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I have a tendency to unconsciously appropriate other peoples' affectations, leading me to say things like y'all.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

If my work computer wasn't such a pissy bitch this would have been published hours ago

My friend Pooja's post today directed me to this article . Normally, I couldn't care less about what the Observer has to say about anything, but Pooja's immediate mention of Steven Pinker drew me in.

Pinker is big in our household. John and I are all about nature vs. nurture and the fact that each of us holds up one side of the argument makes raising a child a pretty interesting science experiment. Needless to say, John is all about the nature and I...well, I'm being swayed (slowly) into agreeing with a lot of what Pinker has to say. I think environment plays an enormous role in how we develop, but I've found in my own adulthood that ultimately nature does kick in, no matter how bad the initial nurture may have been.

My reactions to the Observer piece were: 1) wow, this article is fucking horrible. Who would print such a poorly written article about language?; 2) HOLY SHIT, Sophie talks exactly like this (maybe not so much with the terrible whine all the time and maybe without so much of the like, but there is a totally thrown in on occasion), should I be scared?; and 3) why do rich people have to make a mess out of everything? Okay, so I concede that the article isn't specifically alluding to the rich, just the financially secure, but still...why don't people have more respect for language? Especially when they can afford to. As a non-native English speaker, it honestly hurts me to listen to people talk sometimes. So this new trend of well educated, professional individuals speaking like they were raised in the back alleys of butt-fuck America, is (further) disheartening.

Then I read this paragraph, by Pinker himself:

But the important thing, argues Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, is that the group that came up with it "was perceived as cool, cutting-edge, desirable, distinctive." He said that one possibility with uptalk is that it "ensures that your listener is really listening, really engaged. But then again, everybody in history would have been using it. It's also consistent with a conspicuous egalitarianism: I'm not lecturing or pontificating-I'm seeking your approval."

and I thought: what if this uptalk is all about insecurity? What if it's predominant in women not because they are the "innovators of language," but because for years they were put in their place (even after given admission to the workforce) and had to develop a meeker, more subservient form of communication as a way of insinuating themselves non-threateningly into a male-dominated world?

Pinker's take* seems to imply this, particularly that last bit about seeking approval, though this excerpt doesn't make it clear that he's only talking about women.

Certainly the characterization of his typical patient by Dr. Chwat as "late 20's or early 30's who tends to be single, highly self-conscious..." seems to support this possibility.

I can't help feeling that ever since women have managed to get on more solid professional ground, which is still relatively recent, my generation has been unwittingly pigeonholed into the same expectation of success. But in watching a lot of my girl-friends, who are ambitious and strong (and speak beautiful, clean, plateau talk) date, I get the sense that as a result there is suddenly a difficult challenge in finding a mate and starting a family. Now, after so much struggle securing equality, we have to uptalk our way back into basic biological womanhood**. Once again, women have to convince men that they are non-threatening by talking like whiney, ignorant, invertebrates.

I know, this is harsh and I exaggerate a little, but have you been to a bar lately?

I may very well be off base here and I welcome anyone's input on this one.

* after talking with John in a very unwhining way, I now know that apparently what the NYO article does not give any indication of is that Pinker has a theory of gender and language whereby women are usually empathetic rather than convincing speakers. Meaning that a woman will use shared experience to make her point, rather than simply try to get you to agree with her argument. I think this would have made a significant addition to the crappy NYO article, if not just more interesting reading in general.

Let's not even get me started on mothers' rights in the current professional climate.


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