Date: Tue, 1 Nov 1994 19:48:43 -0500
From: PPATRICK[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]GUVAX.BITNET
Subject: Re: offending idioms
The Baugh & Smitherman articles in 1991 American Speech have been
mentioned several times in this discussion, but in response to Jim
Ague's comments about Rhodesian-born friends, let me quote the Baugh
article again. I'm not sure whether Ague's point was to show that
"African American" is illogical, or just to note a curiosity, but:
[Baugh, fn. 1:] "I have adopted the term 'American Slave Descendants'
(ASD) for two reasons. First, since this discussion looks at terms of
self-reference, ASD strives for terminological neutrality in a text
that must refer to Americans with African ancestors. The second
justification grows from Edmund Morris's [1989, Wash. Post ref] self-
identification as an "African American". Morris is a naturalized
American, and a white native of Kenya; he labeled himself as an
"African American" in order to mock Jesse Jackson's plea. Morris
cannot claim to be be a descendant of American slavery, and the
adopted terminology excludes people like him."
Morris's situation is of course analogous to Ague's friends', though
the motives may well be different.
Anyway, who says that terms of self-reference must be logical in any
truth-value sense? Much of lkanguage, indeed of reference, is non-
literal. Does "American Indian" refer to naturalized Bombay-born
citizens of the US? sure it COULD, but that's not what it DOES. Nor
does usage have to be symmetrical, ie you don't have to call me what
_I_ call me to satisfy any standard of truth; in fact deixis is
asymmetrical by nature. No, the whole point of address terms is
(a) to avoid confusion and
(b) to conventionally express attitudes and relationships.
By that standard, there can't really be any confusion over who
"African American" refers to; and it is now perceived as the most civil
and respectful way for non-ASD to address ASD. What have logic,
symmetry, and ASD-to-ASD preferences got to do with it? As Spike Lee
says, just "do the right thing"...