LINGUIST List 3.530

Tue 23 Jun 1992

Disc: Sister Souljah--free indirect discourse

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  2. Erwin Segal, Sister Souljah--free indirect discourse

Message 1: souljah/free indirect discourse

Date: Tue, 23 Jun 92 11:42:48 EDsouljah/free indirect discourse
From: <elc9jprime.acc.Virginia.EDU>
Subject: souljah/free indirect discourse

I would like to comment on some of the responses to my June 19
posting on Sister Souljah's Washington Post interview. They seem
to fall into two categories: (1) the question whether the
posting is "political" in nature, and if so, whether it is a
suitable topic for discussion on LINGUIST; (2) the analysis of
the Souljah text itself. With respect to (1), it seems to me
that if linguists must avoid discussion of discourse that someone
might classify as "political", we might as well all pack up and
go home. Even the decontextualized, invented sentences beloved
of many linguists are not immune from being construed as
"political": viz. feminists' observation of the frequency of
examples such as "John hit Mary" in linguistic textbooks and
scholarly papers [see e.g. Julia Penelope, Speaking Freely] or
Geoffrey Pullum's publishers advising him to edit such examples
on the grounds that they might make him actionable for libel by
some sensitive individual(s) named John [Pullum, The Great Eskimo
Vocabulary Hoax]. Indeed, the use of the word "political" in
American academia would make a fascinating sociolinguistic study
in itself, as a reflection of the anthropological distinction
between the sacred and the profane, with all the attendant
symbolic overtones. Anyway, as far as this point is concerned, I
agree with Kathleen Hubbard that any form of linguistic
communication is appropriate data for a linguist, and that
linguists have a responsibility to shed whatever light they can
on what people mean when they use language.
 With respect to the Souljah text, Niko Besnier is quite
right to point to the "structural slipperiness" of Free Indirect
Style, so eloquently discussed by Bakhtin. It's true that the
blurring of quoter and quoted in FIS creates ambiguities that
wreak havoc with the distinction between illocutionary force and
perlocutionary effect, not to mention intended vs. actual
perlocutionary effect. But can one really hold a speaker
responsible for a hearer's inattention to "who is speaking and
how"? Especially in light of the possible effects of different
cultural norms of communication that Niko refers to, and the
equally relevant power asymmetries mentioned in Kathleen's
posting. Not being familiar with any studies on the use
specifically of FIS in African American discourse (although
Mitchell-Kernan's work on signifying is probably relevant in this
regard, as is Thomas Kochman's work on "black and white styles"),
I didn't go into this dimension of analysis in my posting. My
point was that even within mainstream norms of interpretation
(presumed to be those on which the Post interviewer was
operating), Sister Souljah was clearly engaging in FIS, and
therefore it is reasonable to question what propositions she was
in fact committing herself to as opposed to reporting.

Ellen Contini-Morava
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Message 2: Sister Souljah--free indirect discourse

Date: Tue, 23 Jun 92 18:58:53 EDSister Souljah--free indirect discourse
From: Erwin Segal <segalcs.Buffalo.EDU>
Subject: Sister Souljah--free indirect discourse

>Date: Fri, 19 Jun 92 19:33:28 EDT
>From: elc9jprime.acc.Virginia.EDU
>Subject: Sister Souljah's discourse
> Bill Clinton created a stir recently by rebuking Jesse
>Jackson for including rap singer Sister Souljah in a Rainbow
>Coalition panel, on the grounds that Sister Souljah had made
>inflammatory remarks that encourage racial strife. Leaving aside
>Clinton's underlying motives for picking a fight with Jackson at
>this point in the presidential campaign, the focus of Clinton's
>reproach was a quote from a May 13 interview with Sister Souljah
>that had appeared in the Washington Post, where she was asked to
>comment on the Los Angeles uprising. Sister Souljah was quoted
>as saying, "If black people kill black people every day, why not
>have a week and kill white people?", a statement that Clinton
>condemned as incitement to violence. Sister Souljah has denied
>that charge, claiming that the Post quoted her out of context.
> ---------------------------------------------------------------
>Q: A lot of people look at the violence that was unleashed and
>say... let's talk now about white America and middle-class black
>America-- will see the videos of the looting, the burning, people
>with their kids walking away with merchandise, people shooting at
>firemen, and think, you know, "Thank God for the police, because
>the police is what separates us and our property and our safety
>and our lives from them, because look what they're capable of."
>A: They [middle-class blacks] do not represent the majority of
>black people, number one. Black people from the underclass and
>the so-called lower class do not respect the institutions of
>white America, which is why you can cart as many black people out
>on the television as you want to tell people in the lower and
>underclass that that was stupid, but they don't care what you
> You don't care about THEIR lives, haven't added anything to
>the quality of their lives, haven't affectuated anything for the
>quality of their lives, and then expect them to respond to your
>opinions which mean absolutely nothing? Why would they?
The previous paragraph can be seen to be free indirect discourse
picked up from the last line in the previous paragraph which is
Sister Souljah's own comment. The repetition, pronoun switch, and
stress mark a switch in subjectivity here.
>Q: But even the people themselves who were perpetrating that
>violence, did they think it was wise? Was that wise, reasoned
>A: Yeah, it was wise. I mean, if black people kill black
>people every day, why not have a week and kill white people? You
>understand what I'm saying? In other words, white people, this
>government, and that mayor were well aware of the fact that black
>people were dying every day in Los Angeles under gang violence.
>So if you're a gang member and you would normally be killing
>somebody, why not kill a white person? Do you think that
>somebody thinks that white people are better, or above and beyond
>dying, when they would kill their own kind?
I think that this paragraph is similar to the one that I commented
on above. The first five lines seem to be from Sister Souljah's
own subjectivity. Following the "So" it seems to switch to that
of a gang member. Again the switch in subjectivity is marked with
a repetition. That repetition represents the shared subjectivity
of the two sources. We find this kind of subjectivity switch in
Henry James's _What Maisie Knew_ between the Preface and Chapter 1
(Mary Galbraith Dissertation SUNY at Buffalo, 1990.)

Although the statement "If black people kill black people every
day, why not have a week and kill white people" belongs to Souljah,
I do not think that it necessarily is a direct request for action, but
rather an argument for a narrowly justified activity. There could
easily be other components of the argument which would lessen its
justifiability, even if they are not expressed at this time.

>Q: I'm just asking what's the wisdom in it? What's the sense
>in it?
>A: It's rebellion, it's revenge. You ever heard of Hammurabi's
>Code? Eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth? It's revenge. I
>mean, that seems so simple. I don't even understand why anybody
>[would] ask me that question. You take something from me, I take
>something from you. You cut me, I cut you. You shoot me, I shoot
>you. You kill my mother, I kill your mother.
>Q: And the individuals don't matter?
>A: What individuals? If you killed my mother, that mattered to
>me. That's why I killed yours. How could the individuals not
>matter? You mean the WHITE individuals, do they matter? Not if
>the black ones don't. Absolutely not. Why would they? If my
>child dies, your child dies. If my house burns down, your house
>burns down. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. That's what
>they believe. And I see why. [Washington Post, 6/16/92, p.A7]
> -----------------------------------------------------------------
Although Clinton did not discuss this part of the interview--it
was not in the Times--it helps to identify the argument. The argument
is that Blacks are at least equivalent to Whites in worth. IF blacks
die it is only just that whites die. It is clearly a conditional
argument which implies that blacks and whites both matter and are of
value. By implication, if anything should be done, the antecedent of
conditional should be rendered false. Noone should be killing anyone!

I agree with Ellen Contini-Morava that the Times misrepresented
Sister Souljah's position, although I do not think that the quoted
passage was free indirect discourse.

Erwin Segal
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