December 3rd, 2004

ozarque figure

Linguistics; verbal self-defense; Verbal Attack Pattern examples

I've kept thinking all morning that I'd find a free minute to write a post for today, but it's afternoon now and I can see that it's not going to happen. Which makes it a good time to post something I've been asked for and already have written. I've had a request -- "Please post a list of the English Verbal Attack Patterns" -- on hold for a very long time. I'll do that now, and then tomorrow I should be able to get back to metaphors.

I think the simplest solution is to post a list of verbal attacks that are examples of the patterns, which will let me avoid posting a pageful of squiggles and doodads and mathematical variables. You have the actual patterns stored in your longterm memory along with the patterns for forming questions and commands; the fact that you'll have no problem constructing additional examples will demonstrate that for you.

All those capital letters below don't mean I'm yelling at you; they're just there to mark the extra emphatic stresses. Please look at the examples as if you were looking at a batch of Petri dishes of nasty viruses. Here's the list....

1. "If you REALLY wanted to understand linguistics, YOU'D read the TEXTbook!" "If you really CARED about your health, YOU wouldn't SMOKE!" "If you REALLY cared about your grades, YOU'D get your work in on TIME!"

1a. "A person who REALLY wanted to understand linguistics would READ the TEXTbook!" "A man who REALLY wanted to get ahead in this world wouldn't DRESS like a THUG!" "A woman with any sense of decency at ALL would look after her KIDS properly!"

2. "EVen a CHILD should be able to understand THAT movie!" "EVEN somebody YOUR age should be able to balance a CHECKbook!" "EVEN an elitist like YOU should have SOME compassion for the poor!"

3. "DON'T you even CARE IF ALL THE NEIGHBORS ARE LAUGHING AT YOU?" "DON'T you even CARE about world HUNGER?" "DON'T you even CARE if you're BREAKING your father's HEART?"

4. "SOME people would REALLY BE MAD if you came to work late every day!" "SOME parents would refuse to put UP with all those four-letter words!" "SOME employers would FIRE a person who couldn't follow instructions!"

5. "You could at LEAST call your MOTHer!" "You could at LEAST keep your ROOM clean!" "You could at LEAST TRY to be civil!"

6. "WHY do you ALWAYS make me look STUPID in front of my FRIENDS?" "WHY don't you EVER think about what OTHER people might want to do?" "WHY do you NEVER try to make ME happy?"

6a. "WHY do you eat SO MUCH JUNK food?" "WHY do you spend ALL your TIME on the INTERnet?" "WHY are you SO stubborn and SO INCONSIDerate?"

7. "EVERYbody underSTANDS why you aren't able to handle your share of the WORK, dear." "EVERYbody underSTANDS why the patients are all AFRAID of you, Doctor." "Everybody in TOWN understands why you can't make FRIENDS, you know."

8. "YOU'RE not the ONLY person with PROBlems, you know!" "YOU'RE not the only patient I HAVE, you know!" "YOU'RE not the ONLY one who hates doing DISHES, you know!"

9. "EVEN if you DO lose your job, WE won't hold it against you!" "EVEN if you DO flunk, WE won't treat you any differently!" "EVEN if you DID lie about it, WE'LL still like you!"

10. "Don't tell ME you didn't know it was Friday!!" "Don't tell ME you didn't know that was supposed to be for dinner!" "Don't tell ME you thought it was okay to say that!"

11. "You KNOW I'd never tell you what to DO, dear, but if you marry that man you'll REGRET it." "You KNOW I'd never tell you how to DRESS, dear, but if you wear that SHIRT you'll be a LAUGHINGstock." "You KNOW I'd never ask you to make an exception for ME, dear, but if you DON'T lend me the money you'll never forGIVE yourself!"

12. "YOU'RE only DOING that to make me FEEL bad!" "You're only DOING that to get ATTENtion!" "YOU'RE only SAYING that because you're SCARED!"

In unseemly haste,

ozarque figure

Linguistics; verbal self-defense; verbal attack patterns; Irish English

When I posted the list of verbal attack pattern (VAP) examples yesterday, I should have referred back to two posts on October 21, 2004, that had some basic introductory material about them ..... and I was in such a hurry that I forgot to do that. To some extent, I'm sorry -- I suppose that in the interests of efficiency I'm sorry. On the other hand, my mistake brought in so many interesting comments and questions that I'm finding it hard to be sorry. I'm not going to abandon the metaphor discussion we've been involved in; not to worry. However, I do need to straighten out the confusion I created. This gives me a chance to find out whether I can juggle both topics at the same time while observing the constraints imposed on me by the month of December. I am just fascinated. [This funny detachment-while-observing-your-own-language-behavior, bordering on disassociation, is one of the skills you acquire if you survive a linguistics Ph.D. program.]

Let's start with this comment from Dorianegray:
"What I found particularly interesting about this set of examples was that in many cases it was the phrases rather than the stresses used that alerted me to the fact that the sentence was an attack; I wonder if it's because I'm Irish and we wouldn't always stress things the same way as Americans (or any other native-English-speaking group you care to name)? The fact that some of these phrases automatically make me (and other Irish people) think an attack is coming can make having a sensible and productive conversation about an interpersonal problem very difficult at times."

Everything that I write about the VAPs I've identified applies only to American English, and I say that every chance I get. If you go back to the earlier posts you'll find me complaining because for decades I've been pleading with my colleagues in linguistics who speak other languages (including other Englishes) to work out the verbal attack patterns for their native tongues. Without success. They don't think it's important; they don't think it's worth their time. I respectfully disagree.

The lack of information about the VAPs in other languages and other Englishes is a serious problem in medicine, for example, where top-level professionals are often foreigners speaking one of the foreign Englishes, and where there may be large populations of patients who speak a foreign English or no English at all. When I do medical seminars I give the participants two warnings: (1) When you use these VAPs with people whose native language is not American English, you can never be certain that they'll understand what you mean; and (2) when you hear one of these VAPs from people whose native language isn't American English, it's never safe to assume that it's hostile. The medpros come back at me immediately with a request for information about VAPs in the other languages (and other Englishes) they have to deal with, and are justifiably annoyed when I have to tell them I can't provide it. Identifying those patterns can only be done by a native speaker -- either one trained in linguistics, or one working with a linguist -- and there's only one of me. I treasure every bit of information that's given to me about hostile language beyond that of American English; I add it all to my database, and I share it as widely as I'm able. But it doesn't even scratch the surface of what's needed. Of course an Irish brogue [or Scottish intonation, or East English intonation, or (vamp till ready)] is going to introduce confusion as it interacts with the melody of hostile American English. And I know absolutely nothing at all about the grammar of Irish (or Irish English) hostility.

It's also important to remember that within American English a variety of different patterns of stress are possible for each attack pattern, depending on what other words are used and what the attacker considers most important. I can say "If you REALLY loved me, you'd get a JOB" or "If you really LOVED me, you'd get a JOB," depending; if I add a few more words to that, the stresses may have to shift to follow other rules. When you have a grammar of AE stored in your longterm memory, you make all these adjustments automatically and without the slightest hesitation -- but explaining how that's done is a life's work for a linguist. The human brain is a miracle.

Enough for now... I just want to add one quick item to tie this off. Dorianegray also commented that "Some of the phrases that might be used to make it clear that what's coming isn't an attack have been 'hijacked' into the attack lexicon," and she gave some examples, including these two: "I don't mean to make you feel bad, but..." and "Now, don't take this the wrong way, but..." What she's identifying here is an utterance pattern that linguists call a "Hedge." Hedges should always be avoided whenever that's possible, because they're a way of saying something, predicting the response without letting the other person decide what it will be and then responding to that unsaid item, all at the same time. They're very irritating. The prototypical example of a Hedge is "I know this is a stupid question, but...."

ozarque figure

Linguistics; poem; "Skullhold"


The brain is rather small;
just about as wide, just about as tall,
as the skull it lives in.
Tap it even lightly, it will swell
and kill you. It just barely fits
where it sits.

On the other hand, there is the mind.
In all the universe, we cannot find
anything that's larger. The mind stores
infinities of metaphors, ready to be broken
to the tongue. Ready to be spoken.

No one can explain
how the spacious mind fits in the brain.