LINGUIST List 3.519

Mon 22 Jun 1992

Disc: Free Indirect Discourse

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  1. William McKellin, Re: 3.513 Free Indirect Discourse
  2. , Racist discourse
  3. Kathleen Hubbard, 3.513 Free Indirect Discourse
  4. Niko Besnier, Free indirect style and Sr. Soulja

Message 1: Re: 3.513 Free Indirect Discourse

Date: Sun, 21 Jun 92 8:42:19 PDTRe: 3.513 Free Indirect Discourse
From: William McKellin <>
Subject: Re: 3.513 Free Indirect Discourse

I am distressed that some members of the list consider the
(socio)linguistic analysis of political rhetoric inappropriate.
Perhaps we need more rather than less analysis of both the rhetoric
used and the way it is reported during election years.


Bill McKellin
Department of Anthropology and Sociology
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, B.C.
V6T 1Z1
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Message 2: Racist discourse

Date: Sun, 21 Jun 92 10:44:11 PDRacist discourse
From: <silverSonoma.EDU>
Subject: Racist discourse

Re the appropriateness of racist discourse as "ordinary material for study".
Cf. van Dijk, Teun A. 1987. Communicating racism: ethnic prejudice in thought
and talk. Sage Publications. Cf. in particular, Chapter 2 "Structures of
prejudiced discourse.
Shirley Silver <>
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Message 3: 3.513 Free Indirect Discourse

Date: Sun, 21 Jun 92 11:36:47 -03.513 Free Indirect Discourse
From: Kathleen Hubbard <>
Subject: 3.513 Free Indirect Discourse

The responses to Ellen Contini-Morava's posting are relevant to recent
discussions of "what is linguistics good for", and in some cases disturbing
in this regard. But there are also technical linguistic issues in some:
for instance, Michael Newman says (in reference to the line "a week where you
go out and kill white people") 'what week? what white people? There was no real
reference to these NPs. What it was was [sic] simply buzz words.' Not on my
reading: the conversation was about the period of rioting (the 'week' in
question) and about the destruction that was wrought on individuals other
than the ones who usually experience it in So. Central L.A. (the 'white people'
in question, though as we know this wasn't the whole story). I am not in a
position to evaluate other discourse by Sr. Souljah, as Newman probably is,
so I can't speak to the question of "cult-like language" in general -- but in
*this* interview, it seems clear that specific referents are being named.

Then there is the unsettling suggestion that linguists should never analyze
racist/hate discourse (I'll take this to mean inflammatory discourse, and not
assume *or* rule out hatred on the part of S.S.) because doing so would
'glorify it and give it stature'. How dangerous and short-sighted, to ignore
all discourse that isn't neutral -- if anyone is in a position to increase
understanding of what people mean when they lash out verbally, it's linguists;
we have a responsibility to address all types of language and especially the
crossed wires between speakers/listeners of different cultures and levels of

Finally, JA Given says
'There is NO non-trivial linguistic content to this discussion. I protest this
use of Linguist.'
There is no non-trivial discussion of linguistics that is not political, and
I protest the notion that academic discourse should take place in a vacuum.
As the moderators wisely point out, much of what goes on here could be called
trivial, but is linguistic. And look at recent discussions of the fate of
linguistics and academic research in general: certainly not apolitical, but
also not as highly charged as the present conversation. I've seen no
objections there.

Peace and understanding indeed, through facing what makes us uncomfortable and
increasing everyone's chances for successful communication.

Kathleen Hubbard
U.C. Berkeley
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Message 4: Free indirect style and Sr. Soulja

Date: Sun, 21 Jun 1992 18:28:45 Free indirect style and Sr. Soulja
From: Niko Besnier <nikouhunix.uhcc.Hawaii.Edu>
Subject: Free indirect style and Sr. Soulja

The "transcript" that Ellen Contini-Morava posted is absolutely
fascinating, and so are Ellen's hypotheses. (I believe that many
students of language in its social context would agree that the
sorts of questions raised by the transcript and by Ellen's comments
are *very* central to the study of language.) It does look like
Sr. Soulja is using free indirect style (FIS), although one of the
characteristics of FIS is its structural slipperiness, i.e., it is
often difficult to know whether one is dealing with FIS, indirect
quotation, or even sometimes direct quotation. Speakers and
writers can alternate quickly and subtly between (in)direct
quotation and FIS, and vice-versa. Literary theorists have argued
that it is this slipperiness and ambiguity that makes FIS such a
powerful tool, as Euro-American novelists discovered in the course
of the 19th century.

To understand the relationship between discourse style and the
attribution of responsibility, which is what Ellen is concerned
with, we need to go back to good ol' Bakhtin, who many decades ago
said some pretty pertinent things about speech reporting. Bakhtin
analyzed FIS as the blurring of distinctions between the quoting
voice and the quoted voice, to the extent that it becomes difficult
to know exactly which voice is being heard. This is particularly
useful for any sort of argumentation or linguistic manipulation of
audiences. In FIS, speakers/writers place propositions "on
record," but the pragmatic characteristics of FIS allow them to
distance themselves, if need be, from these propositions, thus
eluding responsibility for them. *However* (and this is where my
view differs from Ellen's hypothesis), FIS still places
propositions on record, where they can still have powerful effects
on audiences. As Clinton's reaction illustrates, audiences are
frequently inattentive to questions of "who is speaking and how,"
and manipulate the contexts around propositions for various
purposes: to make charges of incitement to violence, or
alternatively to justify and fuel further violence. So in my view
Clinton's allegations are not entirely unfounded.

But then of course there is an entire aspect of the question that
needs to be analyzed: that of the different norms across cultures
and social groups in the mapping of utterances to sentiments. As
students of cross-social/cross-cultural communication have shown,
common mortals are incapable of becoming aware of such normative
differences of this type, because we've all naturalized the norms
of our own social group. I don't want to say too much about this
here for fear of this posting getting too long, but Tom Kochman has
some pretty pertinent things to say about that in his analyses of
Black Panthers shouting "Kill the pigs" in the 1960s and other
events that took place before I knew what a pig was. (Jonh
Gumperz' work also comes to mind.)

In recent months I've been thinking about problems akin to those
presented in Ellen's posting, while working on transcripts of
gossip about and explanations of sorcery accusations on Nukulaelae
Atoll, a Polynesian community of 350 that clings to a bar of sand
in the middle of the Central Pacific. (One *needs* sorcery
accusations there to make life bearably interesting...) Briefly,
during my 1990 field work, two middle-aged widows were accused of
performing sorcery, but these accusations remained confined to the
level of rumor and gossip. To make things a bit juicier, these
accusations originally emanated from a spirit talking through a
medium on a different island. Now, Nukulaelae gossips invariably
reported these accusations (to each other as well as to me) using
reported-speech strategies of various kinds, peppering their
reports with statements like, "Now, personally I don't believe in
spirits and sorcery" and "That's what the spirit said, who knows
whether it's true or not!" and "Anyone who get angry about these
accusations betrays that they believe in spirits and sorcery, and
that's irresponsible behavior." This is not unlike the dodging of
responsibility that's "grammaticalized" in FIS, as it were.
Despite these hedges, denials, and wigglings, the two widows were
severly ostracized for several months. (Being ostracized is pretty
serious if you live on a bar of sand.) So propositions that are
carefully hedged and denied and framed can still have a great deal
of socio-political power.

Niko Besnier
Department of Anthropology, Yale University
Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawaii
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