How They Talkin’

From Peter Haney at Linguistic Anthropology:

… a strategy of condescension occurs when someone at the top of a social hierarchy adopts the speech or style of those at the bottom. With such a move, the dominant actor seeks to profit from the inequality that he or she ostensibly negates. When Anglo politicians, for example, trot out a few words of broken Spanish on the U.S. campaign trail, they hope to benefit from the unspoken rule that political discourse here will occur in English. It is precisely that rule that leads some voters who identify with the Spanish language to see its use as a thoughtful gesture on the politician’s part. Although Palin’s campaign persona represents an extreme example of the strategy of condescension, she was not the only candidate to take such an approach. Vice President Elect Joe Biden’s endless allusions to his childhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania and visits to Home Depot are also textbook examples. Note that for Biden, being an ordinary guy is all about consumption and style rather than labor. When President Elect Barack Obama said in his acceptance speech that the change he represented had been “a long time comin’,” he replaced the nasal consonant represented by “ng” in English spelling with that represented by “n.” In the U.S., this substitution connotes informality and is popularly associated with both White working class and African American vernacular speech. White middle-class liberal friends of mine have criticized Palin for her colloquialism and have expressed longing for a vice president who could, in their words, “prounounce a g.” Most of these friends render “ng” as “n” themselves in unguarded moments, of course, although few of them use her regionally marked nasalized vowels. They key difference here is that my friends believe that Obama can use the formal, standard register of English and that Sarah Palin cannot. I am less convinced of the Governor’s linguistic inflexibility. But it is clear in any case that those who mock her speech see her apparent lack of access to privileged styles as a sign of other, more serious deficiencies.

 

This is precisely the risk of a strategy of condescension. Bourdieu notes that a dominant actor who symbolically negates hierarchies must do so “without appearing to be ignorant or incapable of satisfying their demands” (1991:69). In her effort to play with hierarchies of linguistic competence, Sarah Palin failed to convince voters that she was above the game. Her attempt to present herself as plain folks failed precisely because people believed it. Joe Biden, by contrast, failed less badly because people, on some level, did not believe him. Another interesting contrast is the case of Senator Hillary Clinton, who was roundly mocked for aping the speech of audiences in the South on the campaign trail. In Clinton’s case, national audiences found her affected drawl so different from her usual speaking style that they doubted its authenticity. Palin inspired no such doubts, but this alone does not explain her failure. Remember that the current occupant of the White House is the scion of an elite New England political family who used language to convince the world that he was a Texas cowboy. His colloquialisms were as forced and robotic as Palin’s, and they succeeded equally well in giving him a common touch with the public. That both Palin and Bush convinced the country of their speech styles’ authenticity is clear from the work of comedians who satirize them. Tina Fey’s overrated Saturday Night Live parody, which recast the Alaska governor as a defanged, rustic ingénue, reinforced rather than questioning Palin’s “Wasilla hillbilly” persona. Similarly, the legion of comedians who lampoon Bush never show him letting the Good Old Boy act lapse while relaxing with Poppy. Belief was not the issue here. But few voters appear to have worried about Bush’s competence or command of policy until after the disastrous consequences of his policies and tactics became clear. These same voters would not give Palin a chance. What explains this difference?

Check this out for the answer

via wood s lot

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