Sociolinguistics Series: Part 11

Sociolinguistics Series: Part 11

Language is a powerful tool.

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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If The U.S. Is A "Beacon Of Morality," Why Don't We Do Anything About Child Soldiers?

Child Soldiers International, War Child, and UNICEF are just a few organizations that accept time and donations that work toward making a difference.

Flashback to six years ago, and no one could stop talking about Joseph Kony. In case you were living under a rock in 2012, Joseph Kony was a Ugandan warlord, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which used child soldiers to terrorize civilians across Central Africa. He was brought to fame through the documentary “Kony 2012” as it caused an uproar throughout the United States.Although the media hype quickly died down, the United States Pentagon spent $800 million trying to hunt down Kony up until June of 2017.

Kony isn’t the first, nor will he be the last, person to use child soldiers. Today, child soldiers are predominantly used across the Middle East and Africa, with South Sudan having the largest concentration in Africa.

So, what exactly has the international community done about this global issue? Legislation like the Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Convention on the Rights of the Child have been adopted and opened for signature. The Rome Statute of 1998 established the International Criminal Court in 2002, and recognized conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 as a war crime.

There have been successes in individual countries like Somalia, and Afghanistan, but I think that it’s worth examining what exactly the United States has done.

Congress signed the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA) in 2008. The Act restricted military support to countries that were identified by the State Department as having recruited and used child soldiers in their militaries. However, the prohibitions can be waived in the name of U.S. national interest. In June of 2017, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was accused of breaching the act. The department recognized Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan as using child recruitment and conscription, yet Tillerson decided to exclude them from the list.

But why does any of this matter to you and me? If the United States is going to label itself as a moral beacon, then they’d better act like one. There seems to be a double standard at play in American foreign policy; protect human rights, as long as they serve American interests. Additionally, the United States is missing opportunities to make real change. Ever since the conclusion of World War I, it has been the responsibility of the United States to maintain the world order, and to be a guarantor of human rights. What kind of message does it send about the United States when we continue to send money to governments that use child soldiers?

The change starts now. My advice for soon to be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is to do better. As the American public awaits for Tillerson to step out and Pompeo to step in, there are actions that we as citizens can take. Child Soldiers International, War Child, and UNICEF are just a few organizations that accept time and donations that work toward making a difference.

Whatever active role you chose to take, reading this article is a great first step. It is crucial to raise awareness and to become informed of issues that affect not just us, but the rest of humanity.

Cover Image Credit: Bimo Luki

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Nice Guys Finish Last Because It's Nice To Have Standards

No more Mr. Nice Guy.

Nice guys have heard this grating phrase with patient ears before: you're a really nice guy. "Really" and "nice," a double superlative just for me? I know sarcasm isn't so nice but some might argue that it's the nicest sense of humor you could have. It's hard to gauge where someone's intentions lie and from a nice guy's perspective, it all seems lost on others he tries to connect with.

Nice is an adjective, passive in meaning. It's a sincere way of saying that you're a pushover, but the best kind of pushover. You're a human coat rack and the only thought you have is how helpful you're being holding up all those coats when the owners return and eventually come back for more help. Being nice doesn't help you, nor should it if you are being genuine.

Nice means being selfless. Granted the guy is being nice, it is not without his reasons. These reasons are inclusive, for both himself and whoever he is being nice to. There are no expectations except to be nice and nice in return. Nice means being kind. Nice means having standards.

I'm a nice guy, I always have been, and I don't plan on changing that. What sets me apart from the stereotype however is that I don't live with the expectation that people will reciprocate my kindness. I don't have the hopeless romantic mentality when I find out I'm in the exclusive club known as the friend zone.

Do I get offended when people are unkind or characterize and use me as the expendable "nice guy?" Yes, it hurts me to know people care only enough to get what they want or to make me another bullet point on their résumé. One thing that's saved me from many headaches and heartaches over time is this: I can control me.

I can still be nice even though the day isn't going to be. I choose not to let anyone steal my joy but that choice doesn't come from a selfish place. There are nice guys, the ones who are kind and unassuming.

Then there are Nice Guys, the ones who only measure out their kindness and behave enough to show you that they are capable of being an understanding, agreeable human being to achieve their desires through you, not with you.

Nice Guys give nice guys a bad name. I'm more of a middling nice guy, I don't blow over in the wind but I won't yell up a storm either. If you ask me a question, I will give an honest answer.

Not every nice guy is blissfully ignorant of the founded and unfounded cruelty in the world. We're not doormats for the mud you track, we're doors that close as easily as they open.

It's nice to be nice but if there is no self-worth, if there is any self-interest, then you're not being nice to yourself and you're not being nice to others for the right reasons.

People call him a nice guy to establish immediate and short-lived rapport for when it is convenient for them. Nice guys are acknowledged for what they are, not who they are. Nice isn't a commodity, it's a rarity, and when you have it, do not spare it too much or spend it too little. Just be nice, guys.

Nice is a quality that's less artificial than a charm or flirt and more natural than workplace decorum. Show how nice you could and should be, not how nice you would be.

Cover Image Credit: Spencer Selover

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