language and politics
In 2011 the American Dialect Society listed ‘the 99%’ among its Words of the Year. In 2012 ’47%’ became the new politically-charged number. These numbers are connected in a way that might not be obvious.
Mitt Romney was recorded declaring, “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.” Because they pay no income tax, Romney suggested, 47% of Americans are dependent on government. This resembles a charge made in 2011 by conservative activists at the53.tumblr, which in turn was a response to the Occupy Wall Street-affiliated wearethe99percent.tumblr.
The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer says conservative Evangelical Christians view President Obama as “the avatar of godless socialism”. Do American Christian conservatives use ‘socialist’ to mean ‘insufficiently religious’? If so, their usage parallels that of Osama bin Laden.
NPR’s Morning Edition and the Sunlight Foundation suggest that congressional speech-making is becoming less sophisticated. The presentation appears to validate conventional wisdom that American politics has taken an anti-intellectual turn of late, but the story shows flawed methods coupled with confirmation bias.
“Socialism” and “liberalism” are poorly defined in US politics; the former is over-applied to left-of-center positions, and the latter used in two almost reverse ways. “Neoliberalism” is a hot topic in contemporary anthropology, but the word is sometimes used without sufficient reflection. One way to spot the best work is to look for authors who take pains to define the terms.
Stanley Fish notes that critics of the so-called ‘Ground Zero mosque’ see the terrorist attacks of September 11 as an act committed by Islam, for which all Muslims are responsible. In contrast, the stabbing of a cab driver by an attacker who reportedly asked the driver if he is Muslim is seen as “the act of a disturbed individual,” not a representative of an anti-Islamic position.
The Arizona Department of Education is asking school districts to remove teachers who speak “heavily accented or ungrammatical” English from classrooms where students are learning English. In response, the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona has drafted a statement summarizing research on language variation and its effects on language acquisition.
In this edition of our bi-weekly Roundup: the satirical journal Speculative Grammarian tackles fieldwork; the Muscogee (Creek) Nation is discussing a resolution condemning Arizona’s new immigration law; work summarized in Science Daily suggests that loss of hearing in one ear affects children’s scores on language tests.
The word socialism seems to be much in vogue in the United States recently, primarily as an epithet for one’s political opponents, especially for representatives of the Obama Administration or the Democratic Party, but also for “the Media” collectively.
I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find two recent blog posts pointing out how this usage differs from the traditional definition of socialism as a political position.