Re: [xmca] Obama's English (& Bush's)

From: Cathrene Connery <cconnery who-is-at>
Date: Sun Jun 08 2008 - 10:35:31 PDT

I'd be interested in hearing an analysis on McCainspeak. Be sure to
include his penchant for calling other people's daughters "ugly" and his
own wife using the "c---" word. I'm not religious, but perhaps I should
be. God help us all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tony Whitson wrote:
> Before getting to the main point of this post, a quick note on Obama &
> China. David, you might be referring to points where I'd agree with
> you. However, as much as I myself am pro-China (I often feel more at
> home in Chinese culture than in US), there are things about the regime
> there that I find abhorent. Leaving aside domestic issues, the
> national interest Realpolitik of the regime's treatment of Darfur, for
> example, seems right in line with its earlier dealings with Pinochet.
> Back to Presidential language: I chuckled reading your post while
> thinking of the comparison with our current President (much as we try
> to forget it, W still occupies the office).
> Then I was thinking how the barbarity of Bush's English has distracted
> from the barbarity of what he means to say. Here's an example from a
> book published with this past week, by one of the Gernerals who was
> fired by Bush for not towing the Administration's line:
> 'In General Ricardo Sanchez`s new book, "Wiser in Battle," there is
> contained his story of watching in horror on a teleconference after
> four contractors were killed in Fallujah in 2004. Sanchez said that
> Mr. Bush`s pep talk to the generals was confused, to say the least.
> '"Kick ass. If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will
> seek them out and kill them. We must be tougher than hell. This
> Vietnam stuff is not even close. It is a mindset. We can`t send that
> message. It`s an excuse to prepare for the withdrawal. This is a
> series of moments and this is one of them.
> 'Our will is being tested but we are resolute. We have a better way.
> Stay strong, stay the course. Kill them, be confident. Prevail. We are
> going to wipe them out. We are not blinking."'
> (from the transcript of Countdown with Keith Olbermann, June 6, 2008)
> On Sun, 8 Jun 2008, David Kellogg wrote:
>> &nbsp;I'm not an admirer of Obama's politics (too anti-Chinese!), but
>> I am a big fan of his intonation and his stress, and even his
>> vocabulary and grammar.
>> &nbsp;
>> Let's look at the intonation and stress first. Here is one of the
>> best known of many videos which came out drawing attention to the
>> links between his mastery of the rhythms of black American English
>> and the rhythms of popular music.
>> &nbsp;
>> &nbsp;
>> I guess what the non-linguist notices (what&nbsp; and
>> Scarlett Johannsen and company have noticed)&nbsp;is the cadences,
>> and the intonation, and the stresses.
>> &nbsp;
>> It was the CREED,
>> written into the founding DOCuments,
>> that declared the DEStiny...
>> of the NAtion.&nbsp;.
>> &nbsp;
>> Four lines, four stresses, and sure enough, four complex syntactic
>> constructions (first the founding documents, then the slaves and
>> abolitionists, then the immigrants and pioneers, and then the union
>> organizers, and the president who reached for the moon and the king
>> who took us to the mountaintop).
>> &nbsp;
>> Now what I notice is that the vocabulary is for the most part
>> straight Anglo-saxon ("creed" rather than "ideology", "blaze the
>> trail" rather than "explore"). Using simple one and two syllable
>> words makes it much easier&nbsp;to arrange the beats into measures.
>> &nbsp;
>> But it also means that the morphology will be simple, and the grammar
>> correspondingly complex. What makes it even more complex is
>> that&nbsp;Obama uses a lot of&nbsp;delayed topic constructions to
>> create suspense and to put the stresses nearer the more salient end
>> of the sentence. In English, utterances are constructed from ME to
>> YOU, which is why we often begin a sentence with "I" but rarely end
>> it with "me" (and why it is somewhat childish to say "Look at me!").
>> &nbsp;
>> Interestingly, Hillary doesn't do this very much, because she begins
>> too many of her sentences with I, and that's where the stress tends
>> to stay; the Daily Show made a rather cruel montage of her doing this:
>> &nbsp;
>> &nbsp;
>> (The montage is at 3.23).
>> &nbsp;
>> This makes it much more difficult for Hillary to build the kind of
>> suspense that Obama does and impossible for her to end her lines with
>> a stress, as popular music does.
>> &nbsp;
>> But Obama has&nbsp;a preference for these delayed topic constructions
>> even in interviews, where he tends to use cleft sentences a lot
>> and&nbsp;say things like this:
>> &nbsp;
>> What the most important thing is now is...patience.
>> &nbsp;
>> This actually creates TWO forms of suspense. Not only do you have to
>> wait for the topic of the sentence but you also have to wait and see
>> if he can actually get the sentence to come out grammatically (he
>> almost always does).
>> &nbsp;
>> Notice how, after delivering a VERY complex sentence rich in complex
>> vocabulary, difficult imagery, intricate historical references, and
>> coherent rhetorical links, he provides a "translation" into three
>> simple&nbsp;words" "Yes we can".
>> &nbsp;
>> These three words, of course, do not really "reconstrue" what Obama
>> has just said. But they ARE the kind of thing that good English
>> teachers are always doing.&nbsp;
>> &nbsp;
>> What "Yes we can" does is to provide an abstract link
>> between&nbsp;very DIFFERENT ways of stating the idea of opportunity
>> and possibility (the founding documents, the slaves and
>> abolitionists, the union organizers, the suffragettes, JFK's "race to
>> the moon" speech, and King's "mountaintop" speech).&nbsp;
>> &nbsp;
>> So we can see that Obama's English is not SIMPLY a matter of
>> reconstruing complex grammar as a simple three word formula. In fact,
>> the complex grammar is also a reconstrual; each sentence is an
>> example of a rather vague abstract concept, the very general,
>> prospective idea of potential that he imagines all Americans share.
>> &nbsp;
>> This double&nbsp;skill is essential to good teaching, of course.
>> &nbsp;
>> T: IĘd like to check that you know the name of the things. Ok. WhatĘs
>> this?(picture card)
>> Ss: Book
>> etc.
>> &nbsp;
>> It's&nbsp;the ability to reconstrue complex intra-mentally prepared
>> wordings as relatively simple words. But it's simultaneously the
>> ability to reconstrue wordings as VERY complex&nbsp;inter-personal
>> DISCOURSE. In a way, it's a highly compressed version of LSV's
>> genetic law: the meanings emerge inter-mentally as complex discourse,
>> and then are compressed intramentally as complex syntax, only to be
>> reconstrued again as simple syntax and shared with the audience.
>> &nbsp;
>> Mike recently pointed my attention to an old article by Hutchins on
>> Trobriand language disputes in which Hutchins talks about how very
>> complex logical arguments are made when you don't&nbsp;have written
>> language available.
>> &nbsp;
>> &nbsp;
>> Spoken argumentation is a different language (and the constraints on
>> the memory, for example, reflect that), but if anything it is more
>> complex than written language and not less. The&nbsp;problem is US;
>> we are used to seeing complexity written down and we barely
>> recognizes when somebody talks it at us. No wonder Halliday said that
>> the invention of the tape recorder was the true beginning of
>> linguistics.
>> &nbsp;
>> David Kellogg
>> Seoul National University of Education
>> &nbsp;
>> .
>> _______________________________________________
>> xmca mailing list
> Tony Whitson
> UD School of Education
> NEWARK DE 19716
> _______________________________
> "those who fail to reread
> are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
> -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
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Dr. M. Cathrene Connery
Assistant Professor of Education
Ithaca College
xmca mailing list
Received on Sun Jun 8 10:39 PDT 2008

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