Against Capitalism—Norman van der Dorp, PhD SpecGram Vol CXCI, No 4 Contents Evidence for a Contemporary Language Shift in Progress: The English Passive—Vloor Vorth

In Defense of Capitalism

Adora Urbano, PhD
Professor of Linguistics, University of Constantinople

A spectre is haunting linguisticsthe spectre of capitalism. For far too long, the field of dialectology has been dominated by a research program focusing exclusively on NORMs (non-mobile older rural males): under the pretense that the speech of such informants is more conservative and thus more valuable for linguistic science than that of inhabitants of capital cities, anti-capitalist linguists such as van der Dorp have focused exclusively on rural speakers, with the result being blatant discrimination against, and a dearth of data on the speech of, speakers living in capital cities. The primary reason for this exclusion of urban speakers and dismissal of capitalist linguistics is these linguists’ atheoretical approach to data collection. The theory-less framework of most dialectologists leads them to collect data in a haphazard and uninformed way that ignores the advantages of studying capital-dwellers’ speech, though even a casual glance at the recent insights of modern linguistic theory shows that the speech of urban speakers living in capital cities is far more relevant for studying the nature of language than that of rural speakers. Van der Dorp is a rare exception among anti-capitalist linguists in that he at least tries to justify his anti-capitalism in theoretical terms, but even he does so only perfunctorily. This article argues that, when taking theoretical considerations into account, capital city speech is a far more useful source of data than that of NORMs.

One way in which capital city speech is a superior source of data is its diversity (which, despite van der Dorf’s arguments to the contrary, is actually an advantage). Capitals are typically bustling cosmopolitan megalopoli where individuals are typically multilingual and well-travelled. This means that any particular idiolect in a capital city is likely to have been influenced by multiple different languages and even language families. In addition, capitalist linguistics studies the speech not just of men (as anti-capitalist linguistics does), but also of women. This is significant because women tend to be more socially mobile, such that their idiolects are influenced by a variety of different sociolects. Because of the larger diversity of influences on capital city idiolects, such idiolects are much closer to Standard Average World than the isolated varieties spoken by NORMs. In this way, capital city speech is a better reflection of Universal Grammar, which can best be studied by looking at idiolects that are influenced by as many languages and varieties as possible and therefore are as universal as possible.

Besides Universal Grammar, another framework that provides a reason to prefer capital city speech is Optimality Theory. In Optimality Theory, individuals’ linguistic systems generate output candidates, and the EVAL component of the system selects the most optimal candidate to be the form actually produced by the speaker. In this way, Optimality Theory can be used cross-linguistically to determine the different levels of optimality of different varieties or languages. Since urban dwellers’ linguistic systems are more diverse, they generate more linguistic outputs, and because of this wider range of outputs to choose from, the forms that speakers in capital cities produce will be more likely to be linguistically superior (or “more optimal”) than those produced by speakers of non-urban dialects.

An example that may illustrate this is the Capital City English word /aʊsbaʊ/ ‘ausbau’. If we look at a tableau of possible outputs for this input in Capital City English using the constraints *SOUNDS­WEIRDIN­CONTEXT (which assigns a violation mark if the form sounds weird in a sentence or phrase) and *SOUNDS­WEIRD­OUTOF­CONTEXT (which assigns a violation mark if the form sounds weird when uttered as an isolated word), we find that the winning candidate is the faithful one:

ɛkspænʃən *!  
aʊtbɪld *! *
ɔʁkõstʁyi *! *
fweɾa­konstɾuiðo*! *

That the unfaithful forms violate the *SOUNDS­WEIRDIN­CONTEXT constraint can be seen by the fact that replacing [aʊsbaʊ] in the following sentence with any of the other candidates makes the sentence ill-formed:

An [aʊsbaʊ] language is one whose status as a language derives from political factors.

*An [ɛkspænʃən] language is one whose status as a language derives from political factors.

*An [aʊtbɪld] language is one whose status as a language derives from political factors.

*An [ɔʁkõstʁyi] language is one whose status as a language derives from political factors.

*An [fweɾakonstɾuiðo] language is one whose status as a language derives from political factors.

NORMan English, by contrast, lacks the polyglot influences of Capital City English (such as the Spanish, German, and French candidates above) and thus generates fewer output forms, such that the output of [aʊsbaʊ] is instead a null morpheme:

ɛkspænʃən *!  
aʊtbɪld *! *

Since [aʊsbaʊ] is a more optimal winning candidate than [∅] for the input /aʊsbaʊ/, we can conclude that Capital City English is more optimal than NORMan English.

Furthermore, capital city varieties are more useful for solving one of the main problems facing contemporary linguistics. It is well known that speakers’ linguistic competence (that is, their unconscious knowledge of their own internal grammar) is distinct from their linguistic performance (that is, the actual speech they produce, which may not correspond to the rules in their internal grammar). This poses a problem because the object of study of linguistics is not speakers’ error-filled output, but rather speakers’ linguistic competence or internal grammar, and using linguistic performance to study linguistic competence can be an endeavour fraught with challenges because of the gap between the twoat least when studying NORMan varieties.

However, in capital cities, individuals are trained from birth to excel at public speaking as a result of the pressures in capital cities (which have dynamic, fast-moving, and no-holds-barred cultures) to succeed in academic and corporate environments (particularly corporate boardrooms)pressures conspicuously absent in rural communities because of their lack of corporate headquarters headquartered in towering skyscrapers. This means that the linguistic performance of speakers in capital cities is fairly close to their linguistic competence, such that corpus data of capital city speech is a fairly direct reflection of speakers’ competence and there is little need to spend time determining which parts of the corpus are grammatical and which are ungrammatical slips of the tongue.1

Thus, further research in the field of capitalist linguistics is likely to help linguists develop a deeper understanding of the nature of language, which is a system that is at once individual, diverse, and universal. It is imperative that more funding be allocated to research on theoretically useful sources of datasuch as those discussed in Gorodetsky and Urbano (2009), Urbano and Villa (2015), and Urbano et al. (2021)which have up until now been woefully understudied, rather than to research on the theoretically problematic sources of data preferred by anti-capitalists. In this way, theoretically informed avenues of linguistic investigation can be opened for future researchers to explore.

Works Cited

Gorodetsky, Sergey, and Adora Urbano. “Capitalist Linguistics in the 21st Century: An Overview.” Capitalist Linguistics, vol. 19, no. 3, 2009, pp. 142–142.314159.

Urbano, Adora, and Alejandro Villa. “Of Capitals and Clitics: Cliticization in Capital City Varieties.” Megalopolis, vol. 12, no. 2, 2015.

Urbano, Adora, Sergey Gorodetsky, Alejandro Villa, and Nikolay Novgorodsky. “Syntactic Structures in Capital City English.” Capitals, vol. 25, no. 2, 2021, pp. 123–567.

1 It may be objected that such careful and cultivated speech is likely to lack many of the processes present in colloquial non-capitalist registers. To this it can be replied that such processes are likely to result in less optimal forms (as shown by the tableaus above) and are therefore of little interest.

Against CapitalismNorman van der Dorp, PhD
Evidence for a Contemporary Language Shift in Progress: The English PassiveVloor Vorth
SpecGram Vol CXCI, No 4 Contents