Aksking again

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[This is to follow up, as promised, on yesterday's brief note, "Racist sociolinguistics from El Rushbo?"] On Feb. 22, President Obama met with a group of state governors at the White House, as described in Peter Baker and Sam Dillon, "Obama Pitches Education Proposal to Governors", NYT 2/22/2010. He opening the discussion with an 11-minute speech. Video of the whole thing is here. About nine minutes into the presentation, he says:

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First, as a condition of receiving access to Title 1 funds, we will ask all states to put in place a plan to adopt and certify standards that are college and career ready in reading and math.

He pronounces the word ask as [æksk].  On Rush Limbaugh's radio program later in the same day, Limbaugh played the cited sentence, and makes a big deal of this pronunciation.  Among other things, he says:

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((See-)) this is- this is what- this is what Harry Reid was talking about –  Obama can turn on that black dialect uh when he wants to and turn it off.

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Who's he trying to reach out here to, the Reverend Jackson?

(An extended audio clip of Limbaugh's remarks is here.)

Henrik Herzberg suggests ("Decoding Limbaugh", The New Yorker, 2/23/2010) that Obama's [æksk] is actually not a matter of slipping into "black dialect" (which might use the older pronunciation [æks] for ask), but just a speech error, whereby an extra [k] slipped into the standard pronunciation, promoted by the word access earlier in the sentence.

Herzberg's analysis seems plausible to me. It explains the otherwise mysterious  [ksk] sequence, but more important, it makes sense of the fact that neither in this passage, nor in the rest of the address, are there any other signs of what Limbaugh called "black dialect", whether in pronunciation or morphosyntax or vocabulary choice.  I don't see any way to guess the color of Obama's skin by listening to that presentation. If he decided to "turn on that black dialect", he did it for less than 100 milliseconds in an 11-minute speech.

As a general marker of informality in Obama's presentation, we could look at "g-dropping". As a point of reference, let's take g-dropping rates in one of the presidential debates of October 2008, which I discussed in "Empathetic -in'", 10/18/2008:

In the first 40 minutes of the first presidential debate (transcript, mp3), Senator Obama used 84 gerund-participles, and dropped 8 g's. A g-dropping rate of about 10% is not at all out of line for someone in his position — in comparison, in the same period of the same debate, Senator McCain dropped 10 g's in 66 opportunities. (In both cases, I've left out all instances of the sequence "going to", which is especially interesting but also behaves in a special way.)

In the cited remarks to the assembled governors on Feb. 22, President Obama used 68 gerund-participles, and dropped 5 g's.  So by that metric, he used somewhat fewer informal pronunciations  than during the pre-election debates. And I conclude that Limbaugh's little riff on black dialect is completely disconnected from the reality of Obama's presentation. It seems to be gratuitous "race-baiting", just as Herzberg suggests.

In this context, Ann Althouse's defense of Limbaugh strikes me as bizarre:

But Limbaugh didn't say: “Obama can turn on that black dialect when he wants to and turn it off.” He said: "This is what Harry Reid was talking about. Obama can turn on that black dialect when he wants to and turn it off." Hertzberg took out the part about Harry Reid!

Suppose that I respond to this by asserting again that there was no basis in Obama's speech for bringing up the topic, and adding "See, this is what Jesse Taylor was talking about –  Ann’s a terrible person whose every move is designed to cocoon her fragile psyche from the crushing realization that she will never be particularly good at anything".  [To avoid misunderstanding, I don't think any such thing.]

At this point, if Geoff Nunberg observed that my attack on Prof. Althouse's character was not justified by anything she wrote in that post, and must reflect some animus against her personally or against some group she belongs to, he'd be absolutely right.

And if Victor Mair then tried to defend me by saying

But Liberman didn't say "Ann's a terrible person whose every move is designed to cocoon her fragile psyche from the crushing realization that she will never be particularly good at anything." He said "This is what Jesse Taylor was talking about — Ann's a terrible person whose every move is designed to cocoon her fragile psyche from the crushing realization that she will never be particularly good at anything." Nunberg took out the part about Jesse Taylor!

Victor's defense would be technically true, but logically irrelevant. You can't defend a false characterization of someone's motivations or actions by noting that the attack was a paraphrase of a third party's remarks, especially if your reference is completely out of context.

[As for  what Harry Reid is supposed to have said, back in 2008, about Obama's dialect,  let me refer you back to John McWhorter's sensible comments in TNR.]

[And really, IMHO, the most linguistically noteworthy aspect of Obama's speech was the phrase "college and career ready" -- yet another achievement for Ben Zimmer's "most likely to succeed" WOTY nominee!]

[Update 2/26/2010 20:45 -- as evidence of what some of Limbaugh's fans think this is all about, check out the comments at freerepublic.com:

Just in case you missed Obama talking without a teleprompter (I believe) today at the Governors Meeting, here is a funny moment. Well not really funny, like you want to laugh, more like sad funny that while he was talking about education and the need for improvement, he was mentioning Title 1 funds and said "AX"... Maybe President Obama needs to brush up on his pronunciation some before giving a speech on how we need to improve....Oh and the correct word is ASK.

There’s that negro dialect...

that dialect gets no response from me. I will repeat it back to them and ask them what it means.

Ah, he’s just playing to his base.

Just don’t axe him to see his birth certificate...

how he speaks depends on who this AH be talken too

Ax not wut u can do fer yo cuntree butt ax wut yo cuntree gonna do fer U!

A little ebonics for the soul

I don’t know the origin of this, but I know and work with many Black people who speak the same way; ‘aks’ where the word ‘ask’ is concerned. They understand what the word means, but it seems to me that is physically difficult for them to pronounce it correctly. Long ago, I attributed it to education level, but I’m not really sure if that is it either. Further, I live in the midwest and it is fairly prevalent here. It almost seems as if it is something they can turn on or off at will depending to whom they are speaking.

Harry was right (for once)... YoBama can seamlessly switch on the negro dialect when he wants to.

Obama is so pathetic. He’s afraid of being called “Uncle Tom” I guess.

For some reason, American Negroes have a difficult time with the word “ask.” They nearly always pronounce it “axe”. Michelle Obama has a horrible speech problem. She cannot pronounce the letters “st” or “sh”. I am not a speech pathologist, and I do not know why Negroes cannot pronounce certain letter combinations.

Maybe there can be some of the stimulus money alotted for studying this. I have always wondered why “Nergros” have a hard time with such word as ask (axe) and David (Davit) to name a couple. There is a college educated well raised “Negro” here at work that says ax instead of ask and I would love to know why?

Just brushing up on that negro dialect for when he really needs it...

And so on...]

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108 Comments »

  1. Dofang said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 9:14 am

    All this proves is that Rush Limbaugh has never been good at using Occam's Razor. Why would Obama "turn the black on" for a single word in such an innocuous sentence?

    [(myl) I think that it's a mistake to treat Rush Limbaugh's rhetorical choices as having any connection with logic -- he seems to me to be motivated mainly by the pursuit of personal advantage, not by political principle. So I'd guess that he never really believed that Obama used this one segment in one word in an 11-minute speech to send a coded message to African-Americans; and I'd guess that the assistant(s) on his show who came up with the whole trope in the first place didn't believe that either. Rather, I'd guess that he saw a chance to make some jokes about Obama's race, and took his shot.

    The problem is that some of his fans, like Ann Althouse, didn't pay much if any attention to the speech Limbaugh was commenting on, but take his word for it that Obama briefly chose to speak in "black dialect", and think that the question is what this means and how we should talk about it. So it's worth engaging the factual and logical underpinnings of Limbaugh's discussion, not because any considerations of fact or reason could ever influence him, but because of the effect on others.]

  2. Ann Althouse said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 10:09 am

    Hi, Mark. I sort of appreciate this effort, but as I explain in a new post, you have completely missed the real issue, which is whether Hertzberg was unfair to characterize Limbaugh as a racist. You're obscuring the way in which it was humor, which is what Hertzberg did. I can't tell if you are doing this on purpose or you really don't understand. What gives?

    [(myl) I guess I really don't understand. I listened to this whole segment of Limbaugh's show yesterday -- at least the part that Media Matters put on line -- and it never once occurred to me that his description of Obama as "turn[ing] on that black dialect when he wants to" was a joke, in the sense that he didn't expect his listeners to believe it. It's true that his tone is jocular, or perhaps sarcastic would be a better word, but if he wasn't serious about the basic point, that went right over my head.

    Here's a transcript of his interaction with a caller, later on the same show, where it certainly seems to me that both Limbaugh and the caller took the "ax" business literally:

    RUSH: This is what I mean. Stacy, this guy is not grounded in reality. There's not a soul in the world that believes they're going to be able to keep their plan. There's no need for this if you get to keep your plan. If there's no government or public option — which is also BS. This is one scary bill. It just scary. We have somebody who is not grounded in reality. He's living in his own world.

    CALLER: Well, and he certainly knows nothing about health insurance. If you look at –

    RUSH: He doesn't know anything about anything, Stacy!

    CALLER: Yeah.

    RUSH: This is the point. He's a community irritator, agitator. He doesn't know diddly-squat. All he knows is what Harvard taught him which apparently also included how to say "ax."

    CALLER: Please don't do that. (giggles) That gets on my nerves. Oh, please don't do that. Anyway, let's talk about there's a paragraph on page three: "Strengthen Oversight of Insurance Premium Increases."

    ]

  3. Andrew said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 10:19 am

    Ann! Good to see you hear. I was about to comment on that myself. Considering the way this blog has taken on the "Bushisms" of the past President, to defend this one for similar malapropisms seems a bit… questionable. But we all know what great orators Obama and his teleprompters are, so he gets the pass where Bush didn't.

    [(myl) Um, wait a minute, my take on the Bushisms industry was that it started out as a political cheap shot, and turned into a dubiously ethical way for Jacob Weisberg to manipulate regional and class prejudice in order to make money. Mutatis mutandis (in particular, substituting race for region), I feel exactly the same way about the various linguistic attacks on Obama, including the whole I-counting business, and this latest nonsense as well.

    And whatever the reason for Obama's pronunciation of ask, it wasn't a malapropism -- your terminology is confused as well as your history.]

  4. Andrew said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 10:20 am

    Sorry. Here. My error.

  5. Nathan said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 10:31 am

    Isn't it normal to poke fun at slips of the tongue, especially those of one's political opponents?

  6. be_slayed said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 10:38 am

    Perhaps irrelevant if Obama really said [æksk] (as a speech error), but [æks] for is not limited to AAVE. It appears in "white dialects" as well, and has a long history in English.
    In Old English, in fact, at least in the past tense, the metathesised "axe" form is favoured over the unmetathesised "ask" form by a large margin (266:5), and the "axe" form is the only form which appears in Beowulf [see Axing for trouble: Beowulf and metathesis].

  7. Ann Althouse said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 10:43 am

    " It's true that his tone is jocular, or perhaps sarcastic would be a better word, but if he wasn't serious about the basic point, that went right over my head."

    Again, what needs to be asked is whether it's fair to call Rush Limbaugh a racist. He talks about race in a satirical was a lot, and regular listeners like me understand it and know it isn't racist. Hertzberg's column was truly ugly and scurrilous and it distresses me that you are supporting him instead of trying to get to the root of it.

  8. Ann Althouse said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 10:43 am

    I mean: "in a satirical way…"

  9. Ann Althouse said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 10:48 am

    And Nathan is right — "Isn't it normal to poke fun at slips of the tongue, especially those of one's political opponents?" People ridiculed the least slip that George Bush made and seemed to think it was good humor to just declare him an idiot if he stumbled over a word. If the President slips up, it's normal to laugh. It's not a huge deal. And if the President is Obama, it's not presumptively racist.

    Why not begin with the assumption that it's humor, even if you don't think it's very good humor? An ugly assertion of racism should not be the starting point. I read Hertzberg as a liberal who wants to delegitimate the speech of his opponents. That should not be so easy to do.

  10. Kylopod said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 10:58 am

    The first time I saw Obama speak, which was at the 2004 Democratic Convention, I noticed that his diction and pronunciation were much more formal than those of Howard Dean, who had spoken earlier the same night. This didn't surprise me. I knew nothing about Obama's background, but I did know that black Americans in this sort of position often overcompensate and try to sound formal, where a white American can pass off his informality as folksiness.

  11. cs said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 11:13 am

    Apparently, Rush Limbaugh can never be wrong, because whenever he says something that isn't actually true, he is just poking fun at someone else who said something similar, or goading his political opponents into an overreaction (this latter explaination is popular in Althouse's comments section).

  12. Dierk said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 11:27 am

    Just for my info over here in the Old World, Rush Limbaugh does not mean what he says in earnest but is just a clown, like, say, Krusty? In that case, why isn't he funny, well, except to those taking him serious?

    Ah, well, political discourse, one day we poor Old Europeans may understand …

  13. Neal Goldfarb said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 11:31 am

    Now that we've looked at re Obama's speech patterns, let's look at Limbaugh's.

    Listen to the prosody of this sentence:

    If I use the word “ax” for the rest of the day, am I going to get beat up and creamed for making fun of this clean, crisp, calm, cool new articulate President?

    There's a pause between "articulate" and "President"—a spot at which I suspect one wouldn't normally expect much of a pause at all—that lasts three seconds. Three seconds! That's an eternity. And I don't think the pause was just a dysfluency. Limbaugh talks for a living and he has chops; he's in control of his instrument. I think the pause was deliberate—that it was inserted for rhetorical effect.

    Limbaugh wanted to let the allusion to Biden's "clean and articulate" comments sink in, and to trigger the thought "black man" in his listener's minds. Then, having set up the expectation that his next words would be "black man," he said "President" instead. So he makes his point (black President) without having to actually say that phrase.

  14. Mark P said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 11:35 am

    I don't know whether Limbaugh is a racist, and I'm not sure what he says on his show is necessarily good evidence on that issue. It is clear, however, that he panders to the racism of his audience, and that he does it intentionally and repeatedly. I'm not sure how that makes him better than a racist. I think that to say that "regular listeners like me understand it and know it isn't racist" is disingenuous, or at least gives his listeners a huge benefit for a small doubt.

    I think this site gave Bush's rhetorical failings fair treatment.

  15. Paul said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 11:41 am

    Ann,
    Question: if El Rushbo was just being satirical about Democrat's 'racism', why is it that people who study language, semantics, and pragmatics don't get it? I am not particularly political, and I am a centrist in most respects, but I don't think Rush was being satirical; he was being racist. As a linguist and literati myself, I totally understand satire (and have studied about it for a long time), and that wasn't it. You are allowing your conservative googles to cloud your opinion of a pundit and his failings. Get a clue, Rush is a racist (remember the McNabb comments? the repeated Hussein references??? etc.etc.), and he is representing and giving a platform for the subset of conservatives who are racists as well. Sadly, you seem to be defending that.

  16. phosphorious said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 11:56 am

    "He talks about race in a satirical was a lot, and regular listeners like me understand it and know it isn't racist. "

    How do you know exactly? You have the same evidence everybody else has: he brings up race all the time for very little reason.

    And yet you know for a fact that he is not racist?

  17. Nate said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

    @Ann:

    "People ridiculed the least slip that George Bush made and seemed to think it was good humor to just declare him an idiot if he stumbled over a word. If the President slips up, it's normal to laugh. It's not a huge deal. And if the President is Obama, it's not presumptively racist."

    It's one thing–a disrespectful thing–to mock a president for his rhetorical fumbling and claim that it's because he is an idiot; it's another entirely to mock a president's slip of the tongue and claim that it's because he's black–which in itself invokes a long and enduring history of racist social attitudes. And then to continue, and to equate the use of "aks" with ignorance and incompetence, as he did with his caller, is hard to interpret as anything but racist.

    I don't really care either way whether Limbaugh is a racist. But in this case, the things he's saying are racist, and I don't think it's unfair to point that out at all.

  18. Nathan said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 12:24 pm

    Perhaps in some official occasion of state it's disrespectful and inappropriate to mock the president's minor errors, but in free political discourse it's the norm. In the United States, lèse majesté doesn't exist due to the First Amendment–thank God!

    "To mock a president's slip of the tongue and claim that it's because he's black" might be a problem, but how about mocking a president's slip of the tongue and claiming that it's because he's trying to publicly identify himself (authentically or not) with a particular culture? I recall other such episodes with the last three presidents; it's ridiculous to declare this tactic "racist" just because of the current president's race.

  19. Substance McGravitas said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

    Again, what needs to be asked is whether it's fair to call Rush Limbaugh a racist. He talks about race in a satirical was a lot, and regular listeners like me understand it and know it isn't racist.

    This means you don't understand what you're listening to, which fits the pattern of not understanding what you read or see.

  20. Acilius said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 12:45 pm

    I think the most interesting word of the original post is "milliseconds." You'd have to listen to Mr O's statement awfully closely even to hear the extra stop, and if you did listen to it that closely you'd surely notice its similarity to the preceding "access." That's why Limbaugh's attribution of it to something racial is hard to explain except as a sign that Limbaugh himself has some kind of obsession with race and has jumped to a conclusion that supports that obsession.

  21. actor212 said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 12:45 pm

    "how about mocking a president's slip of the tongue and claiming that it's because he's trying to publicly identify himself (authentically or not) with a particular culture? I recall other such episodes with the last three presidents; it's ridiculous to declare this tactic "racist" just because of the current president's race."

    Errrrrrrr, Obama is black. Clinton was a southerner. The two Bushes were carpetbagging Connecticutians who pretended to be from Texas, and therefore fair game for putting on airs.

  22. Murgatroyd said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 12:46 pm

    I think the pause was deliberate—that it was inserted for rhetorical effect.

    Limbaugh wanted to let the allusion to Biden's "clean and articulate" comments sink in, and to trigger the thought "black man" in his listener's minds.

    You're begging the question. If you start out assuming that everything is racist, then it's no surprise when you find … racism!

    How about this interepretation instead? Barack Obama was praised for being "articulate." Yet this articulate man nevertheless used what sounded to me like "axe" instead of "ask." Either this was a slip of the tongue, in which case he doesn't seem so articulate after all, or it was deliberate pandering to his audience, in which case he is as worthy of derision as Hillary Clinton was when she affected a deep southern accent for political purposes.

    It makes far more sense to believe that alluding to Joe Biden’s “clean and articulate” comment wasn't intended to to trigger the thought “black man” in his listener’s minds — Really? He's black? I hadn't noticed! Gosh, I guess I should hate him now! — but instead was intended to trigger the thought in their minds, "Joe Biden's a buffoon!"

  23. actor212 said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 12:47 pm

    He talks about race in a satirical was a lot, and regular listeners like me understand it

    Which sorts of raises the question, Ann, as to whether the log in your own eye is too big for you to be objective about it.

  24. actor212 said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 1:07 pm

    It appears in "white dialects" as well, and has a long history in English.

    As Professor Althouse can attest, it's quite common in the outer boroughs of New York City, particularly Brooklyn (Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst, especially) where people "axe drecshuns" all the time.

    Hey, Ann, dat's right, ain't it? Or didn't no one axe you dreckshuns evah, like ta Toidy Toid shtreet?

  25. Nate said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 1:10 pm

    @Nathan:

    "how about mocking a president's slip of the tongue and claiming that it's because he's trying to publicly identify himself (authentically or not) with a particular culture? I recall other such episodes with the last three presidents; it's ridiculous to declare this tactic "racist" just because of the current president's race."

    The president said "aksk", not "aks," so Limbaugh's claim is, if nothing else, factually wrong. To continue to insist that he's invoking some sort of "black dialect" seems to me to be rather more concerned with the "black" part of his accusation than the "dialect" part.

  26. Theophylact said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 1:38 pm

    Dierk,

    Everyone knows clowns aren't funny, they're terrifying. That's why they make children scream and cry.

  27. Gramsci said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

    Is there no escape from her? Soon we'll be discussing why the question isn't whether Eskimos DO have all those words for snow, but whether certain liberals are unfairly attacking linguists who say they MIGHT.

  28. Jan Karel Schreuder said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 2:41 pm

    I know this is not linguistically relevant and it might be because I am an old European sissy, but to me Limbaugh's talk is thoroughly and shockingly racist. It is nothing new and exceptional. He does it all the time. And it is ugly.

  29. Kylopod said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 3:33 pm

    A little anecdote about Ann Coulter sheds enormous light on the "liberals have no sense of humor" meme. Coulter referred to John Edwards as a "faggot." When called on it, she claimed it was only a joke, and that "faggot" is simply "a schoolyard taunt meaning 'wuss.'"

    What was especially revealing was the logic of her defense: she acted like her critics had made the mistake of taking her comment literally. It's as if she had called Edwards a bastard, and then defended herself by saying she wasn't accusing Edwards of having unmarried parents. What critics objected was not the literal content of her statement but the fact that it was uncivil, unprofessional, and demeaning to homosexuals (just as "retard" is even if you aren't talking about an actual retarded person). But to Coulter, the fact that it was nonliteral put it automatically in the category of a "joke."

    That's the way talk radio and the rest of the right-wing media operates: they cater to people filled with hate, paranoia, and a sense of being persecuted, and whenever this is delivered in the form of straightforward, usually witless, sarcasm and ridicule, they present it as "humor."

    The most honest thing Coulter said was in comparing it to schoolyard taunts. Insults delivered by teenagers at their peers, their teachers, or their parents are rarely funny, rarely witty, rarely even interesting–just like the boilerplate insults you hear on a routine basis from Coulter. Limbaugh is a tad more sophisticated, and even occasionally funny, but the whole tone of his program is the same old hatred and martyr complex that characterizes so much of the conservative American establishment today.

    I do think that Limbaugh, Coulter, and others in their vein are essentially performance artists who are playing roles, but most of the people I encounter who are fans of their programs are pretty dead serious, and when they aren't, their idea of a "joke" is any one where the punchline is liberals, or the Democrat Party, or ACORN, or President Obama.

    But I do know at least one person I'm a fan of who would agree that liberals have no sense of humor: Stephen Colbert.

  30. Bloix said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 3:35 pm

    The "black English" pronunciation is "ax,' not "axsk." He didn't say "ax." There's no way you can get "ax" out of what he said unless you want to lie about it.

    But the bigger point is that the entire sentence is delivered in impeccable "white" educated English. There's nothing black about the impression you get having heard the whole thing.

    Obama drops his g's when he wants to be informal, but there's nothing particularly black about that. Bush dropped his g's, as did Clinton. I wish he wouldn't do it, but it doesn't make him sound black.

    It's possible to guess fairly accurately at the race of many African-Americans – on the radio, say – from their speech, including those who are college educated. For example, final "d's" tend to become unvoiced, while internal t's and d's tend to lose some of their plosive quality – "United States" is pronounced something like "Uninet States," while "President" becomes somethng like "Presinent".

    But Obama does none of these things.

  31. Jim said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 3:48 pm

    "one day we poor Old Europeans may understand …"

    Well, it was all said in an Indo-European language, and once you Old Europeans language shift, it'll all be very clear.

  32. jim said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 3:57 pm

    Althouse's attempt to create a distinction between racism & humor mysteriously assumes that these are two entirely discrete concepts. History tells us otherwise. Racist "humor" was – & obviously still is – used to excuse racism as well as to legitimize it. You didn't laugh at my joke about blacks loving watermelons, so now YOU'RE the bad guy, spoiling my harmless innocent fun with your self-righteous & overzealous political correctness.

    Limbaugh has used race-baiting as a rhetorical device throughout his career & as long as his sponsors continue to send him his royalties & renew his exorbitant contracts, he'll gladly keep right on doing so.

    "Why not begin with the assumption that it's humor, even if you don't think it's very good humor?"

    Beside the fact that "why not" is a rather anemic intellectual canard to hang this assumption on, it still does nothing whatsoever to negate the racism of his statements per se.

  33. John said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 4:19 pm

    @Ann Althouse:

    I honestly cannot see how this whole riff of Rush's can be plausibly interpreted as being all about Harry Reid and Joe Biden. I think that Rush's quote later on that Mark Liberman pointed out pretty well shows that Rush meant to (at least in part) make fun of Obama himself:

    "This is the point. He's a community irritator, agitator. He doesn't know diddly-squat. All he knows is what Harvard taught him which apparently also included how to say "ax.""

    Unless… this comment is not meant to be taken seriously, either, and in fact Rush is merely *satirizing* the practice of race-baiting? Maybe Rush is the original Colbert, and he's been pulling some kind of elaborate Andy Kauffman-like stunt for the last 20 years or so? One can hope…

  34. lee said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 4:47 pm

    I occasionally say "aksk" when I have been around people who say ax and I catch myself starting to say ax instead of ask. I grew up saying ask and was around people who said ask. I also unconsciously mimic accents, badly, when I am having an extended conversation with someone with a strong accent. I try not to do this now that I have become aware that I am prone to it. I think this "aksk" of Obama was a similar slip and self correction, and not some kind of racial dog whistle.

  35. MH said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 4:52 pm

    @Neal Goldfarb:

    Interesting, but Limbaugh has a (roughly) 2 second pause after "creamed" and then another fairly long one after "fun", so I'm not sure that the reason for the pause before "President" is only an attempt at implicitly suggesting "black man" to his listeners.

  36. Forrest said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 5:49 pm

    I find Anne Althouse's position to be disingenuous … but sadly not surprising. It's as if vehemently denying the obvious has become a cornerstone of American politics. ( I was tempted to end the sentence with "lately" but that 's probably the recency illusion. )

    Limbaugh is pandering to racism, and being paid well to do it. He created an opportunity where none existed, to express a negative judgment about the president's race, and to frame his observation in an us versus them way.

    It takes a virtuosic performance to say this has nothing to do with racism, and to say it with a straight face. But I suppose it's not "politically correct" to call somebody out for obvious racism, or even just to tell it like it is.

  37. Jen said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 5:59 pm

    The most honest thing Coulter said was in comparing it to schoolyard taunts. Insults delivered by teenagers at their peers, their teachers, or their parents are rarely funny, rarely witty, rarely even interesting–just like the boilerplate insults you hear on a routine basis from Coulter.

    I disagree. I remember the taunts my middle school classmates made in 1982 in New York, when Mario Cuomo was running against Lew Lehrman for governor of New York:

    "Carey is a fairy, Cuomo is a homo"

    [Carey was the incumbent, but not running for re-election.]

    Quite frankly, though I was a Cuomo supporter, I thought the chants were hilarious.

    There was also an open challenge for anyone to shout "Heil Hitler" in class, since our teacher was a Holocaust survivor and hated Hitler, and it was rumored he would have a meltdown if anyone would ever say that. Lots of us wanted to do it, but no one ever had the guts unfortunately.

    Ahhh…the memories.

  38. Jen said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 6:07 pm

    Also, a favorite chant of my classmates when walking anywhere was:

    "Hitler, Hitler, he's our man; if he can't do it, nobody can"

    It wasn't meant to be offensive [nor should it ever be thought to be, as Hitler had many redeeming qualities too]; it was just a chant we said without thinking.

    And regarding BE (Black English) "ax", I know my grandparents did not look favorably upon black people and viewed them as criminals. One reason was because they often used "ax" instead of "ask", which evoked images of them literally "axing" people and causing great bodily harm. whether this is fair or not, their choice to use "ax" is offensive to many people.

  39. Babayaga said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 6:35 pm

    Please tell me that Jen is making a (very bad) joke.

    Please?

  40. Nathan Myers said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 7:11 pm

    Dierk: Yes, Rush is entirely a clown. Those of his listeners who don't recognize his clowning are part of the joke. Unfortunately, they vote too. That's the farce of democracy. Since they vote, others are obliged to act as if he's not entirely a clown. That's the tragedy of democracy. Judging by the plays that survived, it wasn't so very different in ancient Greece.

  41. fev said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 7:17 pm

    I think it's generally true that Limbaugh usually stays away from bluntly overt racism. But if you listen to him regularly (I expect I've been doing that as long as Ann Althouse has), you clearly get the idea that Obama's America is a lot like the one in "Birth of a Nation." That's where the "man-child" metaphor is going, and it underlies some of the right wing's obsession with Obama's alleged arrogance and narcissism (Limbaugh traffics in pronoun-counting for the same reasons George Will does).

    Granted, Limbaugh is basically a circus clown. But it's unusual to live in a time when one of the two major parties owes the bulk of its tone and substance to circus clowns.

  42. fev said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 7:20 pm

    Oh, and if you're wondering what Limbaugh thinks of linguists, his pet name for the framing dude in California is "George Lakoff-rhymes-with." Just so's you know.

  43. Jan Karel Schreuder said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 7:21 pm

    @Babayaga
    I'm afraid Jen is not joking. And are Ann Althouse's statements that much different?

  44. Jen said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 7:55 pm

    @Babayaga: I am not joking. I was just recalling how kids behaved back in the day. Have you never watched South Park? People should lighten up and learn to laugh at themselves once in a while.

  45. Jen said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 8:00 pm

    Also, though I am pro-LBGT, I don't have an issue with Anne Coulter calling John Edwards a "faggot". This word has multiple meanings, one of which is 'idiot' or 'disgusting person'. She wasn't referring to his sexual orientation. I was not offended by such language. She did it to shock, and that is her job.

  46. Babayaga said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 8:03 pm

    Jen–

    Um, what?

    You're not joking but I need to lighten up? How does that even make sense?

  47. Jan Karel Schreuder said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 8:10 pm

    @Jen

    and are you laughing at yourself, 'cause I certainly am. It's my experience, though, and I hope you prove me wrong, that guys of your ilk take themselves very seriously, while advising their opponents to lighten up. But don't worry about me. I think you are a clown, a sad one.

  48. Q. Pheevr said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 8:15 pm

    @fev – Rhymes with what? Take-off? Bake-off?

  49. Babayaga said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 8:18 pm

    @Jan, thank you.

    In circumstances like these I'm always torn between not wanting to feed the troll and not wanting to let someone leave giant stinking turds on a thread without anyone even mentioning the stench.

  50. Tom said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 8:20 pm

    Jen,

    Is it really your position that black people should consider changing the way they speak because it might be "offensive" to people who don't "look favorably" on black people and think that they are "criminals," or did I miss something?

  51. fev said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 8:27 pm

    @Q: Yes, BAKE-off is the way I've been pronouncing it (don't know him, had profs who do). Limbaugh pronounced it LACK-off. It was pretty striking, not least for the idea of Limbaugh reading a "book" with "ideas" and stuff. But it seemed pretty clear what "LACK-off-rhymes-with" meant.

  52. phosphorious said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 8:31 pm

    Jen,

    If your grandparents took offense at the word "ask" being pronounced "ax" because they thought it implied a criminal desire to hit people with an ax, then they are perhaps the stupidest people I have ever heard of.

    Seriously.

  53. Q. Pheevr said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 8:35 pm

    Ah. So "rhymes-with" in the same sense in which celibate rhymes with celebrate, or Limbaugh with humbug.

  54. Tom said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 8:39 pm

    Q,

    I think fev might mean something like "rhymes-with" in the sense of "intentionally mispronouncing his name in order to call him a jack off."

  55. uberVU - social comments said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 9:37 pm

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by PhilosophyFeeds: Language Log: Aksking again http://goo.gl/fb/Aadd

  56. fev said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 9:43 pm

    In fairness to me, I'd point out that I wasn't the one who "meant" that. I'm convinced that's exactly what Limbaugh meant, but I was reporting his speech, not buying into it. 'Preciate it if you'd pay attention to that distinction in the future.

  57. Thomas P said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 10:56 pm

    well, yo Amercans shore aint post-racial yet, eh?

  58. Bloix said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 11:08 pm

    Limbaugh avoids overt racism in the same way that the Greaseman avoided overt sexual references. The whole point is to have your stock of elaborate euphemisms that allow you to say incredibly outrageous stuff that you couldn't otherwise say on the radio. People who don't listen to you much don't get it but the regulars love it.

    I was reminded of Doug Tracht the other day when I watched Rachel Maddow's dissection of Glenn Beck's lying piece on the DC snowstorm. I swear he was channeling the Grease. Ah, the memories.

  59. Jen said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 11:15 pm

    Is it really your position that black people should consider changing the way they speak because it might be "offensive" to people who don't "look favorably" on black people and think that they are "criminals," or did I miss something?

    Well I do think American Negroes need to learn to speak Standard American English to enhance their employment prospects. I know for sure I would never hire one who said "ax" in place of "ask", just as I would never hire a person who showed up to an interview in sweats. Intelligent people know how to adapt their speech to conform to what the audience wants.

  60. Jen said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 11:19 pm

    Um, what?

    You're not joking but I need to lighten up? How does that even make sense?

    I am not joking and you do need to lighten up. What, you can't read???

    Everything I have said is true and uncontroversial.

  61. fev said,

    February 26, 2010 @ 11:21 pm

    "well, yo Amercans shore aint post-racial yet, eh?"

    No, not worth a damn.

  62. Melissa said,

    February 27, 2010 @ 12:05 am

    It seems like Limbaugh is using language quite skillfully to achieve the perfect balance of being just barely racist. He's *almost* not quite racist, so people like Ann Althouse can defend him and believe their own arguments. But he's also just racist enough to bring out the crazies in his comments section and give them a forum to spew much darker and more vitriolic racism. Maybe Rush agrees with his commenters, maybe not, but either way he's using racism to promote his brand.

    Those sample comments Mark posted really scare me (I'd be afraid of physical harm from those people even though I'm white). I find their use of the word Negroes disturbing – using an older term evokes a time when racism was more institutionally entrenched, and more people would have agreed with their comments. People who care about tolerance make attempts to use the terms that are least hurtful – my mom grew up in the 50s and referred to people from southeast Asia as "Oriental" until I told her that the newer/more polite 90s term was "Asian". Now she says Asian. She actually also used to say "faggy" to mean 'uncool', until we kids told her that it was offensive to gay people. Now she doesn't say it. That's tolerance and caring about other people's feelings. Being a good person means trying not to be hurtful, rather than worrying about another group taking "power" over you by "forcing" you to change the hurtful word. Grow up.

  63. Jen said,

    February 27, 2010 @ 12:11 am

    When I was growing up, my grandparents said black people were called "Negroes", then they decided to be called "colored people" (as in NAACP), then they wanted to be "black", and now it's "African-American". LOL. They can't even decide what they want to be called! I called them "Negroes" since if it's ok for Harry Reid to do, then it's ok for me as well. Some people still choose to be called "Negro" on the US Census. what's wrong with "Negro"?

  64. Melissa said,

    February 27, 2010 @ 12:12 am

    Jen said, "I know for sure I would never hire one who said 'ax' in place of 'ask'"

    Another opportunity for linguistics to serve society – I got a bachelor's in linguistics before becoming an engineer, so I know that the pronunciation of the word ask is irrelevant to the ability to do most jobs, and certainly no indicator of intelligence. Communication skills are important to me when I'm on a hiring panel, but aks/ask doesn't count as bad communication in my book. I'd be much more wary of hiring someone who pretends not to understand a person saying aks instead of ask.

    But I guess if basic sociolinguistic knowledge (and tolerance of dialect variation) became widespread in America, people would find some other way to judge others based on race or class, and lump people into groups so they can dislike them more efficiently.

  65. fev said,

    February 27, 2010 @ 12:45 am

    Things seem to be very interesting on Jen's home planet.

  66. Normal Language Log Readers said,

    February 27, 2010 @ 12:48 am

    Jen,
    You are seriously one of the most obtuse and overtly racist people we have ever had the displeasure of reading. The fact that you refer to African Americans as 'negroes,' and think nothing of it, is representative of the closemindedness and backwardness of conservative (anti)thought in the US. For a person to come on a linguistic blog, and spout the stuff a LING 100 D student could,refute is comical and sad, and makes us realize how much we have still to educate the public. Please take your lack of knowledge to an internet refuse bin, such as Ann Alter's blog.

    Sincerely,
    Normal Language Log Readers

  67. Jen said,

    February 27, 2010 @ 1:04 am

    Communication skills are important to me when I'm on a hiring panel, but aks/ask doesn't count as bad communication in my book. I'd be much more wary of hiring someone who pretends not to understand a person saying aks instead of ask.

    Thank you. I guess we be treating Negroes too harshly.

    Companies have an image to project, and we cannot have employees speaking in African-American Vernacular English to potential clients and to the public. Do you think BHO would have been elected Senator or President or even made the Harvard Law Review if he spoke AAVE? Whether that's right or wrong, people must learn what is expected of them in civilized society (wear a suit to an interview, speak proper English, don't get caught with choppers in your trunk, etc.).

  68. Greg said,

    February 27, 2010 @ 1:25 am

    Everything I have said is true and uncontroversial.

    So, wait; this one's a joke, right?

  69. Peter Taylor said,

    February 27, 2010 @ 4:46 am

    Re "standards that are college and career ready in reading and math": how do the disjunctions distribute? How many standards is he talking about? And why is the third "R" missing?

    PS Jen, not a bad troll, but to get maximum points you have to make fewer posts.

  70. M. Bouffant said,

    February 27, 2010 @ 5:26 am

    Interesting to see that Prof. Althouse excuses Limbaugh for the racism in the same way Ex-AK-Gov. Sarah Palin excused him for saying "retard:" that he was being sarcastic & quoting someone.

  71. Q. Pheevr said,

    February 27, 2010 @ 7:55 am

    @fev — I don't think Tom was accusing you of buying into Limbaugh's humbug, and I'm sure I'm not. For my part, I was genuinely confused about what Limbaugh was trying to insinuate, and my impression was that Tom was helping you explain to me that Limbaugh mispronounces Lakoff's name.
    God help us all if Limbaugh decides to start talking about Ray Jackendoff. We'll never hear the end of it.

  72. phosphorious said,

    February 27, 2010 @ 10:52 am

    "Intelligent people know how to adapt their speech to conform to what the audience wants.
    "

    And yet you seem unable to stop using the word "negro" just because your grandparents used it.

    How stupid you are. How abysmally, incorrigibly stupid.

  73. fev said,

    February 27, 2010 @ 2:23 pm

    @Q, Tom: You're right. Apologies for being short-fused.

  74. parse said,

    February 27, 2010 @ 11:38 pm

    I've been surprised a number of times by the vehemence I've heard expressed for use of "axe" as a pronunciation of "ask." The most surprising incidence was a passionate denunciation of the practice by Utrice Leid, a Carribbean-American journalist who used to host a daily talk show on New York's listener-sponsored WBAI radio. I was startled, because all previous objections to the term I'd heard seemed to depend on the pronunciation functioning as a racial marker, but Leid's objections were just as strong, though lacking the racial component

  75. Kylopod said,

    February 28, 2010 @ 1:56 am

    Jen is a troll. I've only been here a few weeks, and I don't know if this place has gotten trolls before, but it's important not to get worked up over them.

  76. James Wimberley said,

    February 28, 2010 @ 11:22 am

    Everybody´s apparent assumption that Barack Obama is a native African-American strikes me as obviously wrong. He´s an African American; his father was a Luo fron Kenya, his mother a white Kansan, and his only black slave ancestors would be on her side. He adopted an African-American identity, or was forced to by everybody else´s stereotyping, as a young man, not at his mother´s knee. Excuse the self-advertising, but I tried to set the record straight two years ago on my blog.

  77. Kylopod said,

    February 28, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

    Everybody´s apparent assumption that Barack Obama is a native African-American strikes me as obviously wrong … his father was a Luo fron Kenya, his mother a white Kansan

    Nobody here assumed anything of the kind. You assumed they assumed.

    His exact ancestry is well-known and doesn't need restating. The reason it hasn't been brought up right now is that it is utterly irrelevant to the current discussion, which is about speech patterns.

    I'm sure everyone here realizes that AAVE is not Obama's native tongue; however, he did begin to hang around other blacks when he was a young man, and he has been observed to code-switch depending on whom he's around. At least two contributors to this blog have written pieces commenting on this point:

    http://www.tnr.com/blog/john-mcwhorter/why-how-obama-talks-more-interesting-how-michael-steele-tries

    http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~nunberg/authenticity.html

  78. Mark F. said,

    February 28, 2010 @ 4:36 pm

    The thing is, not only is AAVE not Obama's native dialect; I'm not even convinced he can "turn it on". I think he's good at the oratorical style that arises out of Black preaching, but that's a different thing than a dialect.

  79. Travis said,

    February 28, 2010 @ 4:59 pm

    For Jen

    Check it out: Jen is on the hiring panel for a management position at a firm. The panel is interviewing a black candidate. He's charming, bright, creative, was head-hunted from a leading competitor, where he oversaw one of the most successful projects in that firm's history. He's killing in the interview, throwing out ideas and getting the panel to really think. They all realize he will be an amazing asset to their company and could make them a lot of money.

    He also speaks in African American Vernacular English. During an intense discussion of the firm's future, he says, "Now let me ax you about the direction the company is taking…"

    At this point, Jen interrupts. "I'm sorry, sir, but we just can't have any of your Negro language here. It brings up violent imagery for me and I find it offensive." She shakes his hand (or, based on all she's said so far, probably doesn't), to the bewilderment of the rest of the panel, and sends the interviewee on his way.

    So, yes, perhaps his dialect hurt his job prospects. But only because he ended up on Jen's panel. Because Jen chose her racist bias over the success of her firm. Bravo, Jen!

  80. Kylopod said,

    February 28, 2010 @ 7:06 pm

    @Mark F.

    Obama has been known to drop in certain AAVE usages on occasion:

    On his pre-inaugural visit to Ben’s Chili Bowl, a landmark for Washington’s African-American community, President Barack Obama was asked by a cashier if he wanted his change back.

    “Nah, we straight,” Obama replied.

    This doesn't mean that he's fluent in AAVE, nor does it mean that he's putting it on. But it does mean that Limbaugh is not incorrect in thinking Obama might speak this way from time to time. I wouldn't be shocked to hear him say "ax," if he did say it. The problem with Limbaugh's remarks was (1) What Obama actually said was "aksk," not "ax" (2) Limbaugh seized on a minor slip of the tongue (3) He implausibly suggested Obama would talk that way in an official address (4) He inappropriately mocked it.

  81. Mark F. said,

    February 28, 2010 @ 8:11 pm

    Yeah, I was afraid I might get shot down on that, but I really hadn't seen an example before. Points 1-4 I wholly agreed with already.

  82. Skeptic said,

    February 28, 2010 @ 11:01 pm

    Freerepublic contributors as representative of Rush listeners?

    Isn't that worse than using blog comments as representative of the viewpoint of the blogger? Let's use commenters on a completely unrelated website in order to demonstrate how they understood Rush, even though they were discussing a youtube video. What is the nexus to Rush?

    [(myl) The claim is that Limbaugh meant to engage in race-baiting, and and that he succeeded in doing so. I cited a transcript of Limbaugh's conversation with a listener, shortly after his remarks, where he and the caller clearly share the idea that Obama is putting on "negro dialect". The freepers' discussion offers another piece of direct evidence -- one of them, posting under the name "RushIsMyTeddyBear", notes that "Rush was doing a parody today on this. Too funny". I take this, along with the rest of the freepers' commentary, as support for the way that the wingnut right, Limbaugh included, perceived this event, and for the reaction that he expected to get (and got) from his audience. For another piece of evidence about the reaction that he could depend on getting, here's a 2/22 post at Weasel Zippers.

    I also note that while trying to weasel out of this argument, you're hiding behind an anonymous throw-away ID and a fake email address. What are you afraid of? ]

  83. Dave said,

    March 1, 2010 @ 11:58 am

    Jen: "Well I do think American Negroes need to learn to speak Standard American English to enhance their employment prospects."

    What about white southerners? People from the midwest? People from Boston?

    What is "standard American English"? (Note that the issue is pronunciation.)

  84. Dave said,

    March 1, 2010 @ 12:45 pm

    Limbaugh: "This is what Harry Reid was talking about. Obama can turn on that black dialect when he wants to and turn it off."

    Clearly, this indicates that Limbaugh, himself, thinks that Obama can "turn on that black dialect". Limbaugh's other comment repeat that position. That is, Limbaugh is agreeing with Reid!

    Altenhouse is confused. If Limbaugh disagreed that it was an example of turning on "black dialect", Limbaugh failed to make that point.

  85. Savage Minds Around the Web | Savage Minds said,

    March 1, 2010 @ 1:09 pm

    [...] the president of reading 'aks' off the teleprompter.)  For a further analysis, see this piece on Language Log (and thanks to the Log for originally linking to the Henzberg [...]

  86. Kir said,

    March 1, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

    It's nice that you "claim that Limbaugh meant to engage in race-baiting, and and that he succeeded in doing so." Unfortunately the facts don't line up with your bias. The freerepublic.com quote from a random internet denizen doesn't exactly strengthen your argument. To be honest, it simply makes you look more desperate.

    Rush was obviously just making fun of Obama's slip of the tongue. You actually quote the reason that you're wrong: "Who's he trying to reach out to here, the Reverend Jackson?" How does that comment make sense in your "racist" view?

    It makes perfect sense from a parody perspective. Here, I'll lay it out for you. Reid made an arguably racist remark about Obama, specifically his speech. The famous comment is that Obama is able to switch on and off his accent at will to fit an audience. (Personally, I would argue any half-decent orator does that, but that's a different argument)

    Rush makes fun of Obama's mispronunciation, then brings up Reid's suggestion as a way of blasting an important opposing politician. Then he digs at the old "teleprompter joke". Ironically, he then predicted that he would be blasted for this.

    Having gotten a minor dig in at Obama, and a somewhat more serious reminder done on Reid, he adds a "Who's he trying to reach out to here… " comment, which pretty much says "Okay, that's not _really_ what's going on here, and we all know it." I would argue that the whole bit was more about this lockstep liberal "ZOMG RACISMS!!" response than what Obama said at all.

    In order for it to be racially based, that line has to make sense, and I'm honestly not seeing it.

  87. Substance McGravitas said,

    March 2, 2010 @ 5:02 pm

    It makes perfect sense from a parody perspective.

    Your grasp of stupidese is incredible.

    Just kidding! It's a parody.

  88. peters said,

    March 3, 2010 @ 11:09 am

    I stopped reading Professor Althouse's blog some time ago when I tired of her cranky contrariness. Disappointed that she's migrated to Language Log.

  89. Anonymous said,

    March 3, 2010 @ 4:34 pm


    I listened to this whole segment of Limbaugh's show yesterday — at least the part that Media Matters put on line — and it never once occurred to me that his description of Obama as "turn[ing] on that black dialect when he wants to" was a joke, in the sense that he didn't expect his listeners to believe it.

    I think most people would agree that Media Matters is far from unbiased when it comes to quotes from Rush Limbaugh. Maybe you should see about listening to the whole clip, rather than the part that MM selectively cut out?

    I don't know if the MM clip is correct or not, but the presumption should be that MM is being disingenuous towards Mr. Limbaugh.

  90. J said,

    March 3, 2010 @ 4:42 pm

    In 'stralya we recently had a head of state who perfected the art of political 'dog-whistling', which has made it into the broader lexicon of international discussion. I think this is what Rush is up to, parody or no parody.

  91. Jim Snyder said,

    March 3, 2010 @ 10:31 pm

    —Ann’s a terrible person whose every move is designed to cocoon her fragile psyche from the crushing realization that she will never be particularly good at anything". [To avoid misunderstanding, I don't think any such thing.]—

    wuss.

    "Do you or do you not believe that …"

    "I have in my hand …"

    Speak truth to … er … oh, *nevah* *mind*!

    er, jes kiddin' [gee-droppin']

  92. "Black Dialect" | Global Stump said,

    March 4, 2010 @ 1:12 am

    [...] Hertzberg defends his criticism of Limbaugh. He quotes a reader over at Mark Liberman's place: I don’t know whether Limbaugh is a racist, and I’m not [...]

  93. Kylopod said,

    March 4, 2010 @ 5:25 am

    I think most people would agree that Media Matters is far from unbiased when it comes to quotes from Rush Limbaugh. Maybe you should see about listening to the whole clip, rather than the part that MM selectively cut out?

    Here is the transcript from Limbaugh's own site:

    http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_022210/content/01125108.guest.html

    It's pretty much word for word.

  94. Larry Solan said,

    March 4, 2010 @ 6:09 am

    Much of this discussion relates to an interesting question being discussed by lawyers, psychologists and experimental philisophers: If you do something intentionally, knowing that it will have a negative side effect, is that the same as having intentionally produced the negative side effect? Joshua Knobe has argued that it is, and has generated a great deal of research and debate. In his work, the CEO who approves a new process because it will be lucrative, knowing that it will hurt the environment, is seen by experimental subjects as having intentionally damaged the environment when the process turns out to be both profitable and environmentally harmful.

    Others (including my own work) say that they are morally equivalent, but cognitively distinct. The law of torts takes this position as well, and has a special provision saying that those who knowingly cause harm through intentional acts are liable for intentinally causing that harm even if they did not perform their act with the purpose of causing that harm.

    So it is with remarks one knows will incite racism. And for that reason, it really doesn't matter whether Rush Limbaugh is a racist or not. If he is attempting to speak to a larger base of listeners, knowing that he remarks will appeal to and promote racisim in some, it is the moral equivalent of having intentionally appealed to and promoted racisim in some.

  95. Foster said,

    March 4, 2010 @ 6:46 am

    Was Bush unqualified to be president because he said "nookular" instead of "nuclear", as his wife pointed out in jest? Evidence of stupidity? As I remember, Eisenhower similarly mispronounced the word. To draw any kind of conclusion about the person speaking, such as some of the commens have, is reprehensible. Even to mention it from a position such as Limbaughs, indicates bad intentions, in this case, clearly racism I think.

  96. Alex said,

    March 4, 2010 @ 4:04 pm

    It's perfectly obvious listening even to the short clip of Obama's address that he wasn't using black dialect. I'm white and when I was in my twenties hanging out decades ago with folks from "the hood," I spoke in black dialect for awhile. Let me assure you, black dialect sounds far different from Obama's speech patterns.

    Of course a bigger question is why is Limbaugh still doing his radio show after engaging in a conspiracy to obtain prescription drugs, rather than being in jail like non-whites who commit similar offenses in Florida where Limbaugh's lawbreaking occurred. What's good for the goose should be good for the gander, but Rush Limbaugh gets a pass instead.

  97. Comment said,

    March 4, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

    Not since Ann Althouse made oddball comments about Jessica Valenti breast has she so embarassed herself – It's doubtful she personally
    believes her own babble about Limbaugh. Rather, her disengenuous remarks and faux-outrage are an attempt to brand herself
    as contrarian.

  98. michael said,

    March 4, 2010 @ 5:41 pm

    All this to parse in incredible detail what Limbaugh said about Obama's speech, which completely avoided the content of the speech? What I have learned from reading this is: (a) what has seemed obvious for years, namely that Limbaugh is very skillful at building and pandering to a not-very-educated, right-wing and generally racist audience; (b) that Ann Althouse (whom I have never read before) is at best a disingenuous fool, which makes me wonder why she is on a law faculty unless this is due to the only kind of affirmative action the right approves, namely having a token conservative on board; and (c) even (or maybe especially) liberals too easily get caught up in meaningless minutiae.

    I am also annoyed with myself for getting caught up in reading entire threads like this one, just as I like to read books through to the end and watch movies in the same manner, a vice that blogs seem to make all the more perilous.

  99. David said,

    March 4, 2010 @ 6:57 pm

    Althouse's outrage is targeted at Hertzberg, for allegedly calling Rush a racist (who, by all accounts, is probably a racist). She should read Hertzberg's blog posts again– he never did.

    Now that we've cleared the air on that, perhaps she can now redirect her protests at G. Beck, who, without credible evidence, explicitly accused the president of being a racist.

  100. Kylopod said,

    March 4, 2010 @ 10:53 pm

    Now that we've cleared the air on that, perhaps she can now redirect her protests at G. Beck, who, without credible evidence, explicitly accused the president of being a racist.

    Not only Beck has said so, but also Limbaugh himself!

    [Obama is] "the biggest reverse racist in history." On another occasion: "Just as he is ACORN, just as he is Van Jones, he is racism."On a third: "How do you get promoted in a Barack Obama administration? By hating white people."

    And you want to talk about hypocrisy? In my first encounter with Althouse, she failed to discern humor that should have been obvious. She interpreted Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic, on whose blog I occasionally comment, to have seriously thrown a fit over having his name misspelled, despite the fact that he had plainly stated he was laughing his ass off.

  101. Seth Sklarey said,

    March 5, 2010 @ 4:32 am

    How come I can talk like them but they can't talk like me?
    [(myl) Who are "they"? And what does it mean to "talk like you"? And what makes you so sure that you can "talk like them", whoever they are? There's work for dialect coaches because most people find it difficult to convincingly imitate the speech patterns of other groups.]

    I'm surprised that all this talk about Obama's use of "ax" hasn't brought up the subject of shibboleths wherein some African tribes couldn't pronounce certain words the way others could, revealing them to be outlanders or spies.

    [(myl) Um, to start with, Obama didn't "use 'ax'" -- or haven't you been paying attention to what "all this talk" has been about? And in the second place, please go back to the bible and read Judges 12:4-6, where the Shibboleth story is told:

    4: Then Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead, and fought with Ephraim: and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim, because they said, Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites.
    5: And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay;
    6: Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.

    Why do you call the Ephraimites, one of the twelve tribes of Israel in biblical times, "African tribes"?]

    The question arises whether it is strictly cultural, environmental or physical (too thick a tongue for example).

    [(myl) The bible story is plainly about a dialect difference, of an ordinary and commonplace kind. And there is no documented example of a dialect difference, anywhere in the world at any time in history, that is due to "environmental" or "physical" differences. So if "the question arises", it soon subsides in favor of another question, namely what is your motivation for raising false and irrelevant speculations about the "thick tongue" of "African tribes"?]

    I've always marveled that such fantastic actor/comedians like Peter Sellers could talk with a perfect"American" accent yet would always revert to a British accent when doing an interview on American media.

    [(myl) Do you also marvel at the fact that he didn't normallygive interviews in the persona of Inspector Clouseau? Why does it surprise you that actors are not the roles they play? But more to the point, what in the world does all this have to do with the case under discussion, in which Obama committed a simple speech error in the middle of a presentation delivered in his usual standard formal American diction?]
    Likewise here in Miami I am always annoyed by Hispanic news anchors who who pronounce Nicaragua as Nee-car-a-gyoo-a but don't call Paris :Par-ee. I guess it all depends on whose ax is Gored.
    [(myl) Again, what do your pet peeves about news anchors have to with the present topic of discussion, except perhaps to allow you to display another dimension of ethnic prejudice?]

  102. xyzzyva said,

    March 5, 2010 @ 4:24 pm

    I don't see any way to guess the color of Obama's skin by listening to that presentation.

    I feel like I can pretty reliably tell a black male voice from a white one, no matter the dialect (even with the British). I associate it with a particular depth and resonance. I don't notice anything similar with women.

    Of course, this may be due to cultural exposure to people like James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman.* Or it may be a particularly subtle set of learned markers that set black individuals apart.

    It seems pretty unlikely that such a trait would be significantly correlated with one "race", especially considering the rather mixed-race genepool of African-Americans.

    Is anyone aware of any research on this? I would particularly like some sort of dialect-controlled blind audio test to see if I can actually pick the black voices at all.

    * Then there's Mike Tyson…

  103. Kylopod said,

    March 5, 2010 @ 5:23 pm

    I just wanted to add, in case anyone is still reading, that Hendrik Hertzberg has written a follow-up to his initial post:

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/hendrikhertzberg/2010/03/ann-althouse-ax-murderer.html

    In it, he favorably quotes the commenter Mark P. from this thread. He also remarks that the commenters here are "unusually intelligent" for a blog and "mostly (though not wholly–it's the Internet) troll-free." (He must have seen Jen.)

    Not to suck up or anything, but I'm a long admirer of Hertzberg's writings. I've read two books by him (both collections of his columns), and I find him to be eminently reasonable and cool-headed. The idea that anyone could call him either stupid or a demagogue is incredible. Limbaugh, in contrast, is a classic demagogue. It's astonishing that Althouse cannot admit what even William F. Buckley admitted, which is that Limbaugh is a purveyor of hate. Was Buckley also too stupid or demagogic to perceive the satire? Or does this criticism only apply to liberals?

  104. D. Aristophanes said,

    March 6, 2010 @ 2:07 am

    Very interesting discussion. Regarding whether or not Rush is a racist — it seems to me that when you say a thing that many people call out as racist, it may be natural to get defensive and claim it isn't. And you may have a very good point. But to continue to say such things repeatedly in the face of complaints that you're being racist, you start to lose that benefit of the doubt.

    Rush is clearly in the second camp, in my opinion. He persists in saying these sorts of things with the full knowledge, from experience, that he is treading into territory that many people will find offensive and yes, racist. That makes him either a straight-up racist or else a canny and mercenary manipulator of the language who knows what red rhetorical meat his audience craves.

    Either way, he's not being particularly helpful, if you happen to think that this country could use less racial tension and not more.

  105. Aaron Davies said,

    March 6, 2010 @ 2:50 am

    it might be useful to know that rush has a long (by which i mean at least fifteen years) history of using the "ax" pronunciation on the show himself, always with emphasis implying some sort of humor is involved. it's been so long since i heard him that i no longer remember if this is part of his rio linda schtick, or was something he started when he moved to new york.

  106. David Hart said,

    March 6, 2010 @ 3:34 am

    And I see that since Ms. Althouse was shot down about 50 comments ago, she thankfully has decided not to respond. One can only hope it is the last we hear from her on this matter.

  107. Hertzberg Versus Althouse On Limbaugh: The Vortex « Around The Sphere said,

    March 6, 2010 @ 12:40 pm

    [...] Mark Liberman at Language Log: Herzberg's analysis seems plausible to me. It explains the otherwise mysterious  [ksk] sequence, but more important, it makes sense of the fact that neither in this passage, nor in the rest of the address, are there any other signs of what Limbaugh called "black dialect", whether in pronunciation or morphosyntax or vocabulary choice.  I don't see any way to guess the color of Obama's skin by listening to that presentation. If he decided to "turn on that black dialect", he did it for less than 100 milliseconds in an 11-minute speech. [...]

  108. notrequired said,

    October 26, 2010 @ 4:32 pm

    Ann, please let's not pretend that people should be allowed to get away with saying anything by calling it humor.

    Jen: "I know for sure I would never hire one who said "ax" in place of "ask""
    May I ax why?

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