“People sometimes end up in confused arguments about what words 'really' mean. Just because one meaning of a word is older than others, this doesn't make it the 'real' meaning of that word, and you would find yourself in all sorts of trouble if you tried to enforce this line. For instance, in Old English, 'man' meant 'human being', irrespective of sex and age, but I doubt (m)any adult women would use this as grounds to use the 'Men's' room at a movie theatre. Similarly, 'meat' originally meant '(solid) food in general', but this meaning is now wholly lost. Most linguists find the notion of 'real meaning' unhelpful. Instead, they find it more useful to talk about what is conventionally implied by a word when it is used, what other words it frequently occurs with, and what it implies when it is used in different conversational contexts.”—
Introducing Sociolinguistics by Miriam Meyerhoff, 2nd ed.
This is so relevant to conversations about slurs, and about the ‘real’ definitions of sexism and racism.
Hi there! I'm doing a study on 'tumblr language' for my university course, so please reblog and fill out this survey here to help me out
I won’t be quoting any individuals in my report, just statistics such as “over half of female users over the age of 16 answered x”. I would really appreciate it if anyone takes the 5 mins to fill this out as it will be so helpful in analysing online speech for my project :) It will be interesting to see what people answer so fill it out even for your own curiosity. Or just if you’re bored! There are no right or wrong answers, it is basically opinion based. Tumblr users whose first language is not English are very welcome to take part too :)
4. Languages you speak:
5. Mothertongue/First language:
6. Tumblr user since:
7. Do you agree that ‘tumblr language’ (certain terms/vocab and ways of saying things particular only to tumblr) exists?
8. a) Do you recognise the following terms as being part of ‘tumblr language’?
b) Do you understand them?
Please answer (a) by typing yes or no after each term and answer (b) by bolding the ones you do understand. e.g. ambiguous no
Idgaf/look at all the fucks I give!
Cool story bro
I can’t even/what is life etc.
Perfect human being
What is air
Your argument is invalid
You’re doing it right
9. Are there other terms you feel should be included in this list? Please list them:
10. Do you use any ‘tumblr language’ in ‘real life’? If yes, please list terms you use:
11. Do non-tumblr users understand you when you use them?
12. Any other comments you would like to add?
language contact, language change, and language ideology
(1) languages come into contact. this is inevitable. linguistic features and bits of the lexicon start to get shared and swapped between varieties. this is also inevitable, and a natural part of language contact.
(2) language changes. sometimes, language changes as a result of language contact; other times, language change is internal. language change is natural, and also inevitable.
(3) however, the inevitability and naturalness of languages coming into contact and languages changing doesn’t negate the fact that people can and do have feelings about this contact and change. sometimes, the feelings that people have are oppressive—for example:
(a) the idea that prescriptivist standard varieties of languages, which often resist change, are superior and more legitimate than those spoken by marginalized groups—the standard is what is spoken by people in power and what arbitrarily becomes normalized because of that power; there is nothing inherently more legitimate or “correct” about a standard variety versus a nonstandard variety.
(b) the idea that, since the meanings of words change, people not targeted by slurs can use those slurs however they damn well please, since they’re not using the slurs in ~*that*~ way—slurs are tied to long histories of dehumanization, oppression, and violence; they’re taboo and offensive for a reason, and using the slurs when you’re not part of the group affected by the slurs is a linguistically oppressive act that, knowingly or not, draws from that violent and oppressive history.
if you are not part of the group that was targeted by that slur, you do not get to reclaim it.
(c) the idea that mocking or appropriating a stigmatized variety as a non-speaker of that stigmatized variety is wholly inconsequential and just a linguistically natural part of language contact—many people who speak stigmatized varieties (aave, english accented with other languages, latin@ & chican@ english, etc.) can ONLY speak those varieties. they do not have the luxury of being able to switch into standard english like those who mock and appropriate can do.
when you mock a stigmatized variety, you contribute further to its stigmatization, and when you appropriate it as a non-speaker of it, how you use that stigmatized variety can often also further stigmatize it and make life more difficult for those who only speak that variety.
people also have feelings about the spread/non-spread of language varieties that are very bounded within specific communities—and these feelings and concerns are very valid, legitimate, and stem often from responses to racist, imperialist, and colonialist treatment of those varieties.
for instance, some indigenous peoples are wary of linguists, especially white linguists, coming into their communities and studying/dispersing their languages because of a history of linguists exploiting those resources for academic gain.
people who speak ethnolects like aave are often also wary of the spread of ethnolects to non-ethnolect speakers because of the constant history of theft, whitewashing, and invalidation of their cultures, especially black american culture, which has a long, long history of being shafted by people, especially white americans.
so—just because languages come into contact and language changes does not mean that we do not have to examine and understand the ideologies we have about language. language ideologies are real and have very real impacts on people’s lives. they can be oppressive, and they can be responses to oppression. they’re not something to be ignored just because language is always in flux.
Do people make fun of how you say "bagel"?
There’s a certain pronunciation of that unsweetened cousin of the doughnut that seems to get people’s mock-o-meters going. If you’ve never experienced this, here’s an example clip from Community:
First of all, I should point out that mocking people for any aspect of how they speak is not a nice nor particularly interesting/creative thing to do, and is most emphatically not what linguistics is about.
So let’s do the thing that linguistics is about, and try to analyse this phenomenon. The standard, Wiktionary pronunciation of “bagel” is /ˈbeɪɡəl/, [ˈbeɪɡɫ̩], while the nonstandard pronunciation has a slightly lowered vowel before the /g/, almost like [bæɡ] although I’d say a bit higher. As a speaker of this dialect, I can confirm that, for me at least, this vowel is also found in other contexts before /g/, such as in “vague” and (sometimes) “egg”, and I haven’t noticed it before any other consonant.
I’m going to give this phenomenon the descriptive term pre-velar lowering. Pre-velar because /g/ is a velar consonant (although /k/ and /ŋ/ are also velar, but let’s ignore that because pre-voiceless-velar sounds too long) and lowering because the vowel is lower than the standard /eɪ/.
As far as I know, no one has studied pre-velar lowering yet, so I put together a very short survey to see what kinds of factors influence whether people have this pronunciation. I’ll publish the responses if I get anything interesting.
“There is a distinct ‘occupational hazard’ to being a sociolinguist. You will be in the middle of a conversation with someone and you will notice something interesting about the way he or she is saying it. You will make note of the form. You will wonder about the context. You may notice a pattern. All of a sudden you will hear that person saying to you, ‘Are you listening to me?’ and you will have to say, ‘I was listening so intently to how you were saying it that I didn’t hear what you said!”—
Cambridge University Press
A n a l y s i n g S o c i o l i n g u i s t i c V a r i a t i o n