Thursday, April 19, 2007

Expletive as language

ShitThe other day, a student used the 'shit' word on stage in front of over 200 parents and teachers. She didn't mean to offend anymore, nor was she berating at anyone. She was relating a conversation that she had had with her friends who were studying in another school. It was a paraphrase of this conversation and the 'shit' word seem to come out naturally. I don't know what the parents thought as this came out of the mouth of one of the school's top students. The teachers must have squirmed in their seats, feeling uncomfortable, not knowing what the parents thought of the way that they nurtured their best students. President George W Bush, a fervent Christian, was himself caught uttering this word unwares when referring to the conflict in the Middle East some months ago.

The 'shit' word is becoming rather common, much as the f**k word has in movies. But in movies, and elsewhere, the f**k word remains an expletive whereas the 'shit' word is increasingly used as a word to express emphasis, sometimes frustration and often almost as a sort of exclamation that the word 'damn' is used. This is not my opinion only. Wynrub wrote a book analysing expletives and the way and purpose expletives are used in society today. She concluded that some expletives are no longer used in the derogatory / foul connotation, but more to express valid emotions in conversations. Going by this recent experience of mine, I cannot agree more with her. Language evolves over time. This has been true from time inmemorial. So therefore, language standards shift, albeit inperceptibly. The next wave of change will surely come from the almost universal use of SMS language. In this case, the change might take on a leap instead of a quiet shift. Therefore those who still clinge on to a standard will be fighting a losing battle.

In any case, a person can speak and use the language's 'standard', but will switch to a more informal version in informal settings. The fact that a person speaks a non-standard form does not necessarily mean that he/she doesn't know the standard form and use it in an appropriate setting. One of the most unnatural and difficult things about carrying on in a standardised language is the frustration of getting your ideas across in quicker. So it is natural and necessary to revert to a local form. That way, people tend to identify with you more easily because they speak the same dialect as you, including using newly non-expletives expletives.


HaarFager said...

"One of the most unnatural and difficult things about carrying on in a standardised language is the frustration of getting your ideas across in quicker."

This is not hard at all if you are taught how to correctly use and truly know a standardised language. It is a fact that "standardised language" is not taught enough in schools of today and that people are inundated daily by the "non-standardised language" more and more through modern television, radio and books.

If society doesn't wake up about this loss of "standardised language," we'll all become jumbled in our language and not be able to understand each other just as in the Tower of Babel story in the Bible. That's what results in using a "non-standardised language." Do you think that is a good thing or something you want?

Epilogos said...

I agree with you. Early on in my journey learning the English Language, I determined to speak and write it properly. Much of the reason for this is that I am a Chinese and I lived in a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual environment. The common denominator, as far as language went, was a sort of 'broken English' - Singlish, if you like.

I achieved my objective of learning 'standard' English, including diction, so much so that people I met later on in life, after I had left school, tended to think that I had gotten my education in a foreign land (probably in English speaking Australia or Great Britain) when in fact, I had never left my country, Singapore. The problem with speaking a 'standard' language when few others did so was to alienate myself and made me sound unnatural. Once I reverted to Singlish, the bond became closer, the conversation more natural. So I think that it is necessary to learn different registers of a language and use them as and when the situation demanded. This may include 'vulgarity' in the vocabulary. While I would have preferred otherwise, the weight of the majority who do not share your 'standard' will pressure one to conform to the majority. It is not a satisfactory situation, but when there is a need to communicate and bond, you just have to go with the crowd.

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