Date: Sat, 11 Nov 1995 11:30:34 -0500

From: Ronald Butters amspeech[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]ACPUB.DUKE.EDU

Subject: Re: Political Blunder

On Fri, 10 Nov 1995, Dennis R. Preston wrote:

The definition of the racist idiom 'nigger rich' has already been

explained, but I am a little surprised that so many list participants don't

understand that 'near rich' could have been so misheard. I assure you that

lenition is alive ansd well. In ordinary spoken English, when a C hangs out

between two Vs, it is in danger of losing its C-status. Just look what

happnes to 'butter' as it goes from the British, aspirated 't' form to an

almost completely lenited form in rapid spoken varieties of AmerEng,

leaving, in my speech, for example, something that sounds like 'buhr.'

Assume lenition on the 'g' of the racist term, and the mishearing is clear.

Yes. HOWEVER, the "N" word is so incredibly powerful that, pragmatically,

it would not be likely to be subject to lenition. (Of course, it might be

subject to a kind of racist double entendre.) In any case, the phrase in

question is obviously so much a part of the senator's vocabulary that it

was thrust to the forefront of his mind when he heard the caller utter

the word "near."

When a deviant interpretation overrides a normal interpretation, unusual

linguistic forces are at work. In this case, those forces SEEM to be the

racist sensibility of the senator. However, it is not impossible to argue

(based merely on the reports--I didn't hear the broadcast) that his

response WAS intended as a reprimand--that he thought he heard a racist

utterance and tried to imply by "repeating" the caller's words (and with

his intonation?) that he didn't approve of the racist phrase. The

observer is left with the question, "Why didn't he speak more directly?"

but if you have analyzed as many recorded conversations as I have, you

know that people do not always speak directly--do not always say what

they mean: sometimes they are just being polite; sometimes they are

trying to deal with too many agendas at the same time and can't say

everything that they want to say--they forget where the conversation is

going. One presumes that an experienced politician speaking on the radio

would be better at communicating, but it is not inconceivable that what

happened was simply a mistake on his part in not making his reprimand

clear enough. (I don't know much about the senator; based on WHAT I do

know, I suspect that I probably mostly abhor his politics, but I just

want to point out that, from the perspective of conversational analysis,

he MIGHT be telling the truth about what he meant and what his intentions