Date: Thu, 7 Dec 1995 08:20:40 -0500
From: "Dennis R. Preston" preston[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]PILOT.MSU.EDU
Subject: Re: Language and Intelligence
The answer is easy. It's fun to talk like possum-huntin', barefooted,
moonshine-makin', racist, Bible-thumpin', rednecks (so all Northerners can
do it, not well, but they think they can), and apprently derive an
underlying sense of moral, intellectual, and political superiority out of
it, but it ain't fun at all to talk like cheatin', heathen, rude,
fast-talkin', etc.... Northerners.
More seriously, I suspect (as I tried to point out in my piece in the
Cassidy Festschrift on the imitations of White and Black Americans by one
another) that the degree of popularity of dialect imitation is directly
related to the degree to which a group of people (race, region, whatever)
constitute a 'folk object' for another. African-Americans,
Mexican-Americans, Southerners, etc... are more solidly 'folk objects' in
our culture than are the 'unmarked' Northern group (except, of course, for
Southerners who have the outline of stereotypes I list above, a list often
horrifying to Northerners, who, beset with an idea of their own normality,
find others but never themselves strange).
When (to make the language prejudice point) I make fun of my Michigan
students' Northern speech they are, in fact, too surprised at the very idea
to be horrified at first. Then they get really angry. Don't I know that
they are the normal ones? Many, surprisingly, recover and begin to
preston[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]pilot.msu.edu
A former partner I had in a neighborhood bar hailed from Rochester, NY.
A steady customer we had was raised in L.A. (Lower Alabama.) My partner,
in his assertion of superior intelligence often asked him: "If you're so
smart, how come I can talk like you, but you can't talk like me?"
Wittgenstein School of the Unwritten Word
Coconut Grove, FL
crissiet[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]ipof.fla.net
My apologies to your husband the psychologist, but he seems to have been
only half-educated by modern linguistics; he should go all they way.
In what way could vocabulary measure intelligence (if by intelligence we
mean something really crass like 'the ability to figure things out')? If
you lack some words, you simply lack them. For example, when you enter a
new technical field, you clearly do not have the vocabulary for that
endeavor. Would you say that after you had acquired it you were more
'intelligent.' Surely not. What I am sure your well-meaning huisband means
is that we (i.e., psychologists) have developed certain traditional
'benchmarks' which guide us in the evaluation of intelligence. We assume,
therefore, that the acquisition of a certain breadth of vocabulary
(nonspecialized, of course) indicates a certain 'normal' development. While
this might be a relatively effective device for a homogeneous population
(and I doubt that it is really effective there), in the midst of diversity,
it is almost as poopy as dialect prejudice.
On that latter matter, I like your list of those dialects which are 'really
heavy, thick' - 'Southern/NY/Oklahoman/etc.'
If I told you how really heavy, thik Inland Northern, especially urban
(e.g., Michigan ) dialects sound to me (and make me think of their
speakers), I would run out of the state that feeds me.
Of course, now I know that it is not true that everybody north of
Indianapolis-Columbus (roughly) will not give you the time of day and
cheat you if they can (surely the mildest of my reactions to Inland
Northern), but it has required linguistic discipline to arrive at that
conclusion. Like Virgiknia, I ofetn despair of so-called 'attitude
changing' priograms, but I think we should keep trying. There is positive
evidence as well.
(who has learned to keep a straight face while Inland Northern speakers
preston[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]pilot.msu,.edu
At 4:13 PM 12/5/95, STEPHANIE RAE WELLS wrote:
I'm just curious to know if anybody out there still holds the belief that
a persons intelligence can be measured by the way they speak?
My husband the psychologist says that while we may recognize that accents,
dialects et al. are not good indicators of intelligence, vocabulary is
amongst our best indicators. (And on a personal note, I must admit that
when I hear a really heavy, thick Southern/ NY /Oklahoman/etc. accent I
have to concentrate on not immediately thinking stupid -or at least