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Thursday, March 5, 2015

My Fare Lady?

If you speak properly it is because you are privileged. At least that is the assessment of Melissa A. Fabello writing for Everyday Feminism. It's not just white privilege but rather a seemingly endless list of unearned advantages very subtly placed in women's way by heterosexual white supremacists. There is Educational Privilege, Class Privilege, Race Privilege, Native Language Privilege, and Ability Privilege. The title of the post, Why Grammar Snobbery Has No Place in the Movement, tips off the reader how Ms Fabello feels about this hegemony and she will suffer none of it. Not in my movement! One can almost picture Doctor Johnson or Noah Webster lying awake at night conjuring up these traps to trip up feminists a few hundred years down the road.
British author and playwright George Bernard Shaw knew a little about language and socialism too. He was a member of the Fabian Society, a socialist middle class movement not much different from our own green movement which is populated mostly by white upper middle class yuppies. Being a heterosexual white male Shaw was blind to his white privilege, his race privilege, his white beard privilege and all the other privileges that make earning a living in contemporary America possible and he found humor in verbal class privilege. He of course wrote Pygmalion which was rewritten a generation later into My Fair Lady. His lesson; if you want to be treated as serious person speak like one.
Where is Edwin Newman when we really need him? Sadly, Mr Newman left this world in 2010 at the age of 91 but his Strictly Speaking and A Civil Tongue were best sellers. I remember one passage where he remarked that while the New York Times's motto was "all the news that's fit to print" the English certainly was not. One could argue that he had privilege, at least by Ms Fabello's definition but so did the writers he critiqued. He riddled the best publications of his time not idiotic feminist blogs.
Let's see what makes grammar oppressive.
Plainly and simply, from a linguistics perspective, grammar is a set of rules that governs a language. There are many parts that make up a language – including morphology, phonology, semantics, syntax, and pragmatics – and grammar is the one that tells us how to compose sentences so that they make sense.
Grammar is what tells us that “In woman’s a the is place revolution” doesn’t make sense, but “A woman’s place is in the revolution” does. It lets us know how to string our words together so that we can successfully communicate.
The debate is in the question of what entails “successful communication.” And there are two schools of thought on this.
Prescriptive grammar – which is what “grammar snobs” champion – says that there’s such a thing as one true, honest, pure form of a language and that only that version is correct or acceptable.
Descriptive grammar, on the other hand, argues that however a language is being used to communicate effectively is correct – because that is the basic purpose of language.
So, if a person wrote a Facebook comment that said “That their was an example of cissexism,” a prescriptive grammarian might comment back, “I think you mean ‘there,’” and a descriptive grammarian might respond, “You understood what they meant.”
And while both schools are accepted forms of linguistic thought, it’s important to note that any time we create a hierarchy by positioning one thing as “better” than another, we’re being oppressive.
Maybe she has a future at HHS were the meaning of "state healthcare exchange" seems to reside in the mind of the reader. Not very precise but at least it's not oppressive. How about, "Its two cold to sit around in hour underwhere?" That's not oppressive but I would never hire anyone who wrote like that.
The point is feminism is no longer a movement it's a career choice. It's an occupation and in Ms Fabello's case one that requires three degrees which according to her came at considerable expense. It's not learning; it's merely academic whoring. It is a workfare program for those to vain to work. It's sole mission seems to be to make sophistry a virtue. The grammar grievance is contrived to keep the devoted from drifting into organic gardening or careers inveighing against gmo's, childhood vaccinations, or the World Trade Organization. A new diet of grievances must be served up almost weekly (weakly ?) lest they lose interest. Maybe the next generation of feminist will go into carpentry or plumbing or something that actually benefits society but until then I'm afraid we are reading one of the best and the brightest.


  1. I routinely ran into this in graduate English courses, where grammar was determined to be "standard" or "non-standard." Standard was pooh-poohed as part of the establishment, although the pooh poohers were establishmentarians. It seems snobbery has been turned on its head, depending on the proclivities of the snobs.

    1. I find a lot of quirky things about speech which I think most people are concerned about more than writing. I once worked with a man who had lost his his wife and two children together with almost all of his extended family in the Holocaust. He was in the Polish army and spent the war in a Soviet work camp in Siberia. His English was terrible both in construction and pronunciation but my God I've lost count of the languages he could speak. I don't know if he spoke any of them better than English but he could communicate in Polish, English, Hebrew, Russian, German, and all of the Romance languages. I don't think he strove for perfection or really cared to learn proper grammar. I lived in New York and I would watch him converse with foreign tourists. He would start in English and maybe switch language four times in the course of a conversation.

      I always thought Henry Kissinger worked very hard to keep his accent because it gave him gravitas on the other hand maybe he never cared to drop it. He has lived here since he was 15. Another instance. I knew a Chinese girl who I used to tease because of her accent. She was born in Rock Springs, Wyoming and her parents did not migrate here-her grand parents did. When I was in my 20's people Jasper, Indiana had German accents even though there had been no great in migration since before WWI. I find language very fascinating.