Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tom do this. Tom do that. Tom, don't do that.

Are linguists the hipsters of language? (What do you think, the answer is no?)

This question arose from the following logic fun:

I'm going to write about descriptive vs prescriptive theories of language as a follow-up to a previous post.

This is a pet debate among linguists.

I hate linguists.

Linguists like things I like, such as thinking about language and culture.

Hipsters like things I like, such as records and thrift stores.

I hate hipsters.

Therefore... (I skipped a number of steps in this syllogism but I assure you they exist and cohere.)

The relationship of each to their art is... positional... as is their choice of art-- superiority to subject is essential, as is the ubiquity of the subject. Language and pop culture are natural choices with nearly everyone participant in each, allowing the lording of said superiority over the largest number of people possible. This superiority is demonstrated in the usual ways, the invention and proliferation of extremely complex and preferably ever-changing jargon, fierce and intractable Balkanization (poor Balkans! Don't worry, I love you!), and, it must be said, a wealth of accurate & detailed information.

Viola! You've just been shown that your love of language or music is unexamined and founded on sand, and moreover, your love of it leads you into political error, as it cannot be as easily discarded as interest and presumes advocacy of an actual thing! (radiohead, western shirts, subject-verb agreement) rather than your position to it.

For instance, I found that orthography rant on a blog run by linguists who proceeded to point out its obvious and intended inconsistencies and accuse it of loathsome Prescriptivism-- Oh, but first I should define the debate shouldn't I?

People who say you should use words rather than letters that happen to sound like words and use words that mean what you intend instead of words that mean something else are Prescriptivist. As are people belonging to subcultures that more or less knowingly defy these mainstream rulez, totally, like teen gurlz and ppl who are po' an stuff. :) Many of us playfully engage both.

People who say you cannot advocate any usage of language because it makes you racist and classist and ageist and besides you don't even know your ablative from your absolute social deixis from a hole in the ground are linguists.

Generally the insurgent category of Prescriptivists is used as a poniard against the first category but this is not, as they suggest, because Linguists are Friends to the Downtrodden, but actually because the powerless are not a threat to their authority, whereas the dictionary and style-guide people, old hand at authority, are. For instance, there are whole languages dying at this very moment and Linguistics doesn't really care. (Some linguists do, of course and hooray! for them) One language isn't really better than another language, and more languages aren't really better than fewer, so how can one get involved without being intellectually compromised?

Linguists seek to create a new, ultimate authority, one that undermines the fortresses of its enemies while offering no citadel of its own for attack. Linguistics does not build, does not create, does not rule. It merely sees and knows all.

Luckily this delegitimatizes the language of oppression!

But also the language of struggle.

So, um, who do you think wins this now silent battle?

I could rant for a very long time I am now realizing, so I will wrap this up with some good old fashioned name calling.

Dear (certain) Linguists,

You're not fooling anyone. You're not good enough at math to make it in Science (no, Linguistics is not a Science) and not word-gifted or human-loving enough to create anything useful or beautiful with language. You are bean counters but not so honest. Your basic inferiority, from laziness, inability, or cowardice, in genuine mental pursuits led you to participate in this mongrel study. You are opportunistic, disingenuous, and bullying. You are not dignified by your willingness to look down on everyone. Expression is craft. I, for one, wish I had been taught it better. But I also wish I wasn't taught this colonist tongue, but spoke instead a language rooted in my geography, genetic or accidental, Gaelic or Kaw, but you offer me nothing; you offer us nothing. You parse and squabble a pile of fingernail clippings as if it were the man.


All this comes down to something very simple. Well, two things. 1) I have been out of writing for a week or more and this is like priming the pump. Dirty water out! Clean water to come. 2) Fundamentalism is always annoying. Just as annoying the antagonist in the joke that ends "Can you tell me where the library is at, asshole?" as the mocking hipster who disdains all that is not fashion.

Take us home, Tom. Take us home.

Well I don't mind working
cause I used to be jerkin off
most of my time in the bars
I been a cabbie and a stock clerk
and a soda fountain jock jerk
and a manic mechanic on cars
It's nice work if you can get it
now who the hell said it
I got money to spend on my gal
but the work never stops
and I'll be busting my chops
working for Joe and Sal.

And I can't wait to get off work
and see my baby
she said she'd leave the porch lite
on for me
I'm disheveled I'm disdainful
and I'm distracted and it's painful
but this job sweeping up here is
is gainfully employing me tonight

Tom do this Tom do that
Tom, don't do that
count the cash, clean the oven
dump the trash oh your lovin
is a rare and a copasetic gift
and I'm a moonlight watchmanic
it's hard to be romantic
(sweeping up over by the
cigarette machine
sweeping up over by the cigarette machine...)

I can't wait to get off work
and see my baby
she'll be waiting up with a magazine for me
clean the bathrooms, clean um good
oh your lovin I wish you would
come down here and sweepameoffmyfeet
this broom'll have to be my baby
if I hurry, I just might
get off before the dawns early light.

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