ozarque (ozarque) wrote,
ozarque
ozarque

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Linguistics; verbal self-defense; verbal attacks versus verbal attack patterns

This will be a very hasty post -- I'm swamped today. A house to clean, a fruitcake to baste again with rum, an Annual Meeting to attend (and write the minutes for), company for dinner, three hefty stacks of materials to sort for my January/February newsletters, a batch of urgent correspondence to tend to -- plus whatever just happens by in the midst of the chaos ....

Edg commented:
"Out of curiosity, what do you make of inverted 'If you REALLY loved me...' attacks -- by which I mean self-directing it: 'If I REALLY loved you, I'd do X'? It's certainly still an attack upon -- or at least a challenge to -- the person being addressed, but it seems to me that it requires an entirely different set of defusing mechanisms."

I'm intrigued by the suggestion that "If I REALLY loved you, I'd do X" is an inversion of the "If you REALLY loved me..." VAP, but I would need to see a lot more information -- plus examples and dialogues -- before I could say whether I agree with that claim. I doubt that edg would be interested in going to that amount of trouble, and will just try to explain.

There are an infinite number of verbal attacks in American English (and in every living human language), and they take all sorts of shapes. Shouting "Stupid HILLBILLY!" at somebody is a verbal attack. Saying "It's INCOMPREHENSIBLE to me that someone of your obvious intelligence could make a statement as convoluted and irrational as what YOU just SAID!" is a verbal attack.

I can well imagine an attack in which someone says "If I REALLY loved you, I'd STOP wasting MONEY the way I do!"; it may be that that's the sort of thing edg had in mind. (And it seems to me -- fascinatingly -- that it's a way of saying "I don't really love you" rather than focusing on the wasting of money, which might well require a different defusing strategy.) We can identify that sentence as hostile language, and as an example of the Satir Mode called "Blaming," because it contains all those emphatic acoustic stresses that aren't needed for any purpose except to convey hostility.

The Verbal Attack Patterns, on the other hand, have a specific set of identifying characteristics, which is why I use the capital letters -- in an attempt to differentiate them from plain vanilla "verbal attack patterns". (I should have named them something else entirely, made up from scratch and impossible to confuse with words of ordinary English -- like "kaflugs," or some such thing -- but I didn't know that in the late 60s and early 70s when I first started working with them and writing about them.) My guess is that there are no more than 25 of these VAPs for American English -- but that's just a guess; I could certainly be wrong. I find another one every now and then, or someone points out a new one to me, and I'm always looking for them. (Like "DON'T tell ME you didn't know it was Friday!", which came my way only recently) All VAPs are patterns for hostile utterances, but not all hostile utterances are examples of VAPs.

I know that "If you REALLY [x], YOU would/wouldn't [y]!" is in fact an American English VAP, and that "A person who REALLY [x] would/wouldn't [y]!" is a variant of that VAP constructed by shifting it from Blaming Mode to Computing Mode. I have no idea whether "If I REALLY [x], I would/wouldn't [y]!" is also one of its variants, because I don't have enough data. But it's an interesting linguicreature, and I'm grateful to edg for bringing it up.

Suzette
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