Sociolinguistics Series: Part 11

Sociolinguistics Series: Part 11

Language is a powerful tool.
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In light of the holiday spirit, I thought that we should dedicate this installment of the Sociolinguistics Series to the language of festivities.

I’ll begin by introducing the idea of the Critical Discourse Analysis, which approaches language as a form of social practice. Simply put, the power in a society is established and reinforced by the language use of that society’s members. CDA looks at how language affects the flow and distribution of power in a social hierarchy.

Whether you are traveling across the world or having a staycation, the Critical Discourse Analysis applies to the society you’ll find yourself in. Like the study done by Labov that I discussed in a previous section, people on different rungs of the social ladder speak accordingly. It’s not only with pronouncing the “r” sound in “fourth” and “floor,” though. The language one speaks includes the physical sounds as well as the content found in the dialogue.

For example, at camp this summer, one of my roommates did a study on different Korean dialects found in TV shows and dramas across the Korean Peninsula. She noticed that very few characters spoke with a certain stigmatized accent, and that the only characters who spoke it were people on the lower end of the social scale. These characters included servants and tour guides who only spoke about certain factual events and statistics for the purpose of entertaining the main character (who spoke in the standard Korean accent).

This pattern carries out from behind the scenes and far beyond the television screen. A little over a decade ago, a study was conducted by a team of four researchers at Cardiff University; Adam Jaworski, Virpi YlaÈnne-McEwen, Crispin Thurlow, and Sarah Lawson analyzed the language use of people in holiday programs broadcasted on television to see if they could find a correlation between social roles and speech patterns of the people in these programs. Specifically, they wanted to look at the interactions between a “host” figure and a “tourist” one--basically, whether or not locals (hosts) spoke in a certain way to the visiting tourists.

Between BBC and ITV, the researchers looked at a total of 28 different program clips recorded between 2000 and 2001. These holiday programs included the documentation of trips to many vacation hotspots, such as the Caribbean, Spain, Italy, Egypt, Hong Kong, Maldives, Australia, Dubai in the UAE, Mexico, Thailand, and more. The programs mainly followed the trips of people of Caucasian descent, so the “tourists” in this case were Americans and European (mainly English) people.

The team devised three categories of hosts, or the “local people” of the destinations: Servant/Helper, Expert/Guide, and Other. The Servants included waiters, cooks, receptionists, and the like. The Experts were people like skiing instructors, distillery guides, and park rangers. The Other category consisted of people considered “peoplescape,” or the ones that added to the “natural scene” or “landscape” of the vacation, such as local business owners and shopkeepers in the street.

The programs depicted the destinations as a whole, so they included the local “hosts” as well as the physical and material attractions about a place. The Cardiff researchers looked at each segment with host interaction, specifically focusing on the content and style of their language use.

They found that regardless of whether the host was an Expert/Guide or a Servant/Helper, the bulk of his or her speeches were made of factual information intended only for the benefit of the tourist. Many times, the hosts are ignored completely and regarded as part of the background or landscape; in these cases, the tourists do the talking in opinionated sentences that contrast the factual ones presented by talkative hosts.

Though predictable, it is important to note that hosts use the words “Sir” and “Ma’am” consistently in their speech, while tourists rarely use such address terms at all. This most likely falls under the job descriptions of many hosts, but it still adds to the idea that hosts appear subservient to tourists.

In interactions where hosts speak in the native language and the tourist is unable to respond with more than a few simple phrases, the hosts are painted to look even more like part of the background. The video programs will use effects to incorporate these host-tourist interactions into the so-called “peoplescape” by letting them blend in with panning shots of the actual (natural) landscape.

These types of depictions are what contribute to the social stigmas and images that surround the local hosts of a destination. It helps tourists maintain power over the natives and create a very strange social hierarchy.

This analysis is far from over, as we have only covered the content of language by hosts and tourists. Stay tuned for next week, where we will be looking at language style and grammar of these tourist-host interactions!

Cover Image Credit: Irene Yi

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'As A Woman,' I Don't Need To Fit Your Preconceived Political Assumptions About Women

I refuse to be categorized and I refuse to be defined by others. Yes, I am a woman, but I am so much more.

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It is quite possible to say that the United States has never seen such a time of divisiveness, partisanship, and extreme animosity of those on different sides of the political spectrum. Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are saturated with posts of political opinions and are matched with comments that express not only disagreement but too often, words of hatred. Many who cannot understand others' political beliefs rarely even respect them.

As a female, Republican, college student, I feel I receive the most confusion from others regarding my political opinions. Whenever I post or write something supporting a conservative or expressing my right-leaning beliefs and I see a comment has been left, I almost always know what words their comment will begin with. Or in conversation, if I make my beliefs known and someone begins to respond, I can practically hear the words before they leave their mouth.

"As a woman…"

This initial phrase is often followed by a question, generally surrounding how I could publicly support a Republican candidate or maintain conservative beliefs. "As a woman, how can you support Donald Trump?" or "As a woman, how can you support pro-life policies?" and, my personal favorite, "As a woman, how did you not want Hillary for president?"

Although I understand their sentiment, I cannot respect it. Yes, being a woman is a part of who I am, but it in no way determines who I am. My sex has not and will not adjudicate my goals, my passions, or my work. It will not influence the way in which I think or the way in which I express those thoughts. Further, your mention of my sex as the primary logic for condemning such expressions will not change my adherence to defending what I share. Nor should it.

To conduct your questioning of my politics by inferring that my sex should influence my ideology is not only offensive, it's sexist.

It disregards my other qualifications and renders them worthless. It disregards my work as a student of political science. It disregards my hours of research dedicated to writing about politics. It disregards my creativity as an author and my knowledge of the subjects I choose to discuss. It disregards the fundamental human right I possess to form my own opinion and my Constitutional right to express that opinion freely with others. And most notably, it disregards that I am an individual. An individual capable of forming my own opinions and being brave enough to share those with the world at the risk of receiving backlash and criticism. All I ask is for respect of that bravery and respect for my qualifications.

Words are powerful. They can be used to inspire, unite, and revolutionize. Yet, they can be abused, and too comfortably are. Opening a dialogue of political debate by confining me to my gender restricts the productivity of that debate from the start. Those simple but potent words overlook my identity and label me as a stereotype destined to fit into a mold. They indicate that in our debate, you cannot look past my sex. That you will not be receptive to what I have to say if it doesn't fit into what I should be saying, "as a woman."

That is the issue with politics today. The media and our politicians, those who are meant to encourage and protect democracy, divide us into these stereotypes. We are too often told that because we are female, because we are young adults, because we are a minority, because we are middle-aged males without college degrees, that we are meant to vote and to feel one way, and any other way is misguided. Before a conversation has begun, we are divided against our will. Too many of us fail to inform ourselves of the issues and construct opinions that are entirely our own, unencumbered by what the mainstream tells us we are meant to believe.

We, as a people, have become limited to these classifications. Are we not more than a demographic?

As a student of political science, seeking to enter a workforce dominated by men, yes, I am a woman, but foremost I am a scholar, I am a leader, and I am autonomous. I refuse to be categorized and I refuse to be defined by others. Yes, I am a woman, but I am so much more.

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It's Hard To Stay Friends With A Kavanaugh-Lover, But It's Possible

Or hater.

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If you don't have your head buried in the sand these days, it's impossible not to realize how viscerally raw most people's political emotions are. And unless you live in a bubble, you likely have friends or family who have very different political beliefs with you. If you want to cut off those relationships, read no further. But if you view your relationships more T. D. Jakes style—"I like to see myself as a bridge builder, that is, me building bridges between people […], between politics, trying to find common ground"—then play on.

Before beginning a conversation with a politically-differing friend, put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself: what aspects of their life might have influenced them in this way? Accept that you just don't know what their experiences have been like. Maybe your gun-supporting friend had her house traumatically burglarized when she was quite young; maybe your friend who believes the government should solve all our problems was only able to get hot lunches at school because of government aid. View it as a thought experiment if you will: imagine a sympathetic reason (rather than a judgment-worthy reason) that your friend has this differing viewpoint.

We have two ears and one mouth. Ask them questions and then genuinely listen. As humans, we often listen to respond, not to understand. Try to understand without demonizing or judging your friend. David Livingstone Smith, author of Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, said that when we dehumanize or demonize others, it acts as: "a psychological lubricant, dissolving our inhibitions and inflaming our destructive passions. As such, it empowers us to perform acts that would, under other circumstances, be unthinkable." Try to accept that your friend's point of view—no matter how much you disagree with it—is (in their eyes) just as valid as your own. Your goal is to listen first, persuade later, argue rarely (or never).

It's not about you. Your friend's support of Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court means just that: they think he should have been confirmed. Or if they are angry that he got confirmed, it means just that: they think he should have not been confirmed at the time. Use our earlier thought experiment: perhaps the supporter found fault in the accusations against Kavanaugh or genuinely viewed it as a false accusation, and (whether that happened here or not), we can agree a false accusation is concerning. It doesn't necessarily mean that they think the assault he was accused of is okay—perhaps they think any form of sexual assault is utterly appalling and should never be tolerated, but just didn't happen here. Your friend's view is not personal to you, no matter how personal it may feel.

There's a difference between supporting a politician and supporting an action. If your family member voted for Trump, that doesn't mean they support his personal behavior. (If they DO—that's a different story.) It's like watching Lady Bird (great movie) and someone saying that means you think all children should treat their mother like Lady Bird treats hers. The two could be equated but aren't necessarily. Have you ever gone to the theaters and seen a movie that had elements you didn't agree with or like? The same can be said for politics.

If it seems appropriate, when they are done sharing and seem receptive to conversation, share why you may disagree with them. Times to NOT share: if they are angry or closed off. (Observe both their words and their body language. If their voice was raised or their arms are crossed, not the time.) If they just shared something vulnerable with you (eg. they are vehemently pro-choice because they've been assaulted and got an abortion), now is not the time.

Remember, your goal is not to argue, but to listen and then to persuade. If they're not in a place where they can listen to you being persuasive—then let it go and try again some other time.

When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game. However—sometimes you shouldn't always maintain these relationships. Politicians your friends support don't necessarily fully reflect who your friends are, but political views are an aspect of who they are. To use the above analogy: when you see a movie at the theater, you are supporting it. Even if you disagree with it and warn your friends away, you still paid for the ticket.

And sometimes you don't. Understand when you need to disengage. It's okay to have some things you can talk about civilly and rationally and some things that you just can't. If my friend thinks communism is the way to go, for example, I am able to speak respectfully and rationally about it. But if a person tries to support child abuse, I absolutely cannot have a conversation with them where I try to understand where they're coming from and listen to them without telling them how wrong they are. It's okay to have some topics that mean so much to you that you can't engage with all of them or respect every differing point of view.

When you win, be gracious. And lastly, if you supported Kavanaugh, your friends who opposed his quick confirmation are crushed right now. It's okay if you think that's silly or not a big deal. But go back to the first point: put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if some political issue you felt really strongly about was dealt a crushing blow? You'd want the people on the winning side to be gracious, or try to understand, or at least not rub it in. Maybe you didn't like how the situation unfolded, but your guy's in now. Think of the golden rule and be kind to your friends who are struggling with this.

Just remember:

"Be sure when you step—step with care and great tact. And remember that Life's a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft—and never mix up your right foot with your left."
Dr. Seuss.

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