Conferenece of dunces

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From a conference on the theme "Building the New Majority", sponsored by Pat Buchanan's organization The American Cause, and featuring a panel discussion on English-only initiatives:

Lee Fang at Think Progress quotes a panelist, Peter Brimelow, the founder of VDARE:

I really do recommend the language issue because you know that polls better than immigration and affirmative action. Eighty-five percent of Americans say they would favor official language policy.

The English-Only people seem to be subject to a special corollary of the Bierce/Hartman/McKean/Skitt Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation.

I was also interested to note that Mr. Buchanan, in this context, is a committed uptalker:

But I hasten to add that many fine people, including me, are prone to typos. And there's nothing wrong with uptalk — I just like to collect examples that are not expressive of alleged feminine uncertainty.


  1. Coby Lubliner said,

    June 23, 2009 @ 1:30 pm

    What is supposed to be wrong in the Brimelow quote? I take "that polls better…," with "that" as subject and "polls" as verb, to be a clause that is the object of "you know."

    [(myl) Nothing wrong that I noticed — my point in offering the quote was just to establish the topic of the panel. But John McIntyre (below) has noted an infelicity that I missed. ]

  2. John McIntyre said,

    June 23, 2009 @ 1:59 pm

    I think that the omission of an additional that is the problem, presenting a potential miscue. You know that that polls better is the sense of the statement. But omitting the relative pronoun could lead a reader to think that polls is a noun rather than a verb. This is more likely to be a problem in text than in speech, bcause inflection in the latter would clarify the intention.

  3. vanya said,

    June 23, 2009 @ 2:00 pm

    Maybe Buchanan's uptalking indicates his own underlying uncertainly given that he knows he's being dishonest about Sotomayor's background. I don't recall him uptalking when he's been on TV.

    [(myl) And you think that his TV remarks are more honest or more sincerely felt? My interpretation, for what it's worth, is that in the conference clip he's talking to a live audience of true believers, speaking from the heart, and working hard to evoke a response from them. ]

  4. Nathan Myers said,

    June 23, 2009 @ 3:29 pm

    I had gathered from previous discussions of uptalk that it most often implied a belief by the speaker in an obligation by the listeners to agree with what was being said. As an aggressive sort of mode, it would seem unwise to use when on TV with a host.

    [(myl) At least, I think that this is one of the ways the contour can be used. ]

  5. Jadan Bliss said,

    June 23, 2009 @ 5:16 pm

    Conference is misspelled in the title of the page and blog entry. I do hope that this was intentional, but it's not clear. Also, the paragraph that you quote has nothing wrong with it, save for some missing (optional) punctuation.

    [(myl) Wow. I hope this comment was meant ironically.

    In the unlikely event that it's serious, let me suggest a three-step program to achieve a slightly more clueful state.

    (1) Please note the spelling on the banner in the photo.
    (2) Follow the link to Lee Fang's article at Think Progress, or this one to a note by Melissa McEwan at Shakesville.
    (3) If you are still puzzled, try this version of the photo, courtesy of Ken Layne at Wonkette:

    I hope this helps. But if all else fails, the Language Log marketing department is eager to refund double your subscription fees. ]

  6. gribley said,

    June 23, 2009 @ 5:41 pm

    Jadan, look at the photo more closely.

  7. Nick Lamb said,

    June 23, 2009 @ 10:09 pm

    I think this post and the previous one make a wonderful pair.

    Whether you're trying to stop people from speaking Spanish in America, or get people in Papua New Guinea to preserve a dying language, the fact is that languages are for communicating, and people are going to use them if they're useful, and not use them if they aren't. Nationalists and (research) linguists alike seem to very easily lose sight of that.

  8. Jadan Bliss said,

    June 23, 2009 @ 11:16 pm

    Haha, whoops! Okay, pass me my dunce hat.

  9. iakon said,

    June 24, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

    So it's called uptalk now,

    [(myl) This term was coined by James Gorman in 1993 — it's not exactly breaking news.]
    and those who object to it are supposedly in need of psychotherapy. This is not surprising, given the apparent infectiousness of fascist thought.

    [(myl) Over the years, I've been accused many political heresies for many reasons, but I believe that this is the first time that I've seen the term "fascist" applied to a jocular suggestion that a father should reconcile himself to the fact that his adult daughter is not going to change her speech styles to suit his preferences…]

    I have been observing the growth of this phenomenon since the seventies. It was a topic of discussion in a contrastive linguistics class I took in the eighties. The prof introduced it as 'the application of the question intonation to declaritive statements'. This elicited a fierce reaction from a woman who objected (naturally) to the implication that what she thought was normal was actually an error.

    [(myl) I bet that if the prof had written the diagnosis down, the spelling would have been "declarative".

    But more to the point, an analysis in the 1970s (or today) would start from the fact that dialects in northern Britain, including Scotland and Northern Ireland, have had default rising intonations for several centuries and probably for a thousand years; that immigrants from those areas were numerous in various parts of the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and may have influenced local intonational varieties there; and that even in the south of England and in "standard" American English, the distribution of (various kinds of) rises and falls is seriously oversimplified and misrepresented by talking about "question intonation" and "declarative intonation".

    Against that background, we (or your 1970 prof) could start talking about what has been happening with the changing distribution of phrase-final rises generically known as "uptalk". ]

    I had been thinking for a decade that it made the speaker sound like a kid in a classroom answering a question with a question, in other words uncertain.

    [(myl) That's certainly one reason for a phrase-final rise.]

    I brought it up with some women friends of mine who told me it started when feminists spread out from California (in the early seventies) giving instruction to women on assertiveness. It's purpose was to elicit a nod from the listener, to include them in what was being said (sharing). I had also been noticing that women were nodding emphatically when making statements, and adding 'Yeah' afterword, as if responding to a question.

    [(myl) That's another possible reason for a phrase-final rise — but there are others as well. ]

    So 'assertiveness' came to include manipulation of the listener, 'leading the witness'. It's not surprising that it's employed by male alpha apes too.

    [(myl) You attribute a variety of bad motives to people that you identify as speaking this way. That's your right, but it doesn't seem that you have any evidence that your inferences about their stereotypical attitudes are correct, or that your analysis of how their speech differs from yours is valid. ]

    I still object to it, and think that the users are in desperate need of therapy. Naturally, not the objectors. To put that more clearly, the objectors are in desperate need of the users undergoing therapy.

    [(myl) No doubt the world would be more to your liking if all those who annoy you could be compelled to undergo re-education. But if you tried re-directing some of your energy from outrage to curiosity, especially when the offending behavior is victimless, you might be happier in the end. ]

  10. On spelling « Discursus said,

    June 24, 2009 @ 1:59 pm

    […] Other Stuff | Tags: Alternet, English only, Language Log, Pat Buchanan, Peter Brimelow, spelling Language Log and Alternet both had some great write-ups of the hilarious misspelling on a banner at Pat […]

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