The Legend of Trey—Hemeralda Ilissey SpecGram Vol CLXIII, No 3 Contents Prescriptive Linguistics—The Future of our Field—Anonymous

Notes on Sociophonology

Lea Kim Shopmont
Associate Professor of Communication
Ancilla College, Indiana

There have been numerous studies of the linguistic correlates of race, class, and gender that serve to show that all forms of social oppression leave indelible traces on the speech, and by obvious extension minds and spirits, of the afflicted speakers. However, many such studies are flawed in missing the forest for the trees: Instrumental studies of the speech of different races, classes, and genders are strictly phonetic and do not delve into the structures of their respective speech varieties to lay bare the systematic regularities that reflect, recapitulate, and inculcate the structures of oppression in society.

Consider, for example, the all-too-common deplorable practice in languages of marking gender. Instrumental studies that focus on small differences in formant means between speakers simply do not address the distinction that such sexist languages draw between male and female persons. In Italian, for example, it is well known that singular feminine nouns require agreement marked by suffixes ending in a, whereas singular masculine agreement is marked with o. No linguist has remarked on the clear and evident fact that the vowel height is correlated with social standing: Women have a lower status in patriarchal society that is reflected in a low vowel. Similarly, masculine nouns in the plural are marked with a high vowel i, feminine nouns with a mid vowel e. The fact that a group of women is marked at the same vowel height as an individual man reflects their respective social standings, as shown by the fact that the gender of a single baby boy stuck in a battalioness of 1000 Amazon warriatrices determines the grammatical gender of the whole group. Similarly, the fact that groups of men are marked with vowels higher than any other marking for gender reflects the patriarchal character of western society. While it is not yet clear what social factors vowel frontness and rounding correspond to, they are almost certainly not good for women.

The systematic, exceptionless refusal to notice such blatant correlations between linguistic structure and social structure cries out for explanation. Naturally, such a grotesquely myopic view of the field cannot be innocent; the mockery and abuse with which former publications of this researcher have been dismissed and silenced by the American linguistic establishment show that the Old Boys know the jig is up and that uppity enlightened researchers are pounding at the gates. Fortunately, there is a journal like Speculative Grammarian whose hard-headed commitment to linguistic truth of any variety makes it a fit battering ram for breaking down those gates. By eschewing the Old Boys’ Network of peer review, deference to “authorities in the field,” and persnickety standards of “accuracy,” “reproducibility,” “consistency,” “coherence,” and “rudimentary philological competence,” Trey Jones’s editorial practice jibes with his own revolutionary linguistic attainments. Indeed, I would like to take this opportunity to laud him for the kernel of this article. When I first heard him speaking Italian, such turns of phrase as I mio caramella siamo gialle offended my ears, but upon realizing that he was devoted in practice as well as theory to a thorough-going scuttling of all invidious grammatico-social distinctions,1 I attained enlightenment and have since followed his precepts and practice in my own linguistic work.

1 An alternate analysis based on long acquaintance with TJ’s variety treats it as a case of free variation. [MCF]

The Legend of TreyHemeralda Ilissey
Prescriptive LinguisticsThe Future of our FieldAnonymous
SpecGram Vol CLXIII, No 3 Contents