LINGUIST List 7.786

Wed May 29 1996

Disc: Umlauts, Lg & dreams, LSA

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. "Karen Baumer (GD 1999)", Re: 7.778, Disc: Umlauts
  2. Crissie Trigger, Re: 7.780, Disc: Lg & dreams
  3. Dick Hudson, Re: 7.749, Disc: Linguistic Society of America & Political Correctness
  4. Michael Bernstein, Disc: Linguistic Society of America & Political Correctness

Message 1: Re: 7.778, Disc: Umlauts

Date: Wed, 29 May 1996 12:38:14 EDT
From: "Karen Baumer (GD 1999)" <>
Subject: Re: 7.778, Disc: Umlauts

I write in response to Seth Sklarey's posting regarding the "effects of
the sound of language." Certainly we do tend to associate the speakers of
certain languages with certain types of behavior. But do we want to claim,
for example, that there is something about the German language *itself*
that makes it appropriate for bossing people around, or something about
Portuguese that makes it seductive (insofar as we want to accept the truth
of such stereotypes in the first place)? This would suggest that we could
go off to some area of the world where no one had ever heard German
spoken, and no one knew anything about Germans, and start effectively
ordering people around in that language simply because there's something
about those velar fricatives that really gets people moving. And would we
be more likely to get these strangers into bed by whispering a few words
of Portuguese? (As for the Estonian Lothario who claimed he could seduce
women merely by counting to ten in his native language...somehow I have a
feeling that that technique was considerably less effective back in his
home town!)

Indeed, it might raise our blood pressure to be screamed at in German. I
think this has more to do with being screamed at than with hearing high
front round vowels. I imagine our blood pressure would escalate just as
quickly if we were being yelled at in Dyirbal or Chinook.

The fact that some people give commands to their pets (horses and large
dogs were mentioned) in German was given as evidence that the sounds of a
language are more important than the actual words being spoken. But all
this tells us is that some animals are *trained* to respond to German
words. (Let's also not lose sight of the fact that we don't need to use
natural language at all when training animals; you can train your dog to
sit when you blow a whistle, or raise your left arm, or whatever. Of
COURSE the actual words being spoken are not important!) There seems to be
a tradition of training certain breeds (GERMAN shepherds, get it?) with
German commands. This tells us something about the trainers, but not much
about the dogs. I'm sure your local Rottweiler doesn't give a flying
Mighty Bone whether he was trained to "sit!" or to "sitz!" (It's my
impression that some people prefer to train their dogs with foreign
commands so that not just anyone can control the dog--sort of a secret
code.) In any event, the dog is *not* responding out of fear and respect
for umlauted vowels or any sort of general 'authoritative' quality of the
German language.

Yes, different languages can affect our emotions in different ways, as
Sklarey asserts. But I think it is misguided to think that this has to do
with the languages themselves. Rather it has to do with preconceived
notions many people have about the groups of people who happen to speak
those languages, or even just the volume at which some language is being
spoken in some given situation. And by the way, my Portuguese housemate
definitely has the power to raise my temperature--but believe me, he's
just as effective at it when he's speaking English! ;-)

Karen Baumer

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Message 2: Re: 7.780, Disc: Lg & dreams

Date: Wed, 29 May 1996 18:45:25 PDT
From: Crissie Trigger <>
Subject: Re: 7.780, Disc: Lg & dreams
I would caution that those who mistakenly think that communication is 
limited to verbal language are the same types who still believe there 
are only five senses. Just as we also have senses of balance, heat, 
vibration and hundreds if not thousands of others, we likewise have 
many ways of communicating, usually in conjunction with other forms.

For example, when we talk we not only gesture, but we move our eyes, 
our faces, hands, we have a calculated speed of what we are physically 
doing, a loudness, a pitch and many other variables. Can you make 
yourself understood without speaking? Of course you can. Can you 
communicate with others who don't speak your language? Of course you 

Can you communicate with animals and they with you? Sure. How about 
with a tree? A piece of broccoli? A car? A sailboat? A God? Can you 
communicate with your inner self? Your outer self? 

Many years ago I lost my voice and learned very rapidly that one 
doesn't need to speak in order to communicate, and indeed speech may 
often get in the way of "communication." For that six month period I 
learned a great deal about people, myself, and how peple interrelate.

Communication with the opposite sex was much closer, more intense and 
more meaningful, with a whole lot less misunderstandings, no quarrels, 

The point (sorry I was drifting back) is that all sorts of dynamics are 
at work in interpersonal communication and by mistakenly thinking it is 
only one dimensional is to miss the total picture. It's like reviewing 
a black velvet Picasso oil painting of Elvis playing cards with 3 dogs 
and a topless woman and just talking about the frame. (SETH SKLAREY)
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Message 3: Re: 7.749, Disc: Linguistic Society of America & Political Correctness

Date: Sat, 25 May 1996 17:00:15 BST
From: Dick Hudson <>
Subject: Re: 7.749, Disc: Linguistic Society of America & Political Correctness
In the recent posting on LSA policy, Lynne Murphy wrote:

> avoiding places where some of its
>members are discriminated against, the lsa is serving its membership.
>this is the way i view it. by passing discriminatory ordinances,
>these cities/states have said "some people have fewer civil rights
>than others". some of these people are lsa members, and i think
>it's good of the lsa not to subject those members to the loss of
>their rights.

I think this misses the point of Michael Covington's posting: LSA members
who live in blacklisted places never get the opportunity to attend a local
LSA meeting. In the UK this would be an extremely important consideration
since some members have no access to conference funds and can't afford to
pay their own travel and conference expenses. Maybe things are easier in
USA, so you can all go equally easily to any part of the country? But I
would guess that the issue isn't as simple as some of the postings suggest.
Richard Hudson
Department of Phonetics and Linguistics,
University College London,
Gower Street,
London WC1E 6BT
work phone +171 419 3152; work fax +171 383 4108
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Message 4: Disc: Linguistic Society of America & Political Correctness

Date: Tue, 28 May 1996 11:02:45 EDT
From: Michael Bernstein <>
Subject: Disc: Linguistic Society of America & Political Correctness
>From: (P.Fearark)
>Unfortunately, it is clear that the intent of the LSA policy transcends
>the issue of protecting its members. The policy, as put by LSA itself
>(URL: in
>LINGUIST 7.749 states:
>>LSA affirms its policy to hold its meetings only in cities
>>where its members are afforded legal protection from
>>discrimination on the basis of age, gender, national
>>origin, marital status, physical ability, race, religion,
>>or sexual orientation; and, that lsa notify the potential
>>convention cities of the LSA policy regarding site selection
>>and, specifically, that cities that do not afford such legal
>>protection are excluded from consideration as possible LSA
>No-one--not even in America--gets arrested for being female
>or having the wrong religion. They don't even get arrested
>or refused accomodation for being 80 years old and still holding
>down a job.
>Therefore, there's no doubt at all that Lynne is wrong. LSA's
>position is clearly political, and thus only appropriate if you
>feel that LSA should take political positions which have nothing
>to do with linguistics.

You're saying here that if the LSA were trying to protect
its members, they wouldn't need to specify age or gender.
But if the LSA were trying to further political goals, the
same argument would apply (since those goals have been met).

If we want to make it possible for all LSA members to attend
LSA meetings without fear of discrimination, we need a policy
like the current one. If we want to expand the list of potential
host cities (or at least prevent it from contracting further),
we need to make the policy public (and thus enter the political
arena to a limited extent).

>From: (Michael Covington)
>Personally, I think the idea of a "national society" imposing a semi-
>permanent boycott on more than half of its nation is ludicrous. We
>need to consider carefully whether the present LSA policy impedes, or
>at least fails to promote, the growth of our profession in the
>disfavored areas of the country. The LSA is supposed to be promoting
>linguistics nationwide. If it wants to be a regional society, it
>should change its name.

The LSA policy does nothing to impede the growth of linguistics
in cities where we don't meet. If you make that argument, the
LSA is also impeding the growth of linguistics in cities without
major airports, and in cities without adequate convention
facilities, and in Hawaii, etc.

Obviously, the LSA must make choices about where to host meetings.
That doesn't mean that all cities or states which don't host
meetings are not areas in which the LSA is active. The LSA does
a fine job in holding meetings in different regions of the country,
weighting the relative concentrations of its members.

It would be a real shame if the LSA meetings, which are supposed
to promote communication between LSA members and facilitate the
job search process, were held in locations which precluded many
members from attending without risking legal discrimination. That
would be when the LSA would lose its right to call itself a national
society -- when it makes segments of the population unwelcome at
its annual meetings.

Please keep in mind that the LSA is not calling for a boycott of
states or cities which discriminate, or setting up letter-writing
campaigns, or issuing press releases. If the LSA were simply trying
to fight discrimination as a good political goal, they could be
doing far more.

 Michael Bernstein
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