Social Hierarchy Expressed Through Language

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Re: Social Hierarchy Expressed Through Language

Postby Random Review » Sun Sep 08, 2019 1:36 pm

Speakeasy wrote:
Random Review wrote:FWIW I always ask my students to call me by my first name… Here in Indonesia, they insist on calling me "Mr" or "Mr Martin", which Indonesians feel is more respectful. I absolutely hate both of these. … Except from very young children, "Mr" feels actually disrespectful (the exact opposite of its intended effect) … Getting them to stop is impossible, because most of them refuse to call me by my first name …
You raise an interesting point. However, is it possible that, owing to your having internalised the increasingly wide-spread notions of egalitarianism in Western societies that you have become uncomfortable with your own status in society? A status which, let’s be honest here, you deliberately sought out?

As to what is respectful and what is disrespectful, these concepts exhibit enormous differences both across and within cultural groups. Would you not agree that your rejection of your students’ sign of respect (in addressing you as Mister) is based solely on your own notions of what is correct and that your reaction is a form of paternalism towards the students and to the culture from which such signs of respect are derived? ;)

Nevertheless, you might appreciate the following anecdote. Many (many) years ago, my last assignment in the RCN was that of Instructor at the Fleet School. I remember, on the first morning of a new class, inviting my young charges, who were rapidly approaching the end of their training and who would soon be assigned as junior officers aboard one the RCN’s destroyers, to call me by my first name. I explained to them that, within a few months, we could easily find ourselves serving together and that, despite our differences in rank, we would likely be on a first-name-basis amongst ourselves (the ship’s Commander and Executive Officer were not included in such familiarity and we, as officers, would never address a subaltern by his first name both as a matter of military etiquette and as a matter of respect: doing so would be perceived as an unpardonable affront). To my surprise, during the coffee break, two of my students approached me and suggested that my invitation to the group was inappropriate. In their view, as I had successfully passed the examinations necessary to commanding a sea-going vessel, as I had served at sea, as I possessed greater knowledge and experience than did my students, and as I had been entrusted by my superiors with the responsibility of instructing them, I had “earned” their respect and that my invitation to an unwarranted familiarity with them was a debasement of my rank. Oops, I hadn’t seen that one coming! Here I was, being “called to task” for showing “disrespect” towards a codified system of hierocracy which my students (who were civilians only 12 months prior to these classes) had internalized. I gulped and replied (sheepishly): “Ahem, yes, I see your point.” :oops:

EDITED:
Typos.



Well, I would agree that my dislike of their calling me this is a reflection of my own notions of what is correct, of course it is. However, I don't agree that my reaction is paternalistic, because in fact I haven't stopped them doing so. I don't like it and they know I don't like it, but I respect their right to continue doing so. I could, in fact, impose my views on them and insist they call me "Martin", which would indeed be both disrespectful and paternalistic. I haven't done that. They know how I feel and obviously after that the choice is theirs. Most choose to continue to call me "Mr" (with or without "Martin").

I've always had the similar views since as far back as I can remember (if anything I have moved even further to the left with age) and would strongly disagree with your students that your offer was inappropriate. To me it seems obvious that you have a perfect right to invite them to call you by your first name and they have the right to accept or refuse as they personally choose. Possibly this is starting to get a little political, though. Feel free to PM if you wish. I like you a lot and don't want to ruin your thread.

I think a measure of how differently we see things in this field is that you assume that I sought out status. An EFL teacher neither earns a lot of money nor has any real status (though if you work hard and do a good job, you may earn respect from your students and their parents). If I sought out anything, it was a job that challenges, that puzzles and that forces me to grow both as a person and intellectually. That's what I wanted.
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Re: Social Hierarchy Expressed Through Language

Postby Random Review » Sun Sep 08, 2019 1:39 pm

Adrianslont wrote:
Random Review wrote:FWIW I always ask my students to call me by my first name. In China, some did so and some insisted on calling me "teacher". I quite like being called "teacher", though, so I didn't mind. Here in Indonesia, they insist on calling me "Mr" or "Mr Martin", which Indonesians feel is more respectful. I absolutely hate both of these. Both make me feel like they don't really like me very much, even though I know that isn't the intention. Except from very young children, "Mr" feels actually disrespectful (the exact opposite of its intended effect) and indeed would be in British English (I can't speak for Americans); and "Mr [first name]" just feels utterly bizarre.

Getting them to stop is impossible, because most of them refuse to call me by my first name and I haven't taught them the correct expressions they are actually looking for ("sir" and "Mr [surname]), as these would make me feel even worse. Also my attempts to suggest the use of "teacher" as a compromise have fallen flat. :lol: I guess I just have to live with it.

Do they call you Mr Martin or Pak Martin?

I actually like Pak Adrian but find Mr Adrian weird. If they are indeed calling you Mr it might be easier to get them to call you Pak Martin? I am of course assuming that you would like that.


Mr Martin. They aren't allowed to speak any Indonesian in class. I should say that I don't necessarily agree with this rule (I think it's complicated), but it's the rule nonetheless.
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Re: Social Hierarchy Expressed Through Language

Postby aokoye » Sun Sep 08, 2019 5:36 pm

Random Review wrote:
Speakeasy wrote:
badger wrote: … when I was a youngish child one of the first grammar rules that was drummed into me was that saying "Dave and me went to the park" was wrong & that "Dave & I went to the park" was correct…
Many descriptivists would argue that the formulations are equally correct because both “occur naturally” in the language. Should a nature speaker learn to say "Dave and me” in their natural surroundings, then this “cannot be wrong”; native speakers cannot make mistakes in their native languages. Similarly, should another native speaker use this formulation, but require correction to say "Dave & I”, then this unnatural speech, the proof being that outside intervention was needed to generate it. Thus, "Dave & I” would only be “correct” in cases where the native speaker have learned this formulation naturally; that is, without the need for correction. Uh, er, that is my understanding of their customary position on such matters.

Coming back to the central theme of this thread, assigning a nature speaker an inferior status in the social hierarchy based on such minor distinctions of language would be tantamount to elitism. Using language, coded or otherwise, or other social signalling to convey this inferior status to the speaker and to the surrounding community would be paternalism and unjustified discrimination. However, as well all know, the real world frequently operates well outside the bounds of justice and fairness; we’re all human, after all.


I used to have this impression from reading popular linguistics books and I think many linguists are happy to give that impression in books/articles/podcasts for the public (presumably as a counter to prescriptivism); however having read a lot of actual linguistic and SLA research lately (in a bid to try and understand my students better), it turns out native speakers definitely can and do make mistakes (see performance vs competence). I guess this squares with common sense. For me lately, every day's a school day :lol: ; but hopefully the short-term damage to my self-esteem will be worth it in the end.

However, in this case, it seems to me that's not the issue and it's actually an issue of register. As a person that makes mistakes in both directions, I find it less helpful to think of extremely formal and extremely colloquial structures as being "unnatural" to me (though I guess it is legitimate to look at it that way) and more helpful to think of my competence in these registers being lower than it is the middle. It gives me somewhere to go with the observation (it's clear what I need to do), rather than just expressing a feeling.

Yeah as someone who could arguably called a real linguist, has talked with professors and colleagues who are linguists, and has read a lot of linguistic texts, I don't think most descriptivists would say that native speakers can't make mistakes. If that was the case, we wouldn't be able to make the distinction between grammatically correct and grammatically incorrect.

That said, I have no real desire to go down this rabbit hole. It rarely ends well.
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Re: Social Hierarchy Expressed Through Language

Postby cjareck » Sun Sep 08, 2019 5:49 pm

In Poland, we used to be more formal when I was a teenager. You had to call all adults per "Pan" or "Pani" (Mr or Mrs), adults when they met for the first time also used that title and there is a special ritual for using the first name called "Bruderszaft" (from German Bruderschaft - Brotherhood) - you drink vodka with your hands crossed
Image
and then speak your name and kiss each other cheeks.
I had a few such formal rituals (without kissing), but most of the time, it was just a statement that both sides would use the first name.
The most formal name is Mr [Surname] -> Panie Centek
Then, used by all firms that try to do business with you, semi-formal -> Mr. First Name [full version] -> Panie Jarosławie [of course declination comes in ;) since it is Jarosław in nominative]
The least formal -> Mr. First Name [short version] -> Panie Jarku [nominative would be Jarek]

At secondary school, we were calling teachers Mr./Mrs. Professor but I heard that it no longer the case. I don't know exactly.
At the university, we use the formal version of the title
m.a. -> Panie magistrze
dr (Ph.D.) -> Panie doktorze
dr hab. -> Panie profesorze [customary since that is not the "full" professor]
prof. dr hab -> Panie profesorze

I decided to switch with the equals or lowers to the first name if we are often in contact and there is no dependence between us. With the higher ones, the ball is on their side, of course ;)
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Re: Social Hierarchy Expressed Through Language

Postby rdearman » Sun Sep 08, 2019 6:26 pm

AnthonyLauder wrote:About twenty years ago, I had an opportunity to play social hierarchy judo on a pompous professor.

I was an academic back them. Actually, a post doctoral research fellow. At a gathering of academic staff, I approached one of the professors, and the conversation went like this:

Me: "Hello Peter, could I ask you a question about your research?"
Peter: "It is Professor Linington to you, Anthony"
<this infuriated me, so I was compelled to play him at his own game>
Me: "It is Lord Anthony to you, Professor Linington"

To my delight, he blushed, looked down, and shuffled away.

I rarely use my academic title (Dr) and I think this is the only time I have ever used my Lordship, but it certainly felt damn good to pop the pomposity balloon of Professor Linington.


Is the peerage hereditary?
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Re: Social Hierarchy Expressed Through Language

Postby Random Review » Sun Sep 08, 2019 6:52 pm

aokoye wrote: Yeah as someone who could arguably called a real linguist, has talked with professors and colleagues who are linguists, and has read a lot of linguistic texts, I don't think most descriptivists would say that native speakers can't make mistakes. If that was the case, we wouldn't be able to make the distinction between grammatically correct and grammatically incorrect.

That said, I have no real desire to go down this rabbit hole. It rarely ends well.


Yeah. It's also not even clear to me that it is a useful for discussion language teachers or learners (i.e the whole point of the forum), as it seems to me that my EFL students, even the advanced ones, mostly make very different mistakes from the ones I make when I'm exhausted or stressed* and that Spanish native speakers (though presumably they make mistakes) rarely seemed to make any that I could detect (and so presumably their mistakes were of a very different kind to the ones I as a learner was making).

It maybe wasn't a very useful post I made in hindsight.

* For example, for all the mangled attempts I've heard at "3rd" conditionals, I've never once heard a student throw an "of" in there, "If I had of done it, you would have [whatever]...
I think Cainntear once mentioned something interesting about this construction on his blog. As a linguist, have you got any interesting takes on this?
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Re: Social Hierarchy Expressed Through Language

Postby badger » Sun Sep 08, 2019 7:26 pm

Speakeasy wrote:Nevertheless, you might appreciate the following anecdote. Many (many) years ago, my last assignment in the RCN was that of Instructor at the Fleet School. I remember, on the first morning of a new class, inviting my young charges, who were rapidly approaching the end of their training and who would soon be assigned as junior officers aboard one the RCN’s destroyers, to call me by my first name. I explained to them that, within a few months, we could easily find ourselves serving together and that, despite our differences in rank, we would likely be on a first-name-basis amongst ourselves (the ship’s Commander and Executive Officer were not included in such familiarity and we, as officers, would never address a subaltern by his first name both as a matter of military etiquette and as a matter of respect: doing so would be perceived as an unpardonable affront). To my surprise, during the coffee break, two of my students approached me and suggested that my invitation to the group was inappropriate. In their view, as I had successfully passed the examinations necessary to commanding a sea-going vessel, as I had served at sea, as I possessed greater knowledge and experience than did my students, and as I had been entrusted by my superiors with the responsibility of instructing them, I had “earned” their respect and that my invitation to an unwarranted familiarity with them was a debasement of my rank. Oops, I hadn’t seen that one coming! Here I was, being “called to task” for showing “disrespect” towards a codified system of hierocracy which my students (who were civilians only 12 months prior to these classes) had internalized. I gulped and replied (sheepishly): “Ahem, yes, I see your point.” :oops:
I was rather hoping that anecdote was going to end "... “Ahem, yes, I see your point.” and then I threw him in the brig for insubordination." :D
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Re: Social Hierarchy Expressed Through Language

Postby Speakeasy » Sun Sep 08, 2019 7:36 pm

badger wrote: I was rather hoping that anecdote was going to end "... “Ahem, yes, I see your point.” and then I threw him in the brig for insubordination." :D
I appreciate your sense of humour, but no, my own military service taught me that, despite the evident hierarchy and the need for discipline (most of which ends up being self-discipline), working relationships are much more co-operative and congenial than portrayed in cinema. ;)
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