LINGUIST List 2.278

Monday, 10 June 1991

Disc: Flaming

Editor for this issue: <>


  2. Celso Alvarez, Re: Register and Net-Discourse

Message 1: "flaming"

Date: 6 Jun 91 14:57:00 EST
From: "ELISE EMERSON MORSE-GAGNE" <morsegag%ucs.indiana.eduRICEVM1.RICE.EDU>
Subject: "flaming"
I can't stand it any longer. WHAT DOES "FLAMING" MEAN??? I had never heard
or seen the word in this usage until I read the introductory material for
the Linguist list (sth. like "comments, suggestions and flames should be
sent to..."). From such phrases as "the dialogue degenerates into flaming"
I have deduced, regretfully, that we are not talking about "ardent, passionate,
brilliant" discourse. Instead, I gather, the connotations of combustion,
scorching, and incitation are invoked. Beyond that, it seems to refer to an
exchange in which heat outstrips knowledge and leaves courtesy in cinders.

I would welcome correction, amplification, historical excurses, and finding
out whether I am the only person left in the world to whom this term is still
new and strange.
--Elise Morse-Gagne'
(I would also welcome the option of diacritics in electronic mail,
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Message 2: Re: Register and Net-Discourse

Date: Thu, 6 Jun 91 22:16:18 PDT
From: Celso Alvarez <>
Subject: Re: Register and Net-Discourse (sorry, I missed your name in your message) argues that
the discussion on Quebec's language policy degenerated into flaming, and
	Could it
	be that professional linguists' common discourse rules are limited to
	technical linguistics, and when other subjects are discussed,
	linguists don't share discourse rules any more than anyone else?
	Linguist posters seem to manage Dept. of Linguistics discourse
	behavior, but not Senior Common room discourse behavior...!

I disagree that the discussion was essentially different from one on
DS's and SS's that one can find, for example, in the sci.lang newsgroup.
I read quite a few informed and informative postings on Quebec and banned
languages (the two parallel threads fed on each other).
It is true that more personal positions were aired out. But I wouldn't
establish a sharp distinction between "technical" linguistics and "other
stuff," (an euphemism, for example, for sociolinguistics), about which more
people feel entitled to speak. Language planning issues are as
technical as any other. The discussion simply revealed that a healthy
dose of subjectivity and ideological positioning underlies research in
fields like like sociolinguistics, sociology of language, or glottopolitics.
In the above disciplines (and even, for example, in variation theory),
the dual role of the analyst as producer of technical knowledge and as
social actor is unmasked. It would be interesting to dig a little into
the ideological foundations behind other linguistic research. Linguists
and sociolinguists may share more than is evident in terms of their
structural position as producers of specific "truth".

Returning to your question, then, I think that discourse rules are
managed in the sort of discussions described in very much the same way
as in any other discussion. The tendency toward a cautious
"cooperation" (and I take this notion with a spoonful of salt), based
on the "collective" unraveling of the issue at hand, holds until a given
statement or message either challenges the legitimacy of the opinions
put forth (and their proponents), and/or simply resituates the
discourse by shifting it toward another domain of expertise or interest.
A given participant, for example, may chose to invoke a different
identity with a simple question (like "Don't you consider absurd
that...?") that reframes the exchange as more "personal" than
"professional". Of course, the less technical knowledge a participant
can display (and this is very frequent in sociolinguistic discussions),
the more prone he or she is to attempt to redirect the exchange toward
this "personal" domain.

We tend to ignore, however, that this "personal" position is actually
a socially and ideologically constructed one. Suddenly the social
actor pops out of the cacoon of the "professional" researcher,
and we are quick to dismiss this metamorphosis as not conforming to
the rules of academic exchange.

Celso Alvarez
U.C. Berkeley

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