what’s up with my bad?

September 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

The internet seems to be a place for people to vent, and vent they will. World hunger makes you mad? The ever deepening divide between rich and poor gets your thought juices flowing? It seems that many people would rate these as lesser evils than the coining of new expressions.

Recently, I happened to peruse the site of the Vocabula Review …. sounds like something linguists would like, no?
Well, no. At least, not this linguist. I thought I was going to read about some interesting new items of vocabulary or the like. In a roundabout way I did. But I had to wade though a mire of beardpulling, handwringing and nasal-flaring indignation to read about the emergence of ‘back in the day’ and ‘chode’ or the ghastliness of the non-standard ‘alright’. But being a good little interacter … this being web 2.0 I went and did the one of the site’s polls below:

Vocabula Poll
“My bad.” My what a clever and concise way of expressing regret or sorrow or acknowledging having made a mistake.

  • Right on, bro. I don’t mind making mistakes now — maybe I even seek to make them — so much do I like saying “My bad.”
  • The beauty of “my bad” is that I no longer have to say “I’m sorry.” I hate saying “I’m sorry.” And now I don’t need to. “My bad” says it all.
  • “My bad,” though uttered only by morons, is embraced, celebrated, and applauded by linguists and other troglodytes.

Can you guess the results?

  • “My bad.” My what a clever and concise way of expressing regret or sorrow or acknowledging having made a mistake.
  • Right on, bro. I don’t mind making mistakes now — maybe I even seek to make them — so much do I like saying “My bad.”:             6%
  • The beauty of “my bad” is that I no longer have to say “I’m sorry.” I hate saying “I’m sorry.” And now I don’t need to. “My bad” says it all.:       14%
  • “My bad,” though uttered only by morons, is embraced, celebrated, and applauded by linguists and other troglodytes.:    80%  (empahisis mine)

I don’t think I am a my bad-sayer which makes me either a linguist or a troglodyte. My question however is this;  how is intelligence-graded vocabulary  acquired? Social dialects and geography-based varieties are easily accounted for by theories of acquisition and variationist sociolinguistics. I wonder if we need a new theory for IQ based dialects? Social networks or communities of practice, perhaps?

Wait, perhaps there is another answer.

Perhaps we should come up with a theory that explains why people who use particular forms of language  are subject to attitudes from those that consider themselves linguistically or socially superior. Pierre Bourdieu is probably the man for the job. Language, or one’s ability to control particular styles, codes or registers of language is a form of wealth to be displayed in the marketplace, according to the famed French sociologist.

Language performance, for Bourdieu, is not so much indexical of linguistic competence but indicative of wealth, class background, and social status. Speakers bring to the linguistic market different linguistic capital that, through the habitus, predisposes them to certain expressive modes and competencies.
http://psychology.jrank.org/pages/1947/Pierre-Bourdieu.html
Differences in linguistic performance are differences in linguistic capital which correlate to difference in social standing – in the parlance of Bourdieu, this is a matter of taste. Some tastes are vulgar, alright, and some have distinction, all right. These displays, dismissive of new ways of speaking – new pronunciations, neologisms and restructuring of old expressions, are a display of this form of capital by those who clearly have invested in a particular form of language ‘purism’.  Denigrating others’ linguistic capital is a form of symbolic violence wielded in the unshaking belief of their rightness over others. The  styles of course that are deemed right are cast as rules and secure the language of the powerful as prestigious, encoded in grammars disseminated by them. But really we need to remind ourselves of Bourdieu’s choice of words here – taste.  Taste is about predilection, personal choice, shaped of course by the social world of one’s milieu. But in the end, despite what we might think about ‘my bad’ or crushed velvet tracksuits, taste is not about right or wrong. If this be error, and upon me proved, to quote Shakespeare, my bad.
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