[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[Xmca-l] Re: Ruqaiya Hasan

This is a really intense conversation to be listening in on. I want to
amplify one voice that hasn’t yet been introduced:  I just finished reading
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s stunning novel “Americanah,” which interweaves a
fictional narrative with commentaries on race. The protagonist is a black
Nigerian woman who moves to America and becomes a “prominent race blogger”;
she says she “discovered race in America and it fascinated me.” The
protagonist—or, if you prefer, Adichie, writes this about Obama:

So lots of folk—mostly non-black—say Obama’s not black, he’s biracial,
multiracial, black-and-white, anything but just black. Because his mother
was white. But race is not biology; race is sociology. Race is not
genotype; race is phenotype. Race matters because of racism. And racism is
absurd because it’s about how you look. Not about the blood you have. It’s
about the shade of your skin and the shape of your nose and the kink of
your hair. Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass had white fathers.
Imagine them saying they were not black.
Imagine Obama, skin the color of a toasted almond, hair kinky, saying to a
census worker—I’m kind of white. Sure you are, she’ll say. Many American
Blacks have a white person in their ancestry, because white slave owners
liked to go a-raping in the slave quarters at night. But if you come out
looking dark, that’s it…. In America, you don’t get to decide what race you
are. It is decided for you. Barack Obama, looking as he does, would have
had to sit in the back of the bus fifty years ago. If a random black guy
commits a crime today, Barack Obama could be stopped and questioned for
fitting the profile. And what would that profile be? “Black Man."

Jacob (Jenna) McWilliams

Educational Psychology and Learning Sciences Program

University of Colorado Boulder


On Jun 30, 2015, at 5:24 PM, Greg Thompson <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com>

Thanks for this elaboration (!) of Hasan, Bernstein, and a bit of Halliday.
Very dense and lots for me to learn. I'm absorbing it as best I can...

Two clarification that might help me in my understanding:

1. Are your a) and b) actual recorded examples of talk? I found the use of
the habitual be to feel a bit out of place (unless the point was that the
parent was going to repeatedly (habitually) be hitting the child upside
their face).

2. If these are actual examples of talk, could you help me make more direct
links between what Bernstein/Hasan have to say about these examples and the
examples themselves? I think I'm getting the point about code vs. dialect
vs. register but I'm confused about the specific analysis you offer when
you write:
"Accordingly, in a restricted coding orientation, like b), the orientation
is to sameness, to objective rules that bind us together in communal
solidarity, and therefore not towards individual choices.In an elaborated
coding orientation, like a), the orientation is to difference, to
individual motivation, and towards interdependence."

There is a leap here (perhaps justified) between the examples as I read
them and the claims about orientation and as a result I wasn't clear how
these features were manifest in the examples.

Sorry for being so restricted in my reading, and many thanks for your
multiple elaborations!


On Tue, Jun 30, 2015 at 3:44 PM, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com> wrote:


First of all, I appreciate--nay, I share--every moment of Paul's rage. And
even some of his incoherence, although I suspect some of it is due to his
use of a hand-held device. I really should have explained my comments on
Obama's speech much better. Yes, Henry--I did think it was stupid and
heartless. It was stupid in its lack of logic (God makes things worse so
that we'll make them better) and its lack of irony (we don't deserve
"grace" but God gives it to us anyway--out of the barrel of a racist's
gun). It was heartless in its emphasis on healing (forgiveness is not only
an impossible but an impudent demand, because the only people who have the
right to forgive the killer are dead; what the survivors now need is called

Secondly, I'm really in awe of Greg's exegeses on Bernstein and Hymes, and
I don't think it at all beside the point. I am re-reading Ruqaiya's
Collected Works right now, and there is a lot there, all of it relevant.
But I want to extract only two points--Ruqaiya's careful distinction
between dialect, register and code, and her rejection of the distinction
between competence and performance.

Consider the following pair of sentences, spoken to two six year olds:

a) If you get your new shirt dirty,you'll be sorry.
b) Get dat dirty an I be hit you up side yo face.

The difference in dialect extends right down from the meaning (the
semantics), to the wording (the lexicogrammar), to the phonology (the
"sounding"). It is also, contrary to what people think, mostly volitional:
you can choose to lose your dialect, and many people do. You can also
choose to acquire a new one, and when Paul complains about the
inauthenticity of Obama's dialect he is pointing to the fact that it is
voluntary (although I should point out that while Obama was indeed raised
in a white family, he was also raised in a state where whites were a
minority). Unlike Paul, I believe the voluntary quality of a dialect is a
guarantee of its genuineness (that is, its meaningfulness to the user), and
I am not a big fan of authenticity (since I am mostly a second language
user myself). Authentic dialects have an essentially conventional,
meaningless relationship to the people who are born into them; genuine
dialects have a relationship of choice (whether the user is born into the
dialect and chooses to retain it or the user has to learn it deliberately
as an act of identity), and for that reason they are more meaningful
(because for Ruqaiya meaning is always paradigmatic; it implies you could
have done or said something else but you didn't). Either way, a dialect is
a distinction of the user, and not of the use.

The difference in register is much more slight; it does not include the
phonology but it certainly does include the wording. Labov would
concentrate on the non-standard use of the copula (and a lot of his
argument on the complexity of AAVE has to do with the complex rules for
copula insertion and deletion). Halliday would concentrate on other factors
which are less formal: In one case, the newness of the shirt is specified
while in the other it is left exotropic (that is, in the here and now
rather than encoded eternally in the language). In one case, the
consequence is left somewhat vague: it is quite possible, although
unlikely, that the six year old will not interpret the utterance as a
threat, while in the second it is much more specific and concrete.

But the difference in code orientation is very clear, and my wife, who grew
up with the Chinese equivalent of b) in her ears, recognized it
immediately. Bernstein derived coding orientation from the ideas of
Toennies, and in particular his distinction between Gemeinschaft
(community, solidarity, mechanical unity) and Gesellschaft (society,
interdependence, organic unity). In a Gemeinschaft, the emphasis is on what
you are not who you are, and in a Gesellschaft the emphasis is on your
ineffability and irreplacabitlity. Accordingly, in a restricted coding
orientation, like b), the orientation is to sameness, to objective rules
that bind us together in communal solidarity, and therefore not towards
individual choices.In an elaborated coding orientation, like a), the
orientation is to difference, to individual motivation, and towards
interdependence. Unlike dialect, it's not a difference in the way it sounds
and it's not restricted to the user: you could easily create elaborated
coding orientations in South Chicago English, and people do. Unlike
register, it's not a difference in the way things are worded and it is not
at all a function of particular uses of language. Coding orientation is a
pattern of meaning--it's an instance of what Ruqaiya calls semantic
variability, and it is related causally to class.

Hymes accepts Chomsky's distinction between competence and performance--in
fact, he multiplied it times four, because his construct of "communicative
competence" actually includes four categories: whether or not something is
linguistically permissible, whether or not it is sociolinguistically
appropriate, whether or not it is psycholinguistically feasible, and
whether or not it is pragmatically done. But for Ruqaiya, such dichotomies
are dualisms--they imply an ideal competence divorced and actually not
available for marriage to material performances: we can never really know,
for example, in an instance of grammatical, sociolinguistic,
psycholinguistic or pragmatic failure, whether the underlying competence is
there or not. For Ruqaiya, the only bifurcation--and it is a highly
transient, ever-shifting one--is between the potential and the performed.

David Kellogg