February 17, 2013

A politician may spend twenty or more years running for office, and just as many years on the campaign trail trying to keep or win over voters. The public language of political candidates has always been complicated by questions of attempted audience accommodation, performance and authenticity, topics which were rarely if ever raised to the level of national awareness or serious debate. Then, in 2008 what had been a homogeneous candidate pool expanded to include an Anglo female governor from rural Alaska and an African-American senator/law professor with a multi-cultural background. As a result, topics having to do with race, sex, class and education were raised in public forums in ways that overlapped with issues of performance and authenticity. For many commentators, the challenge was not to minimize potential offense to the candidate or the audience by circumlocution, but to find ways to express the forbidden and still avoid backlash. It is in situations like this that standard language ideology and language subordination tactics are the first and most effective tools, able to override logic and fact. The last two presidential campaigns provided a wealth of examples of linguistic subordination tactics designed to make racist, sexist and classist sentiments more publicly palatable. I look at some of this data in the larger context of interpretation of stylistic practice.

Dr. Rosina Lippi-Green is the author of the hugely influential book, English with an Accent: Language, Ideology and Discrimination in the United States, whose second edition now contains an entire chapter dedicated to language issues in Hawai‘i. Discussing everything from media influence to the judicial system, the author examines language attitudes in the United States and exposes the ways in which discrimination based on accent serves to perpetuate power asymmetries in US society. Before leaving academia to become a full-time writer, Dr. Lippi-Green received her Ph.D. in Linguistics from Princeton University and served as a faculty member at the University of Michigan for ten years.