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Archive for February, 2015

America’s Linguistic Hegemony and Its Cultural Locus

The global spread of English in the last century as the world’s lingua franca has come about as the result of cultural and political developments. From the strictly linguistic point of view, it is interesting to note that even speakers of British English have fallen under the cultural sway of America to the extent that they often use American expressions without any knowledge of their trans-Atlantic origins and their original meanings.

This realization transpires when one listens to the various Englishes and accents on the BBC World Service that are not American, but especially the British ones. This morning an obviously British female speaker resorted to the American idiom “play hard ball” (varying it, notably, by emphasizing “hard” through the preposition of the word “very”) in describing the peripeteia attending current EU discussions on Ukraine in Brussels. Anyone familiar with the meaning of the phrase “hard ball” (by contrast with “soft ball”) as deriving from strictly American sports terminology would be able to describe why “play hard ball” came to have an extended meaning beyond its literal meaning in the game of baseball. When the phrase is used, however, by a British female speaker, it somehow loses whatever humble authenticity it may have, since the cultural context that comes with the linguistic usage is lacking on its face.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

The Markedness of the Female Sex

Why do people (of all sexual orientations) speaking English persist in using the syndetic phrase “gays and lesbians” when the epicene word gay alone would do for both male and female homosexuals? As anyone who has read Y-H-B-‘s squib in American Speech (65 [1990], 191-192; see PDF list) knows, the reason has to do with the marked value of the female sex, as of the feminine gender. Since lesbian can only pertain to females, whereas gay does service for both males and females, there is no need to single out females unless males are explicitly being excluded from the universe of discourse. That female homosexuals still require linguistic individuation is strong evidence of the abiding marginal status of the feminine in an age that propagandizes equality of the sexes.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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