Magazine article Verbatim

Bringing Descriptive Linguistics into Everyday Conversation: A Cautionary Tale

Magazine article Verbatim

Bringing Descriptive Linguistics into Everyday Conversation: A Cautionary Tale

Article excerpt

A couple of years ago, I happened to be in one of those wait-all-afternoon lines for concert tickets in Atlanta and, to pass the time, I starting chatting with the woman in line in front of me. She seemed very nice, especially given the fact that she was middle-aged and waiting in line to purchase tickets for her 20-something son (who had been unable to take off work). And indeed she was nice--and interesting. We talked about lots of things: she told me that, as a young woman, she had worked construction in Texas in the 60s, had studied anthropology, had two kids, had faith in feminism. I told her that I was a sociolinguist. "Oh?" she said and I thought to myself, "If ever there was a time that I could enlighten a fellow being about descriptive linguistics, it is now." So I began my comparison of "Standard English" and Santa Claus, both of which exist only as judgment-making social constructs, both used to label people as 'naughty' or 'nice.' She didn't believe me. I talked about the nature of language and how both change and variation are part of the deal. She resisted. I talked about the fact that all dialects are rule-governed, structured entities that deserved respect. …

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