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

From: Tony Whitson <twhitson who-is-at UDel.Edu>
Date: Sun Jun 08 2008 - 10:46:43 PDT

I hope a really good comedian takes hold of McCainspeak. If done right, it
could create a situation where every time McC says "My friend{s}, ...,"
everyone would burst into laughter. He could not change his speach habits
without making things worse. It would become clear how brittle the man is.

On Sun, 8 Jun 2008, Cathrene Connery wrote:

> 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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
> Cathrene
> 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)
>> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> _______________________________________________
>> xmca mailing list
> --
> Dr. M. Cathrene Connery
> Assistant Professor of Education
> 607.274.7382
> Ithaca College
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list

Tony Whitson
UD School of Education

"those who fail to reread
  are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
                   -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)

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Received on Sun Jun 8 10:55 PDT 2008

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