Date: Sat, 11 Nov 1995 11:30:34 -0500 From: Ronald Butters 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 were.)