Thursday, June 5, 2008

The politics of language

You probably thought, like me, that the correct use of apostrophes was an aid to writing clearly and unambiguously. But no. According to my fellow Dom Post columnist Janet Holmes, who teaches something called socio-linguistics at Victoria University, it’s a means of enforcing an oppressive class structure.

In her language column this week, Holmes made a case for the abolition of the apostrophe. Fair enough. But what was interesting was the novel justification she gave: “In my opinion apostrophes are largely redundant punctuational paraphernalia, supported by those who have learned how to use them in order to keep those who haven’t in their subordinate place.”

So there. You may have thought you were simply following the rules of good grammar in using apostrophes, but it turns out they are just another instrument used by an exploitative ruling class to keep the proletariat in its place.

Further on she writes: “The truth is that people who have learned how to use apostrophes have a vested interest in maintaining them … This is basically a way of sorting the wheat from the chaff. Its [sic] a means some employers use to decide who they will employ and who they wont [sic].”

This a strikingly clear illustration of the neo-Marxist nonsense that infests New Zealand universities and sees everything in terms of an imaginary class struggle.

The same academic recently took a shot at me for defending the use of words like “actress” and “waitress”, which I argued were perfectly legitimate, non-discriminatory grammatical devices for distinguishing women from men. The rigid feminist view is that any word with the suffix “ess” can only be a means of oppressing women. So language is now politicised to the extent that ideologically driven reformers even insist on denying biological reality.

Language provides fertile ground for the ideologues. They seem to regard the rules of grammar not as sensible ways of ensuring precision and clarity – which is how most of us see them – but as the tools of an oppressive, anachronistic hierarchical system.

The rules of pronunciation are viewed similarly. Clear pronunciation – and I don’t mean exaggeratedly “proper” BBC newsreader English – is an aid to understanding, just as good grammar is. But it now seems to be viewed as elitist, which helps explain why we have a generation of radio and TV reporters whose speech is as euphonious as the noise made by fighting cats.


poneke said...

Clear pronunciation – and I don’t mean exaggeratedly “proper” BBC newsreader English – is an aid to understanding, just as good grammar is.

I watch the BBC World news each night rather than any of the NZ bulletins, as it has more straight news of the kind that interests me.

I can assure you that "BBC English" is now a thing of the past. While the diction etc remains good, the accent is no longer on the RP accent. Much of it is now Estuary English and pleasant to the NZ ear, but there is a wide variety of accents, not to mention reporters and presenters.

Steve Withers said...

I have to agree with you. I see language as tool that can be more powerful when used with skill and precision. People who care enough to try to use language properly (and I try to....keyboard allowing) aren't a secret society or an elite excluding people.

Buster said...

Karl has hit the Russell Brown nail on the head.
Brown is too inflexibly left wing and PC to be a suitable host and moderator for a debate such as that on the Massey paper on Pacific Islanders. Like Dim Hill, and the other scions of Radio NZ and TVNZ, Brown is far too predictable in his views to be interesting.

As for Dreaver: she comes across as excited to the point almost of breathlessness, shallow, and as du Fresne points out, an activist advocate on behalf of whatever Pacific Islands issue she is covering rather than as an independent, balanced journalist. If a palangi journalist covered Pacific affairs in such an unbalanced way, but in favour of white NZ, he or she wouldn't survive a week on state TV. TVNZ is chauvinistic and condescending by allowing a second, lower standard for a minority reporter.

Oscar can often be humorous, but he should be ashamed of debating this issue without having read the paper. Oscar also has created a persona as a Pacific Islander albeit as a funny one, rather than as a plain vanilla journalist. He revels in his role as a minority celebrity and ethnic comedian. This makes it difficult to take him seriously as a straight-up journalist or political commentator.

FreeView will never match Sky with crap like this.