Date: Tue, 1 Nov 1994 19:48:43 -0500


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"...

--peter patrick