20060909

Social status and language, part XXVI

I try not to think about language too much when I'm not at the office, but I do anyway.

I read someplace (Bill Maher on Salon if you must know) that the phrase "oh no he di'int" - borrowed from AAVE/Ebonics* five years ago or more, and pronounced with the famous glottal stop in place of the "swallowed" d - is now passé.

Who makes these rules? We do, apparently, constantly shifting our language to identify with a certain subgroup and to avoid others. Of course, this likely isn't conscious - we just hear something that sounds hella nifty to our ears, likely from someone we respect or admire, and we run with it. To my mind, that's how language change happens in real-time - we perceive it to come from someone who's alpha in comparison to us, and we incorporate it.

But then the phrase gets too widespread, and it infiltrates populations we don't want to sound like. If my Midwestern father were to tell a story with a punch line "oh no you di'int", I'd avoid the phrase like I would a popped collar on a Polo shirt. It's not that far yet, but it's far enough for some people - now Bill Maher, arguably with alpha-male cred, has decreed the current phrase done to death, much like "You go girl" , "Don't go there", and "Talk to the hand" before it. Do any of those ever creep up in yawl's vocab now in 2006?

Does anyone ever quip "Whatchou talkin bout Willis" anymore, outside of the 'ironic dated pop culture reference' usage, akin to the trucker-cap/moustache 'so-unhip-it's-cool-to-make-fun-of' scheme)?

The theory I'd develop, if I did sociolinguistics, is that if you're a white person with a joking streak, you can singularly measure your group identity by what phrase you're currently using that's been borrowed from AAVE. Shouldn't that be included in a sidebar or on a myspace page (if I ever updated my own)? "Currently using: [x]."

Except that I don't want to reveal which phrase all the COOL KIDS have moved onto. Except that if you're reading my blog, you're probably one of the cool kids. But don't you dare copy me, you desperate wanna-be. (BTW, please add me as a friend on myspace. Please?!)

Bye now. Tell your momma how she durrin'.

*AAVE/Ebonics = African American Vernacular English. A dialect of English used primarily by the Black community in America. In 1996, public schoolteachers in Oakland wanted to teach classes in Ebonics; naturally, there was an uproar from everyone except the linguists, who, in the quiet eye of the storm, said that AAVE is a fully formed and complete language, every bit as useful and competent as Standard English; that every dialect of English is fully capable of expressing logical structure; that bilingual education
has always been shown to be beneficial to students; and that it was likely teaching African American kids that their language wasn't slang might give a boost to their self-esteem, which would help them in all areas. But no one listens to scientists, so it never got off the ground.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Roland Barthes was here said...

I'm a little late, apparently, but you've forgotten the political aspect, I think.

It's not just about cool. It seems to me that the speaking of AAVE by anyone under 60 (which necessarily references the fact that linguists even study it, because no matter how many black folx on your faculty, unless you're a traditionally black college, post-secondary = The Man) is, whether they "know" it or not, an inherently powerful political act.

Do the cool kids ever really become cool by appropriating minority culture? Especially now, it happens at light-speed and the appropriation process is, in accordance with the Special Theory of Relativity, distended. The Times even knew that trucker hats were lame before hipsters even started wearing them. The Anti New York Hipster Forum theorizes that eventually the loop of culture appropriation cannibaliztion will close so tightly there won't be anything to ironize but irony. Which is fine for Von Deutsch, but what about Ms. Rhonda and her sexual eruntatshun?

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Roland Barthes wasn't here this time. said...

By the way, I prefer Beth Littleford's formulation, as she softly asks Todd Bridges, "What were you talking about, Willis?" as a therapist might ask a neglected child.

11:30 AM  
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