LINGUIST List 6.306

Sun 26 Feb 1995

Disc: Language Policy

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  1. , Re: 6.292 Language Policy
  2. benji wald, Re: 6.292 Language Policy

Message 1: Re: 6.292 Language Policy

Date: Fri, 24 Feb 1995 03:40:00 Re: 6.292 Language Policy
From: <>
Subject: Re: 6.292 Language Policy

Just a few things to elicit comment:

One of the things that most interests me about this discussion is that no one
has treated the matter of so-called "small nations". Native speakers of
languages concentrated in relatively small geographic areas, and that have
only a few million speakers (or less) live in a completely different
linguistic universe than speakers of "world languages", like English, Spanish
or French. Few foreigners penetrate their cultures (even if they reside
among them!), their adult compatriots return from abroad with markedly
diminished skills in their native tongue (just ask a Czech how tennis player
Ivan Lendl -- or even their own Aunt Klara in Canada -- talks), more than
likely their language and/or nation has been subject to one or more prolonged
attempts at deportation or extermination (in Eastern Europe usually at the
hands of the Germans or Russians), and their language may have been revived
or reconstructed at some point in its history. Considering the effects of
these and other matters, the issue of minority language rights in these
countries (especially when today's minority was yesterday's colonizing
majority) cannot necessarily be discussed in terms easily comprehensible in
larger language communities. What do members of such "small nations" think
about this issue?

Another question: When does accommodation of language rights become the
promotion of a privileged linguistic minority? I'm thinking of places like
Detroit, where the largest numbers of linguistically unassimilated residents
are likely to speak Arabic, Polish or Ukrainian, but the bilingual signs in
federal offices are in English and Spanish. (My statistics may be faulty in
this particular case, but I think the question remains valid.)

And further: When does accommodation of minority language speakers become
unwieldy and absurd? How many languages can be fully accommodated in one
country before the whole thing crushes under its own bureaucratic weight? I
once saw an article in an Esperanto publication that advocated forcing the
adoption of that language by international bodies through gradual insistence
on the language rights of every single member nation -- no matter how small
-- until the organizations could not function without adopting a "neutral"
language. This is obvious hyperbole (though maybe not for the article's
author), but it seems that linguists always complain when there's not enough
accommodation but they never venture a guess as to when (to use Popeye's
famous words) "enough is to much". Speaking pragmatically, when must a
consensus language finally be settled on for offical purposes?

James Kirchner
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Message 2: Re: 6.292 Language Policy

Date: Sat, 25 Feb 95 19:19 PST
From: benji wald <IBENAWJMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 6.292 Language Policy

Content-Length: 10243


I didn't want to get involved in the controversy over Armey's
alleged tongue slip, because I never actually heard it -- only
the following flap. However, I do have to admit I was skeptical
of Armey's "explanation". Like many of the discussants so far,
I found it difficult to believe that Frank + harangue ==) Fag + ?
(I wonder where the sonorants went?), even assuming that Armey's
use of the term "blend" in his explanation might suggest that his
basic intro to language course was not the highpoint of his educational
career. So I tend to agree with the suggestions that the
word "fag" was somehow on Armey's mind, whether by choice or not.
That's where the "disingenuity" or "ingenuity" lies -- certainly not
in his explanation.

The issue of "less than a second" is the one that most interests
me in terms of slips of the tongue and self-corrections. As an
old hand at measuring spectrograms, my impression has been that
"immediate" (unreflecting --) honest?) self-corrections indeed occur
in less than a second. Very much less than a second -- about one fifth
of a second. Spectrographic measurement is very precise in this respect.
We could do accuracy to hundredths of a second with no problems here,
but I don't think response time in self-correction requires such accuracy.
Fifths (maybe even tenths) of a second, on the other hand, I suspect are
quite meaningful in deciding whether a self-correction is
"normal" or not, or in trying to do some interpretive analysis of it.
(It may depend on whether SOME -- actually MOST --
self-corrections are controlled at will or not. I doubt most
examples of immediate corrections could have been self-suppressed.)

My impression of duration is based on measuring certain aspects of
spontaneous speech behaviour for various reasons. One was an
interest in the nature of different kinds of pauses. For
example, I found that the use of the term "pause" for most
syntactic junctures, even clauses, is a fiction. There is no
measurable pause. It's usually ONLY the intonational patterns
which acoustically signal such junctures (both in English and Swahili
at least). So, junctural "pause" seems to be misnomer when used by
the analysts I have in mind -- feeding my suspicion that their "intutions"
are based on their literacy, maybe even to the point of confusing their
 reading styles or understanding of punctuation marks with how
they usually speak. I say this just to indicate one of my
interests in pauses -- one that has to do with syntactic boundaries.

More relevant to the Armey controversy is self-correction of speech
errors, where the error violates the phonological integrity of a
lexical item. There, my impression is that stammering and
self-correction of blends are similar, about a fifth of a second.
(And I don' t remember it mattering whether the initial error is fully
articulated, or aborted before completion, the latter being more
common in both cases, I think). I have measured some of these for
my purposes, e.g., to distinguish them from more reflective
pauses and to compare them with such things as repetitions as in
adult arguments where somebody is interrupted but fights to keep
the floor by recycling a word or phrase which is not being
acknowledged by a conflicting speaker.

I have an article somewhere where my examples from transcription actually
give the length of pauses in deci-seconds. (Note that Schegloff's, Ochs'
or ot her ethnographic-type transcriptions are unlikely to
provide further data because they only measure long pauses -- at
least a second -- without needing instrumental analysis. These
are reflective or submissive pauses, NEVER pauses for
self-correction of pronunciation accidents -- difficulty in
pronouncing unfamiliar words is a separate matter, as are some
planned "accidents", say in jokes, where the effect is
intentional) Let me hasten to add that my impressions are based
on limited study, that is, not on systematic study of DURATION
in various kinds of pause phenomena for the sake of taxonomic
classification. So one should only take my observations as suggestive,
not au thoritative -- if you wanna make a federal case out of it.

I haven't indulged much in the speech error literature -- though I have
scanned Vicky Fromkin's book from the 70s (which she kindly gave
me a copy of at that time). So I don't know whether the kinds
of duration measurements I am suggesting here have been studied.
It would not surprise me if they have not, since the literature
seems to be more about kinds of errors and what that's supposed
to prove about linguistic structure, than about kinds of
recoveries from errors (self-corrections) and what that suggests about
different kinds of speech processing and planning.

Hesitation markers such as glottal stop (the shortest and I think most
common one), er, uh, uhm, shit, I mean, excuse me, etc. are also obviously
relevant phenomena that can occur between a speech accident and a
self-correction. Their different durations, not to mention their content
when they have any, might be relevant to making inferences about the causes
of what they purport to correct.

To conclude, I am suggested in perhaps an awkward way that issues like
what's with Armey's slip and how to distinguish various kinds of
SELF-CORRECTION could profit from systematic research on frequency and
timing of self-corrections in speech. Yes, Virginia, there is a
science being suggested here.

FOOTNOTE: Since the early 80s at least, differences in the READING errors
with or without correction made by fluent, as opposed to non-fluent, readers,
pioneered by the Goodmans, is an area ripe for comparison with spontaneous
speech errors and self-corrections -- and could become another tool
for the pro secution, lest some (other?) demagogue and his
(her?) speech writers decide that they can get away with
constructing a slur which metathesises or otherwise plays on
some "innocent" phrase -- now that Armey's example has established
 a precedent, cf. knee-jerk liberal --) ?neo-liberal jerk, radical
 right --) ?riotable rat, preservative kick (-- ? Smarmy apology irks/
Armey apology smirks. For those who can't read between the lines,
Armey as a "precedent" is sarcastic. Surely someone out there has
collected such "errors", without judging whether they are intentional
or not. I once read on a record jacket that the pianist Alfred Brendel
has a hobby of collecting examples of "unintentional humor". You out
there, Alf? Anyway, I hardly have ever had a flash of insight so
uniquely brilliant that someone else has not been able to immediately
give me a hundred examples of the phenomena from their own observations.

 Benefit of the doubtfully yours,
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