White people do "code switch" and do deal with stigma. People suggesting otherwise can kindly sit on a certain finger and rotate. 


  1. Doc Travis'accent disappears when talking with Yankee scientists. Or talking hard science for that matter.

    Including the science of bubble formation in beer.

    I worked for years to get my kids to lose the local cracker accent.Then one time going through a drive through I went full on Cracker to give my order.

    My daughter asked why.

    'You have to talk to people in their own language.'

    Of course, unlike my kids I grew up travelling all over the world. You learn to chameleon accents just to vaguely fit in.

    John Ringo

    1. Absolutely. I can swap between Army Creole, Redneck, Clamdigger, and Beltway Bandit at will, and sometimes do so automatically -- Not to mention a couple foreign languages.

      John, I think I've mentioned that your short story, "Travails with Mama", caused me flashbacks. To include recognizing the Earthside counterparts of all the aliens in the story.

    2. We referred to 'Navy punctuation' every sentence must either start and/or end with f...k on the deckplates. Code switching required at briefings or visit from inspectors/higher commands.

  2. Of course white people code switch. The original linguistics study about code switching was done with (IIRC) 1950's downtown department store employees in a big city in the East. Everybody switched from their "neighborhood" accents and manners to a more "neutral" or "elite" accent and manners. There may have been a few African Americans in the study, but my recollection is that mostly it was about white ladies from working class neighborhoods. (And now I will have to look it up myself.)

    If people are going to use academic or scientific terms, they need to be aware of what they mean.

    1. Okay, I looked it up. It was William Labov, 1962, doing a study of postvocalic /r/ in New York City's East Side. He went to three different stores with different demographics of clientele, and hence different presentation by sales assistants. He asked them questions that would get the answer "fourth floor". Then He pretended not to have heard what they'd said, so that he would get a second answer with clearer enunciation.

      As a result of stuff he noticed this study (such as the differences between sales assistants talking to fellow employees, managers, and customers), Labov began to focus on the speed and completeness of presentation changes instead of the socioeconomic meanings of accent features.

      He did a bunch of code switching and style switching papers, which I also need to look up, but I guess there are a lot of folks doing SJW studies who only know his 1972 paper on African American test scores compared to the students' individual displayed ability to switch to a more formal style of speech in class. If you did not switch, you did not do as well on tests, either.

      (Of course, many kids may have been able but unwilling to switch styles, but the kid with such a chip on his shoulder probably does not test well, either.)

      Apparently, some people think this was a study proving testing bias. Or something.

      Anyway, Labov is a very important figure in American linguistics, mostly because he does a lot of studies and is interested in what surprises the data shows, rather than making up results ahead of the data.

    2. The three department stores were Saks, Macy's, and Klein's. The study was almost all white people, thanks to employment patterns of the time.

      The study was recently replicated (Mather, 2012), using Saks, Macy's, Filene's Basement, and Loehmann's. The study was actually done in 2009, and most of the sales assistants were now Hispanic or African American. But even though everyone was using /r/ more, there were still differences between stores. Fun stuff.

    3. Banshee, Interesting info. Thanks for posting.

  3. I get into debates with colleagues over prescriptive (rules-based) vs. descriptive (usage-based) grammar & language. While I acknowledge that usage does evolve, I am adamantly a prescriptionist because ANYONE can learn the rules--they are open to everyone. I will not accept the "dumbing down" of English.

  4. My income depends on public speaking and training. I grew up in a rural area of Tennessee (same town Fred Thompson grew up in) and have lived in Nashville since 1984.

    You bet I code switch. I can turn on the "educated Southern", which is in Fred Thompson/Bill Clinton territory, whenever I need to, and I've done it so much it's my default speech pattern now. But I don't talk that way around my rural relatives - they would consider it taking on airs.

    I also saw a list of the idioms that are signifiers of rural Southern speech. I had heard every one of them growing up, but I don't use a single one when public speaking.

    Things have changed some in recent decades, though. In the 1980s, New Yorkers were pretty snooty towards someone with even a trace of a southern accent. I was regularly treated dismissively when doing business there during that period. These days, though, they're OK with educated Southern as a dialect. Perhaps one of the minor benefits of the Bill Clinton administration.

  5. The pragmatic response to this "language anarchy" nonsense is simple.

    It will be impossible to teach or to learn if the people involved aren't sharing one language.