A Mythunderstanding of Slang and the Morality of Profanity

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by gendanken, Dec 14, 2011.

  1. scheherazade Northern Horse Whisperer Valued Senior Member


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  3. scheherazade Northern Horse Whisperer Valued Senior Member


    I enjoy your choice of word because it is uncommonly used, has both complimentary and uncomplimentary meanings, and is comparatively accurate and appropriate.

    I am an amateur and a dabbler in many fields, and am considered a connoisseur by some though I do not think of myself as having nearly enough background in the arts.

    What can be more superficial than a forum where most of us use avatars and 'stage names'?

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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Well excuse me for not writing "one or more." I didn't realize that I was still on duty in my day job as a writer for a government agency.
    Shi is the verb "to be." Wo shi Mei-guo ren -- I am (an) America(n) person. But it's only used in the equative sense. The words we translate as adjectives are stative verbs, so the one we translate as "large" means "to be large." Gou da -- (the/a) dog is-large.
    I don't speak Cantonese but in Mandarin bu yao, literally "not want" is a common way to respond "no" to an offer or an entreaty to do something. Anglophones rework that into the more comfortable construction "don't want." It's also used for "don't," as in bu yao gei wo tang -- don't give me soup.

    The construction of many Chinese idioms is the accidental result of phonetics. Every morpheme has an average of four homonyms in vernacular speech, so to improve understanding compounds have been formed to stress the correct meaning, and they aren't always 100% grammatically correct--or even logical!
    I lost the nested quote so I'll have to get back to you on that.
    It's quite common for expat communities to conserve an older form of a language. My mother's family was Bohemian (we call them "Czech" now because it's easier to spell and pronounce) and when talkies came out there was a modest Bohemian-language film industry in the Midwest where the immigrants had gathered--a generation earlier. When they proudly took some of their films to Czechoslovakia the people there had trouble understanding them and hired voice-over actors to dub them into the 20th century language. They said it sounded like their grandparents' speech.
    I'm not talking about the R, I'm talking about the D and the T. That's why those two words are homonyms in American English, but not in British English where the consonants are pronounced clearly. In America we flap our intervocalic D's and T's. Leader and liter are also homonyms, for example.
    In Spanish an initial R is a distinct phoneme and is trilled; it's equivalent to a RR. The R after a consonant in negra is a little indistinct. Try the R in caro. That's the same way we Americans pronounce the second half of "avocado."
    It was used to joke about it. We can't blame a person for the color of his skin because he got it from his parents. But we can blame him for the way he talks... Here we would say that he has a choice and can talk any way he wants, but in fact few people are more than minimally conscious of the way they talk and only notice the way other people talk. So for most people, the way they talk is also something they got from their parents.

    Therefore, for all practical purposes, it is just as unfair to hold someone responsible for the way he talks as for the way he looks.
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  7. Gustav Banned Banned


    you always interest me, gendy. there is something really endearing about you.
    well, a lot of things. besides, i love you.

    that was kinda mean of me. sorry

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    no it is not.
    lets try it this way. lets form a category...gifts. for xmas, i give you an ipod, to vert, i give a cyanide pill. wynn comes around with a grenade, sees the cyanide and place her grenade next to it thinking it appropriate. fraggle sees the ipod in the vicinity of the dangerous stuff and deems it having the same "dangerous" property. clearly erroneous, ja? the rule sets that govern placement are altogether not entirely rational hence the easy associations are necessarily suspect.

    it gets worse. lets rename the cyanide pill, icyanide and not gift it. yet by virtue of that minor linguistic resemblance to ipod, it could possibly be placed in the gift category
  8. Gustav Banned Banned


    not so. consider a hick moving to cali with children
  9. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Aww, ya'll do know that "gift" means 'that which is given' and that in German, with the same root, the word "das Gift" means 'poison', right?
  10. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Sticking with grenades (pricelss!) -

    I am sure that the rules that govern category placement are rational, but may not be evident to an external observer, nor the native speakers be aware of them.

    In biology, there is the phenomenon of cryptic speciation: to the ordinary human eye, nose and ears, the animals seem the same - yet they are of different species. It turns out that on the level of DNA, they are indeed different species, and bioacoustics and some other tests can point to that too.

    Several species of mouse lemurs look the same, but they communicate differently and in the ultrasound range. We normally don't hear them at all, but they can distinguish eachother just fine.

    I think the same is possible in language categories (and philosophy in general) too.
  11. Gustav Banned Banned

    that is a fabulous analogy, wynn
    Rule 1 (Myth-or-belief): If a noun has characteristic X (on the basis of which its class membership would be expected to be decided) but is, through belief or myth, associated with characteristic Y, then generally it will belong to the class corresponding to Y, not to X.

    Rule 2 (Domain-of-experience): If there is a basic domain of experience associated with A, then it is natural for entities in that domain to be in the same category as A (Lakoff 1987:93).

    Rule 3 (Important-property): If a subset of referents has some particular important property that the rest of the set does not have,
    then the members of that subset may be assigned to a different class from the rest of the set, to ‘mark’ that particular important property. In Dyirbal, the important property is often [+harmful]. (reid)​
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Catching up with page 2 of this thread...
    I'm familiar with the concept of word classes and I've seen a couple of proposed paradigms of word classes. The Chinese words we translate as adjectives are regarded by (AFAIK) all linguists as "stative verbs." They have three types of verbs: stative, equative and transitive. To argue over some of the fine points that the word-class paradigms stress is a little too pedantic for me. What's the difference between "I am sick" and "I am ailing"? They both mean the same thing but "sick" is an adjective and "ailing" is a participle. Chinese doesn't have the progressive tense so they just say wo bing, "I ail." (I may have misspelled that.)

    The words we translate as prepositions also behave exactly like verbs and nouns. Dao does not mean "toward," it means "approach." Wo dao ni jia lai does not mean "I to your house come." It means "I approach your house (and) come," or in a less awkward translation, "I, approach(ing) your house, come." Gou zai fang li does not mean "The dog is in the room." It means "(the) dog occupies (the) room('s) interior."
    So much for tradition, eh?

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    For all of these detailed differences between Chinese and English, they are still remarkably similar in many ways, particularly syntax: subject-verb-object. As I mentioned before, Japanese syntax is topic-description, which requires you to adopt a whole new way of thinking.

    Studying any second language is bound to result in you learning new things about your own language, if not your entire culture. Chinese verbs have no tenses: no present, past, future, etc. If it's really important to make it clear that something happened yesterday, well by golly you just say "yesterday." Otherwise it's assumed to be either unimportant or obvious from context. But it's also an interesting observation on the world's oldest continuous nation that time isn't as important to them as it is to us.
    You mean like Mongolian or Manchurian?
    The Chinese seem to regard "to be sick" as a change of state rather than a quality. They regard size as a contest: a common way to ask whether Joe is taller than Sue is Zhou gao, Su gao -- "Joe is tall, (or) Sue is tall?"
    And who is this famous "they" of whom you speak, Kemosabe? Do Chinese, Bantu, Olmec and Maori philosophers also use this paradigm?
    Jim Henson and the whole Muppeteer team love to have fun with words and language. That was one of the things that made Sesame Street so successful with its audience AND their parents and teachers. Many episodes of Fraggle Rock featured issues of words and language.
    If everybody in the community uses them then there's no disrespect. Or at least for them it's no more disrespectful to call each other a dickhead or a shitface than it is for us to call each other a dilettante or a (whatever one of you called me on a previous page).
    Children think farting is funny. They have to be taught to be offended by it. Obviously there's something unnatural in our adult attitude toward it.
    Now it routinely appears on the kids' page of the Washington Post.
    and "dick," "crap" and "piss." "Asshole" and "bullshit" haven't made it to prime time yet, but women use them in business meetings so it won't be long.
    American culture goes through these huge pendulum swings with some regularity. As I've noted in other threads, look at our national attitudes about alcohol and religion. The 20th century saw a complete swing from -1 to +1 to -1 on both issues.
    She's Canadian. That's just her dialect of English.

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    No to both. English is a Germanic language, not Latinate (or Romance as we say today), and that's not where the faux rule about split infinitives came from.

    The invention of the printing press resulted in more material available to read, encouraging more people to learn to read, making schools for the common folk economically sensible (in conjunction with the Industrial Revolution, which freed 97% of them from farming so many of them could do office work), meaning that English was soon taught so widely that textbooks were needed.

    What better way to prepare a textbook on any language than to take a textbook on Latin, obviously the most perfect language that was ever spoken, and simply translate it into English. So the early English textbooks were simply awkward translations of Latin textbooks. If you think the rule about not splitting an infinitive is funny (it's impossible in Latin because it's all one word) how about the declension of nouns?
    • Nominative: the boy
    • Genitive: the boy's
    • Dative: to the boy
    • accusative: the boy
    • (and my personal favorite) Vocative: O boy!
    In Victorian times "leg" was taboo so the word "drumstick" was coined.
  13. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    The question is, harmful to whom, in what way.

    Guardian angel the Western way:

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    Guardian angel the Tibetan way, the Mahakala:

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  14. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Another point to reconsider what "harmful" and "dangerous" may mean:

    He who neither rouses fear by his anger, nor confers a favour when he is pleased, can neither control nor protect. What can he do?

  15. Spud Emperor solanaceous common tater Registered Senior Member

    So if you don't use profanity as part of your verbal pallette, what the bloody hell do you substitute? Do you say shit like " Oh, rats and blue blazes!" ?
    Do you take the colour out of everything else as well? Do you cook without chilli, do you have sex in the missionary position...only? Do you swim in a pool instead of the ocean?
    I mean, talking with your friends in a modest way, sure there's a time for that but when it's late and you're stripping back the layers and it's time to work a little blue, what do you do? change the subject, go and make some tea and pass around the scones?

    I dunno, swearing and getting raunchy makes me feel liberated and free.
    I wouldn't give it up.
  16. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Ah, here it is:
    How can the word "lisp" be of imitative origin if no one who lisps can say it? If it was of imitative origin it would be, at the very least, "lithp."
    Well I did say "most people." This rampant migration of families all over the landscape is a recent phenomenon. But more importantly, at least in the media-saturated USA, radio and TV compete with parents for linguistic authority over their children. Network announcers and actors speak in the now-standard hybrid Hollywood-New York accent, where their studios are concentrated. So every generation grows up speaking a more standardized dialect of American English, to the point that they're not even dialects anymore but just accents (differing only in pronunciation rather than grammar and/or vocabulary)
    More precisely, they were rational centuries or millennia ago to the Iron Age or Bronze Age or Stone Age people who unconsciously crafted them. As I noted earlier, many of these ancient paradigms have decayed and are now largely impossible to figure out. Why is sun masculine and moon feminine in Latin, but the other way round in German?
    How about cryptic sexual dimorphism? We've always wondered how birds of most species can tell which ones to court since they all look the same. It turns out that their eyes have more kinds of photoreceptors than ours and they can see up into the ultraviolet spectrum. They have ultraviolet pigmentation that identifies their sex.
    Entertain, comfort, educate, nourish, transport, babysit, protect...
    Everything in moderation. People who insert one or more four-letter words into every sentence are likely to offend the more sensitive among us and bore the others. But to understand their impact and to therefore use them sparingly and judiciously is simply to make use of the entire vocabulary that the language provides.
  17. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Why? Do you suppose that rousing fear and conferring favor are the only important things we can do for each other? Isn't that a rather Paleolithic model of a human community?

    It is, precisely, a model of a family, the only type of community that existed in the Paleolithic Era.

    Today we perform more complex transactions, in which each party confers something to the other, whether it be a feeling (such as the joy that results from entertainment), a service (such as transport or protection), a tangible good (such as a pair of shoes or a bottle of wine), or money (which is nothing more or less than a record of surplus wealth which one redeems at a later time subject to the vagaries of the market).

    I suppose you could regard those as "favors," but in modern English the word "favor" generally stands for something conferred in a non-transactional way, out of friendship, charity, love, guilt, or hope of eventual reciprocation.

    The whole point of the post-Neolithic economy is the leveraging of human labor into an explosion of surplus wealth: production serving a purpose other than survival. Each succeeding Paradigm Shift (Civilization, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Industrial Revolution, Electronic Age) has increased that surplus by more than one order of magnitude. It was put to service in the creation of infrastructure so we now have roads and mechanized farms and TV networks that we consider essential, yet they do not directly support survival.

    And they are all created transactionally, not (in most cases) by people rousing fear in each other or conferring favors on each other.

    How many times in a week do you rouse fear or confer favor on someone outside your nuclear family and circle of intimate friends? Do you dismiss everything else you do during that week as inconsequential?
  19. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Paleolithic reading skills are outdated, too.

    The statement was:

    He who neither rouses fear by his anger, nor confers a favour when he is pleased, can neither control nor protect.
    What can he do?

    The person who neither rouses fear by his anger, nor confers a favor when he is pleased,
    is not capable of either protecting nor controlling anyone or anything.
    Only someone whose anger rouses fear in others, and who can confer a favor when he is pleased, is someone who can control and protect.

    Control and protection are what is sought.
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    On what planet in what millennium? Everyone needs leadership and security, but we also need all the other things I mentioned, from education and transportation to entertainment and plumbing. And it takes a considerably greater percentage of the population to provide the latter than the former.

    Even if you count every American who receives a paycheck from the federal government as employed in the leadership and protection industries (which they are not, unless you count sitting around all day "administering" each other as some Goldbergian type of leadership, and chasing the world's largest Islamic terrorist organization into a country with nuclear weapons, a dysfunctional government and no affection for the United States as some surrealistic type of security), they comprise no more than ten percent of the adult population.
  21. scheherazade Northern Horse Whisperer Valued Senior Member

    This is still the slang and profanity discussion thread, correct?

    Here is a medium using profanity that has me chuckling.....Can't have you lot thinking that I have no sense of ha-ha (and a spotless house, lol....NOT.)

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  22. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Always, everywhere.
    Control and protection are an integral part of a successful education, transportation and all the other things you mention.
  23. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    That's a rather unbalanced perspective on civilization. It can be argued that communication is a much more fundamental part of all of those things--especially when they're successful.

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    How integral is protection to entertainment, one of the most sought-after services and one of the fastest growing sectors in the post-industrial economy? I suppose a police car cruises past the strip mall in which the club where my band is playing is located every couple of hours, but that seems like an example of perfunctory rather than integral. When I'm watching TV at home they don't come by even once a week.

    I suppose you're going to say that the FCC's ban on salty language and nudity, even when everyone's kids are in bed, is protecting me from my own base instincts? Considering that I summarily vote against the Religious Redneck Retard politicians who support such bans, I'm hardly going to count that sort of "protection" as integral to a smoothly operating civilization.

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