Saturday, October 18, 2008

Peggy Noonan on political speech and g-dropping

From the Wall Street Journal, here.
More than ever on the campaign trail, the candidates are dropping their G's. Hardworkin' families are strainin' and tryin'a get ahead. It's not only Sarah Palin but Mr. McCain, too, occasionally Mr. Obama, and, of course, George W. Bush when he darts out like the bird in a cuckoo clock to tell us we are in crisis. All of the candidates say "mom and dad": "our moms and dads who are struggling." This is Mr. Bush's former communications adviser Karen Hughes's contribution to our democratic life, that you cannot speak like an adult in politics now, that's too austere and detached, snobby. No one can say mothers and fathers, it's all now the faux down-home, patronizing—and infantilizing—moms and dads. Do politicians ever remember that in a nation obsessed with politics, our children—sorry, our kids—look to political figures for a model as to how adults sound?
Noonan goes after Palin fiercely — it's called "Palin's Failin'", and she calls Palin's candidacy "a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics".

But to language: First, all you need to know about 'g-dropping' is here. On the one hand, this piece is bringing peevology squarely into the political arena: "A pox on all your houses, you ill-bred, colloquially-enunciating oafs! James, another martini, please." On the other, many people, even far beyond the vast hordes of peevologists, who see this kind of colloquial speech on the campaign trail as faux down-home and patronizing. It's notable that she uses "austere and detached, snobby" to describe more traditional and to her mind appropriate, political speech — terms that have been used critically about Obama. I wonder what politicians sound like adults to her ear, maybe Bill Clinton in giving a major speech? Oh wait, Nicholas Kristof just wrote a column about "Obama the intellectual", here. And yes, the piece even touches on language: He praises Obama for using longer sentences that McCain does.

The image is a cover of the New Internationalist from a year ago … here.


The Ridger, FCD said...

I would be extremely wary of branding someone as "faux populist" just for dropping g's - unless, of course, they drop the wrong ones.

Saying "that's a nice rin' your boyfriend gave you", for instance, or "I'm goin' to tell you" (as opposed to "goin' to town").

Someone has to add other things before I begin to they aren't just talkin'. Y'know? You betcha!

Ollock said...

I honestly have no idea whether I g-drop or not. But I know that often people who have too much of the "ing" variant can sound a little off to me -- though there might be concurrent features at play there. And of course, the worst sound to my ears is the hypercorrection that actually adds an audible 'g' sound to the end of it.

Ollock said...

Oh! I just thought about this!

Hilarious enough, in Spanish a kind of "g-addition" (a phonological rule /n/ -> [N] word-finally) marks a Carribean accent. I have no idea if there are any sociolinguistic attitudes attatched (r/l confusion -- another Carribean feature -- seems to be a bit maligned).

The Ridger, FCD said...

Where I grew up I heard little boys teased for saying "saying" instead of "sayin" - their male relatives would tell them they "sounded like a girl". No one really cared if a girl dropped g's or not (hmmm, that sounds vaguely dirty), but boys learned not to.

Again, only in certain cases.

I think most Americans drop way more gs than they think they do.

John Cowan said...

The morpheme-final [ŋg] pronunciationn isn't a hypercorrection but a genuine accent variety, found (among other places) in Birmingham, England, and Long Island, New York, both of which names happen to exhibit the phenomenon. The latter is sometimes written "Long Guyland" for that reason.

Anonymous said...

Re: the writer who wrote where he grew up boys who didn't drop their g's were teased: where did you grow up? Given that dropping g's seems to be a class phenomena, why is it a class phenomena? It's just as easy to learn to speak either way, what's the reason for the distinction?

Ollock said...


Probable scenario:

1 Innovation starts in the middle class.

2 Lower classes are isolated from the variant and keep the older variant (not much social contact between classes -- true in modern society and probably moreso in the time period we're talking about)

3 middle-class variant get's into the upper class (I'm going from the bits of history LL gave, that the g-adding began in the middle class)

4 upper and middle classes start to look down on the barbarians with the other variant

... That feels like a good answer.

rpmason said...

Would we rather Palin started using Received Pronunciation? "Hello, my name is Sarar Pahlin." I’m not a Palin fan but that’s the way she speaks. She winks about it and the blogs go wild - more publicity.

For me, it’s when the schtick is false that’s bothersome. I'm currently working in urban Missouri where almost no one says 'Missourah'. However, visiting politicians think they’ll offend the locals if they don't pronounce the state's name as if they were raised in them thar hills. Give me real speech any day.