LINGUIST List 8.341

Sun Mar 9 1997

Disc: Lg and Public Behavior (was ebonics)

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <seelylinguistlist.org>


Directory

  1. benji wald, Re: 8.287, Disc: Lg and Public Behavior (was Ebonics)
  2. John Atkinson, Re: 8.287, Disc: Lg and Public Behavior (was Ebonics)
  3. Koutsomitopoulou Elenh, Re: 8.287, Disc: Lg and Public Behavior (was Ebonics)

Message 1: Re: 8.287, Disc: Lg and Public Behavior (was Ebonics)

Date: Thu, 27 Feb 1997 18:47:57 -0800 (PST)
From: benji wald <bwaldHUMnet.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 8.287, Disc: Lg and Public Behavior (was Ebonics)

Carol Anne Seflinger writes

>this humble grad
>student is curious as to how one can be positive in determining what
>is and isn't marked behavior. Can one not also suppose, if the phrase
>"pole" is commonly given, that that is marked behavior? That saying 'I
>hope you're OK' in East Africa, is their way of saying "whoops"? Even
>if it sounds more concerned, it is short, succinct, and potentially
>'markable'. Just wondering.

She is asking the right question, since anecdotes which might involve quite
unusual behavior in a culture are often presented as general to an entire
population. In this case I did not give an anecdote, because the practice
is too commonplace and not worth an anecdote. Obviously with enough
experience in a culture an observer can come to internalise what is marked
and unmarked in a culture; most people have at least one culture for which
they do this. However, an observer may also form an opinion early of
another culture and then only notice what conforms to that opinion, and
ignore counter-evidence, so conscious experience itself is not necessarily
authority in these matters. So, I suppose one could do such things as
quantify occurences (and non-occurences) oif a particular public behavior
and demonstrate it that way. In the meantime, my observations rest on the
fact that it was common enough to be striking to me, and that I even
quickly found out what the equivalent word for "pole" was in Nigerian
English ("sori" < "sorry"), simply from observation -- the first day at
that. I could go much further in showing how Swahili and English
linguistic expressions change in adaptation to receiving African cultures,
so that they are used in ways that are strange to Western cultures, e.g.,
"hello" (instead of "hey!", "excuse me", or whatever) to call somebody.
Also note that "pole" is not equivalent to "I'm sorry", nor is Nigerian
"sori", since the utterer is not in the least taking blame for somebody
slipping, but only expressing sympathy. In Swahili "samahani" (forgive me)
is used to express guilt, as when bumping into someone by accident, etc.
And things like "pardon/excuse me" are not used in introducing one's self
to strangers in asking for help, like the time or directions, etc.
Greetings or the appeal for help equivalent to "please" is normal here
(Swahili "ebu" is the colloquial way, though there are longer more refined
expressions to display gentility). These English formulas actually
indicate the recognition of an intrusion on some other member of the
public's space, and indicate the nature of Western society. They would
not make sense in urban African society in the same context. So, there is
a whole complex of inter-related things that go along with the point I was
making about cultural differences in public behavior.

In any case, my main purpose here is to endorse Carol Anne's common, lest
we be flooded with all kinds of anecdotes purporting to "prove" that this
culture is different from that culture. -- Benji
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Message 2: Re: 8.287, Disc: Lg and Public Behavior (was Ebonics)

Date: Fri, 28 Feb 97 11:00:17 +1100
From: John Atkinson <johnatiny.me.su.oz.au>
Subject: Re: 8.287, Disc: Lg and Public Behavior (was Ebonics)

At 10:44 27/02/97 -0500, Carol Anne Seflinger wrote:
>Re: This part of the quote from Benji Wald's intriguing message on
>public/private behavior among different cultures: this humble grad
>student is curious as to how one can be positive in determining what
>is and isn't marked behavior. Can one not also suppose, if the phrase
>"pole" is commonly given, that that is marked behavior? That saying 'I
>hope you're OK' in East Africa, is their way of saying "whoops"? Even
>if it sounds more concerned, it is short, succinct, and potentially
>'markable'. Just wondering.

A minor point. As I'm sure Benji knows, but Carol may not, "pole", 
or more commonly "pole pole", does not "literally" means 'I hope 
you're OK'. The nearest I can get in English to its literal meaning 
is 'be cool' ("cool" the opposite of "warm", when used figuratively 
= "comfortable" or "unharmed", rather than "unperturbed" as in 
English -- so 'pole' it doesn't necessarily mean "don't get upset", 
which is what 'be cool' or 'cool down' usually means in English).

I would assume that what Benji means by "ummarked behaviour" is 
"the thing one does as a matter of course". Carol seems to be
using the expression with a different (more technical?) meaning (?) 

John
 
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Message 3: Re: 8.287, Disc: Lg and Public Behavior (was Ebonics)

Date: Thu, 27 Feb 1997 19:39:41 -0200 (GMT+2)
From: Koutsomitopoulou Elenh <elenaeexi.gr>
Subject: Re: 8.287, Disc: Lg and Public Behavior (was Ebonics)


Well, i'd like to express my opinion (or rather my experience) here as
it happens to get a similar reaction when people first hear i have a
hearing problem and i'm wearing hearing aids (which are almost
invisible). What Michael calls 'smile for the cripple' i'd call
'smile for the deaf'...

Thus I wouldn't agree that it's due to your disability to 'catch a
fleeing female' but rather due to their shock that someone has a(ny)
kind of disability; their astonishment (they couldn't even imagine
'this' may happen to anyone), their good manners (one has to smile
gently esp. to cases like 'these' showing one's good 'feelings' even
when one doesn't even know how one feels!), even their embarrassement
(at their ignorance of a similar situation) or their feeling of being
superior (='fleeing females' or rigorous males) depending on what kind
of persons they are.

In the Greek culture a common reaction would be a (kind of) 'social
discussion' just behind your back (=gossip), while in front of you
this smile is again the only way out... Men and women may both ignore
you if they can see you're 'ok' (=don't bear hearing aids, at least
not visible ones) but when they see there is a(ny) kind of
'distinctive characteristic' on you they'll watch you out carefully
for a while, maybe with a feeling of compassion/superiority/curiosity,
maybe with an indifference if they suffer their own problems.

As a woman I would occasionally catch (the same kind of) smiles or a
'smoother' behavior by men but i don't feel these reactions are
different than those of some 'polite' women. Of course how you
interpret each reaction is decisive of how you think they think of
you.

But to tell the whole story, being polite and not discriminating show
in several other (essential) ways and not really into smiling or
keeping any face of compassion. Besides, offering help is one of the
very common ways to take control over someone. What could really be
helpful is the expression of our real (positive or negative) feelings
when confronted with a disability. Above all, not all people are able
to handle it......

yours,
Elena Koutsomitopoulou ;)

elenaaurora.eexi.gr
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