February 20th, 2006

ozarque figure

Linguistics; gender and language; heading back toward the node...

The question is: How did we get here and how do we get back -- if we want to get back? Maybe we don't. I've re-read all the material since the beginning of the year, and here's a recap.

Back in January I asked you to help me choose among my list of possible projects for the year 2006..... and you helped me decide that I could at least get started on the verbal self-defense book for kids that people keep asking me for. I explained that my problem with that book was that it had to include hostile language online (usually called "cyberbullying") or it would be useless for today's kids, and that that had been holding me back. I said that I didn't understand what the payoff is for the cyberbully. We discussed that a while, and you educated me thoroughly on the subject, convincing me that there are at least two kinds of payoff: (1) the primary reward that comes from the power to completely disrupt other people's online communication; and (2) the secondary offline reward among groups of kids who know one another and can see effects on their targets that carry over into their offline world.

At which point we suddenly hypertexted off into a discussion of Deborah Tannen's work on mother/daughter communication, which morphed into a discussion of her work on male/female communication, which morphed in turn into a discussion of a set of questions on male/female communication in general. None of this was irrelevant to our discussion of the hypothetical book on verbal self-defense for kids, either online or off. If there really are language behavior patterns in American English that are specifically linked to biological gender -- whether that gender identification is innate, or learned, or a combination of both -- then it would be crucially important for kids of all genders to be aware of those patterns and learn to deal with them.

I remain convinced that for AE there is a set of language behavior items that signal dominance and a set that signal subordination and that adult AE speakers of all genders choose among them based on the power they perceive themselves to have in the specific language interaction. I remain convinced that gender is relevant to that choice only in the statistical sense that adult males tend more often to have more power than adult females in AE society. I see no evidence anywhere that persuades me to change my mind about that, not even in the current "brain research" on neuroanatomical differences between males and females. As several of you have very capably pointed out, we have no way to know whether the neuroanatomical differences are the cause of the differing behaviors or their result, or both, or neither. And as has also been pointed out, we don't have nearly enough of that research to come to any firm conclusions.

A few related questions occur to me now, if we do want to move back to the meta-topic. For example:

Assume for the sake of argument that the position I take on gender and language is accurate for adult AE speakers. (I didn't just make it up out of the air, it's based on more than thirty years of constant study and research and teaching and writing and consulting.) How much does it carry over to children and teenagers, if at all? Maybe there really are AE male and female "genderlects" used by children and teenagers? Maybe functioning as a full-fledged adult who can interact satisfactorily with other full-fledged adults, in AE culture, means growing out of those genderlects? Many of us here -- me included -- have noted that the male/female behavior Tannen describes in her books reminds us vividly of the behavior we associate with a period in our lives from roughly junior high school through perhaps the first year of college, as if her adults were somehow in a state of arrested development.

On the other hand, there's the question of whether the world has changed so drastically in the past ten years that none of this is relevant. Maybe today's youngsters are such utterly different human beings that a whole new communication paradigm is required, and people 40 and over not only don't have the wisdom to help construct that paradigm, they're no longer equipped even to understand it. In which case, perhaps it's a waste of time for me to try to write that book. I'd be sorry, because as I perceive this world now, everything -- everything without exception -- is in such a mess that it breaks my heart and makes me sick to the depths of my soul. My youngest half-dozen grandchildren are going to have to fix that mess, if there is any way it can be fixed; I hate the thought that the only way I could help with that is simply to get out of their way. Still, that's possible.

Over to you.....
ozarque figure

Hobbitry; having the flu in our underground house...

Those of you who were around for the earlier discussion of our underground house (under "Hobbitry" in the index for this blog at http://www.livejournal.com/tools/memories.bml?user=ozarque) will remember that the "heating" section went like this:

"The walls and floors (insulated concrete surrounded by earth and solid limestone) absorb heat all summer long and release it for months into the winter; this means that we never need heat until mid-December. The temperature never falls below 59 degrees, even if it's well below zero outdoors... and if we'd never had any heating mechanisms we could have managed. However, George isn't fond of that temperature extreme, so we started with a small woodstove for heating in the front room. And then 'adjustments' had to be made.

The woodstove is lovely in theory, and pretty to look at, but it didn't work at all for heating the house -- because it worked far too well. What happens is that even with a well-built and well-managed fire in that stove the temperature in the house goes to 85 degrees in about five minutes flat, and keeps right on going up. It's not that we don't know how to build the fire properly -- we do. But the house is so energy-efficient that very little heat turns into far too much heat in a hurry, and then there's nowhere for it to go. So, instead of the woodstove, we run a small electric heater (and all those fluorescent lights) during the day; we have no heat in the house at night, ever, and have never needed any. In our little dog's crate we put one of those round plastic heating disks that you activate with five minutes in the microwave, and that keeps her warm all night."

Well, all of that is true. And for the past decade -- during which neither of us has had the flu even once -- it has worked perfectly. Ordinarily, we don't notice. We're busy, we put on a couple of extra layers of clothing and go on about our business, we're under the covers at night, three weeks go by and it's springtime, and it never occurs to us that it's cold in here. We are uncomfortable in other people's houses and in public places, which we perceive as vastly overheated. However, it turns out that when you get the flu at age 70, in a house that for five consecutive days never gets warmer than 62 degrees, you notice it more. Things like taking a shower acquire a uniquely challenging aspect. Things like trips to the bathroom during the night acquire a uniquely challenging aspect. Staying under the covers in the daytime instead of getting out from under them and getting the work done -- not to mention getting food prepared and dishes washed and similar truck -- acquires a newlyseductive aspect.

As for taking Sheba out for her bathroom functions: My husband deserves some sort of Distinguished Courage Medal for going out with her into the snow, and the dark, and the wind, and the sleet, day after day. Fever or no fever; flu or no flu. I am impressed. (If you are wondering why she can't just go out by herself, it's because she would be eaten instantly. She's a tiny white five-pound cuddly creature, and she wouldn't last two minutes outside by herself. There are hawks. Giant owls. Bald eagles. Coyotes. Badgers. Foxes. Bobcats. Mountain lions. Bears. Wild dog packs. And more.)

This too, as my grandmother always said, shall pass. And next year, George says, he's getting a flu shot.