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Isteism - Against the Vile Maxim

About Isteism

Previous Entry Isteism May. 18th, 2009 @ 05:22 pm Next Entry
Per this blog's policy of discussing trivial fake news stories even more trivially, there are some pretty interesting linguistic issues surrounding Arkansas State Senator Kim Hendren's mention of Chuck Schumer as "that Jew." What strikes me as even more fascinating than his sulky apology for having been caught Anti-Semitizing it up is his initial non-denial denial about what he actually said. As best I can remember from a radio segment, (I'm having trouble locating the quote in print) Hendren allowed that he might have called Schumer "a Jew" or "Jewish," but definitely not "that Jew." It's really a thing of marvel, from the comparative linguistic point of view, that an educated adult might not appreciate the problem with calling his political opponents "Jews," while understanding instinctively that using a certain demonstrative adjective (usually "that" or 'that (thing) near you') in a vocative phrase isn't nice. Recall McCain's "that one" remark for a more salient example.

One naturally thinks of iste (originally "that near you (but far from me)") from Latin, employed to great effect in the Catalinarian and Verrine orations. I've heard that the derogative force of the pronoun arose from its legal usage as, roughly, "your client" (i.e. as spoken to an opposing advocate) but the phenomenon seems too universal, and too congruent to the basic in-group/out-group distinction, to have its origin in a single (elite) cultural practice. I'd really like to know if there are analogues in other languages.
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From:muckefuck
Date:May 19th, 2009 01:12 am (UTC)
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Irish has a triparite system expressing emotional as well as emotional distance. Medial sin is more-or-less neutral whereas distal siúd verges on pejorative, e.g. a leithéidí siúd "the likes of them/that lot". Of course, there's no ruling out a degree of English influence here.

Korean also has a triparite system of demonstratives, but intriguingly each comes in two "isotopes", one neutral and one slightly disrepectful.
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From:booksoverbombs
Date:May 19th, 2009 02:50 am (UTC)
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Awesome; I was hoping you'd weigh in on this. So Irish and Korean are the only languages you've studied where this obtains? I realize I'm asking an unfair question, since the phenomenon in English might escape the notice of a fluent non-native speaker.

Also, what's the deal with the derogative "isotopes" in Korean? Did the pairs initially mark some other contrast, or this an "honorific treadmill" kind of thing, where a (neutral, respectful) pair became (disrespectful, neutral)?
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From:muckefuck
Date:May 19th, 2009 03:02 am (UTC)
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It's hard to say, since the distinction is subtle enough to escape the notice of a non-native speaker. Perhaps "diese Frau da" is more disrespectful in German than "diese Frau hier", but not so as I've ever noticed.

In Spanish, you can get something of the same effect by postponing the demonstratives, e.g. y la muchacha aquella (olvide su nombre) "and that girl (forget her name)". Apparently this is true in Catalan as well, as Wheeler et al. say in their comprehensive grammar, "The postponing of the demonstrative may connote a degree of intimacy between speaker and hearer, and also a slight pejorative sense (but this may be no more than the effect of informal style)[.]" (p. 110). I'm not sure which, if any, of the other Romance languages share this phenomenon.

Incidentally, that quote reminds me of a somewhat parallel construction in (Irish) English, i.e. "your man". Familiar, with a whiff of contempt in many circumstances.
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From:booksoverbombs
Date:May 19th, 2009 03:27 am (UTC)
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The postponing of the demonstrative may connote a degree of intimacy between speaker and hearer, and also a slight pejorative sense (but this may be no more than the effect of informal style)
This was exactly the conflation effect I was worried about-- the pejorative term becomes an endearment when there's no ambiguity between speaker and hearer that the pejorative is to be construed ironically. Hmm.
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From:muckefuck
Date:May 19th, 2009 09:04 pm (UTC)
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As for Korean, I'm afraid I know very little about the history of its demonstratives. It is noteworthy that all the disrespectful forms contain the same element, namely /o/, which may be the remnant of a previously independent morpheme. For reference, here's the whole set:

proximal: 이 /i/ 요 /yo/
medial: 그 /ku/ 고 /ko/
distal: 저 /ce/ 조 /co/

Note that some sources (e.g. Sohn, 1994) call this second set "diminutive". So this may be yet another iteration of the same phenomenon noted above: what's "intimate" or even "endearing" in one context may become insulting in another.
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From:booksoverbombs
Date:May 19th, 2009 10:09 pm (UTC)
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Rock on. Thanks for this!
From:dialogic
Date:May 19th, 2009 01:20 am (UTC)
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Every time I read the comments to your journal--excluding my own--I become more convinced you've accidentally assembled the smartest flist on LJ.
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From:booksoverbombs
Date:May 19th, 2009 03:16 am (UTC)

from <i>Snow Crash</i>:

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Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad. Hiro used to feel that way, too, but then he ran into Raven. In a way, this is liberating. He no longer has to worry about trying to be the baddest motherfucker in the world. The position is taken.


I used to think, for reasons unclear, that I was some kind of hot shit with languages. When I met muckefuck I remember experiencing exactly that species of relief.

I dunno. If we ignore philosophy, that monster of incuriosity, I feel much the better of humanity and myself for the people I've met through this. I'm pretty enthused about social technology that allows for someone to hop into my personal notes and tell me what's what about law or gender studies or Korean honorifics. If I had my druthers, my real life would probably more closely approximate that ideal as well.

excluding my own
Untrue, sir. Untrue.
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