Date: Fri, 26 Nov 1993 16:57:50 CST


Subject: Re: diversity of accents


Based on my field work on Gullah, it seems to me that the media,

especially TV or radio, help people develop additional competence (sometimes

passive only) in other varieties without compelling them to speak this/these

other way(s). What I often noticed among Gullah speakers was that they would

turn to each other in the middle of a program on TV and comment on it in

Gullah. Occasionally they would imitate something in the other variety, as

if to quote it, and then burst into a laughter. I have found

ethnographically naive, if I may use strong language, most of the claims

of language change attributed to media. To paraphrase strongly a statement

in the conclusion of my contribution to the EMERGENCE OF BLACK ENGLISH, it is

almost as if linguistic features could spread, like germs of cold or the

flu, without intimate interaction. When some linguists claim that speakers

of nonstandard varieties imitate educated speech, they just do not realize

that sometimes speakers of nonstandard varieties ridicule educated speech among

themselves! One thing several of us have confused is 'wanting to be treated

equal' with 'wanting to be the same'.

Incidentally, a more elaborate discussion of reasons why Gullah may not be

decreolizing was published in my article "Some reasons why Gullah is not

dying yet" in ENGLISH WORLD-WIDE 12.221-243 (1991). An earlier discussion,

which compared the situation with Southern English, was published in my

review article on LANGUAGE VARIETY IN THE SOUTH (ed. by Montgomery and

Bailey) published in the J. OF PIDGIN AND CREOLE LANGUAGES 2.93-110 (1987).

Salikoko S. Mufwene

Linguistics, U. of Chicago




Date: Fri, 26 Nov 1993 18:45:00 EST

From: "Dennis.Preston" 22709MGR[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]MSU.BITNET

Subject: Re: diversity of accents

Now that I have seen Rudy Troike's and Ellen Johnson's responses to some of my

complaints about the news article on the decline of diversity in US dialects,

I am inclined even more to stick to my original claims.

First, Troike's example of the z -- d/__n (e.g. business becomes bidness)

reversal is pretty obviously correction from above (not change from above). I

believe that the motivations and social history for slapping something down is

significantly different from real change from above.

Second, I welcome Ellen Johnson's comments on her dissertation, for, of

course, the rest of it know it only from her numerous presentations of parts

of it. I am happy to concede that in reinvestigations of dialect

differentiation region as a variable may play a smaller role; my comment,

however, pointed towards total variation, which, I believe, is more or less

the same. Granted, that newer variation may be attributed to ethnicity,

gender, age, rurality, and the like, but I suspect that we must take dialect

in that more general sense if we are to speak productively about variation in

North America.

(Those who dislike my ignoring of the dia- of dialect may try to correct it

from above.)

Of course advertising and media have influenced deteriorating variation in the

dragonfly and cottage cheese sets, and such influences are important and worth

studying. They are not, howeever, exactly the backbone of variationist work in

the US over the last three decades or so.

Finally, and most importantly, I originally responded to the news story

becuase I was angry as hell at the way it went off (not, as some interpreted

it, at the accuracy or inaccuracy of the report).

Let's try another scenario. Suppose a paper in Detroit called me and asked for

some neurolinguistic comment. Since I am generally ignorant, suppose I went to

LINGUIST/L and asked in general for some comments, copied them with no request

for expert screeing and handed them over to a journalist to pick and choose

from. Unless I misunderstand, that's what happened here. I believe the

so-called more scientific community of neurolinguists would be outraged. I

believe those of us who study variation professionally have every right to be

similarly outraged. Progress in the last three decades and the centrality of

variation studies to the most important issues of general linguistics have

removed our subdiscipline rather far from the cocktail-party linguistics

status in which it was once held. The information which reached the paper was,

in my opinion, not much better than popular or common-sense stuff; it did not

reflect professional work at all. I am happy to discuss with colleagues the

details of change from above and media influence which haveensued from this

event, but I was more than a little unhappy to have the serious study of

variation misrepresented once again. Let't try to be a little more

professionally courteous to one another's sub-interests.

Dennis Preston

22709mgr[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]msu.bitnet


End of ADS-L Digest - 25 Nov 1993 to 26 Nov 1993


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