Thursday, March 09, 2017

The Ling Space: Interview with Anne Charity Hudley

(The Ling Space)

So once again, I'm behind on my reviewing.  This episode actually came out all the way back on February 18.  But I've been distracted by other things.

Actually I don't really have a lot to say about this. Other than to say that it was interesting.

And one or two other brief comments:

* I picked up an interesting little tidbit about language and national boundaries recently.  I can't remember where.  (It was actually probably on a previous episode of The Ling Space, but I can't remember the exact episode now.)
Anyway, what I learned was that national boundaries often influence the classification of language.  Several of the Scandinavian languages are so similar that they are mutual intelligible, but we classify them as different languages, and not different dialects, because of the different national boundaries.  On the other hand, the various dialects of "Chinese" are mutually unintelligible, but we classify them all as one language because they're all inside China.
I believe this relates to what Professor Hudley is saying about how our taxonomy of languages come from nationalism.

Professor Hudley talks about how this taxonomy has racial implications as well.  She never says so directly, but I suspect what she is talking about is the classification of African American English.
Perhaps she's implying that this variation of English is more based on geography than on skin color, and it's only racial prejudices that have caused us to label it as African American English rather than as a variety of Southern English?  Am I picking up on that right?

* In many of the previous books on linguistics that I've read, the discussions of African American English have focused on its structure.
If memory serves, this was a theme here, here and here.
Those authors all considered the regular structure of African American English as something important to highlight, because previously it was thought that African American speakers were just making a lot of mistakes because they were lazy or stupid.  So linguistics were at great pains to point out that people speaking AAE were not making "mistakes"--AAE had just as much rules and structure as standard English, it just had different rules and structures.
Interestingly, however, Professor Hudson claims that she and the new generation of linguistics no longer consider this important.
I was a little bit unclear on exactly why she's moved away from focusing on structure.  I think her argument was that people should be free to speak whatever variety of English they speak, and whether or not you can show that this variety has structure is really besides the point.  The legitimacy of a dialect does not come from its structure, but just from the fact that people are comfortable speaking it. (Am I picking up on that right?)
At one point she talks about how focusing on structure is misleading, because the modern generation of linguistics are viewing the taxonomies as more fluid.  She says that focusing on structure is dangerous because "if things are a bit more fuzzy, people are a bit more apprehensive."
I wasn't entirely sure what the implication of this was.
Perhaps she is saying that everyone is speaking their own idiolect, so it's dangerous to put people into categories and say "Your speech variety has these rules."  ?
Or is she thinking about Chomsky's distinction between competence and performance--i.e. people might be apprehensive because linguistics will look to find structural rules from the corpus data, but the regular rules might not always show up in the speakers' performance?

* Because I don't have many intelligent things to say about this video, I'm going to go off on a tangent here.
A few years ago I was at a conference in which a Filipino national was presenting a paper on how difficult it was for Filipino's to write papers in academic English, because the colloquial English used in the Philippines was so different from the style required in formal academic papers.
This got me thinking.  I spoke standard English, but my colloquial English would not be acceptable in a formal academic setting either.  I could not write an academic paper in the same style I used to talk to my friends.
I guess the advantage I had, in comparison to Filipino speakers, was that for me the socialization started incredibly early.  (As early as primary school, I was already getting some socialization in formal academic writing).  But it was a long 12 year struggle for our school teachers to finally get me and my classmates to realize that we had to write formal papers in a certain way.
So was this a case of Filipino's being uniquely disadvantaged, or was this a case of everyone having to adjust to the conventions of formal academic English?
I brought this up during the Q&A session at the end of the paper, and we had some interesting discussion.
I had the same question when Professor Hudson mentioned the problems faced when people who spoke non-standard dialects went to university.

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