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

From: Cathrene Connery <cconnery who-is-at>
Date: Sun Jun 08 2008 - 11:37:08 PDT

Tony & colleagues,
I always thought an ideal example of pragmatics for the classroom would
be if someone artfully and deliberately baited McCain in a debate in a
manner that would ensure he'd loose his temper. It wouldn't be so hard
to do. Which is the point.....if he doesn't have us blown to
smithereens first.

Tony Whitson wrote:
> 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
> 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
Ithaca College
xmca mailing list
Received on Sun Jun 8 11:41 PDT 2008

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