Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Presenting Unsupported Claims As A Survey: Status & Phonology

Martin (1992: 528-9):
In order to explore the realisation of status it is useful to make a further distinction between dominance and deference in the context of unequal status between interlocutors. Not only are choices non-reciprocal in these contexts, but certain kinds of selections are associated with speakers of higher status and other kinds of choices with speakers of lower status — there is in other words a symbolic relationship between position in the social hierarchy and various linguistic systems, especially interpersonal ones. A preliminary attempt to survey some of the more important of these symbolic relationships is outlined in Table 7.10.

Table 7.10. Aspects of the realisation of unequal status
Unequal status
[grammar foregrounded]
tone certain (1,5)
tone uncertain (2,4)

establish rhythm follow rhythm

standard accent
non-standard accent

Blogger Comments:

Table 7.10 contains a list of unsupported claims, made without reference to any data.

[1] The claim here is that:
  • "tone certain (1,5)" construes the tenor feature 'dominate', whereas
  • "tone uncertain (2,4)" construes the tenor feature 'defer'.
To be clear, the general meaning of falling tone is 'polarity known', and the general meaning of rising tone is 'polarity unknown' (Halliday 1970: 23).

The claim can be falsified by concrete examples that take into account the combination of tone, mood and speech function:
  • I've finished the work you gave me (tone 1/declarative/statement) is claimed to construe the tenor feature 'dominate', whereas
  • give me time! (tone 4/imperative/command) is claimed to construe the tenor feature 'defer'.

[2]  The claim here is that:
  • 'standard accent' construes the tenor feature 'dominate', whereas
  • 'non-standard accent' construes the tenor feature 'defer'.
Leaving aside both the fact that this is sociolectal and dialectal variation, not phonology, and the dubious categorisation of "accents" as 'standard' vs 'non-standard', the claim can be falsified by considering a concrete example:
  • the 'non-standard' English "accent" of a German physics professor realises 'defer', whereas 
  • the 'standard' English "accent" of his American undergraduate students realises 'dominate'.

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