Sunday, December 07, 2014

"Mock Spanish" and Cultural Purity

I've been reading some papers written by a linguist, Dr. Jane Hill.

Dr. Hill's theory is that any use of Spanish by an Anglo constitutes Racism.

I thought a lot about it, at first I was offended because I use Spanish occasionally, although I can't ever remember using Spanish with an Anglo as a joke of any kind.  When I lived in El Paso sometimes we were shot at just for being White and being in the barrio.  If my use of Spanish back then had been considered racist at all, there was a good chance of my being beaten or even killed, depending on who I was hanging out with.  And yes, I occasionally hung out with guys they call cholos, or "gangstas" in the modern parlance.  It was business.

I typically made more money with Blacks and Hispanics than I made with White friends.  I won't get into this because this isn't true confessions, but, when people make money in a particular way they are going to associate with a particular type of people.  Any perceived racism, at all, will destroy the relationships at the very least, and can result in death.

So was I upset because I am not fluent in Spanish, still use Spanish occasionally and very poorly?  I don't think so.  I'm pretty good at recognizing and learning from my mistakes, although, I don't always agree with others about what my mistakes are.

For example, people tell me that it is a mistake to say that I can argue against homosexuality from fifty different ways because stupid people will automatically assume I am homophobic when I make this statement.  My reply is almost always that I really don't give a shit what stupid people think.  I will defend my right to free speech and the fact that I can argue against any issue I have an opinion on because I actually research issues before I develop opinions and have even changed my opinion based on new facts.  My opinions are based on the very fact that I can argue against them.

Stupid people not withstanding, why did Dr. Hill's research on "Mock Spanish" annoy me?

Then it hit me, the research presented an absolutist social viewpoint and in my experience absolutism, especially in social issues, was always incorrect.  If I drill down far enough there is always a range.

CPU makers developed equipment that could make the traces on chips one electron wide, the thought being that all electrons are the same size.  They discovered that these "one electron wide" traces occasionally became blocked by electrons that seemed to be to wide to get through them.  The chip makers increased the size of the traces to slightly more than "one electron width" and they worked.  To me this meant that electrons came in a range of sizes, from wide to narrow and that we couldn't measure the size accurate enough to understand the distribution.

Distribution, the normal range from one least likely to another least likely.  A normal range defined by a modality and a mean and a median.  A range, not an absolute, a range of behavior.

Ahhh, I thought.  That was it.

Then I thought for some more.  Here was a paper assigned in a 300 level university class and I didn't agree with it.  Fine.  As I thought about it I realized that social absolutes were typically racist.  White people cannot say "nigger".  This is a racist social absolute based on the experience Black people have with the word and the way it has been used for around 400 years.

What was racist about this paper?  Any use of Spanish is racist so how could the paper be racist?

The it hit me, the paper was advocating the linguistic purity of English using a form of reverse psychology.  "We can't adopt Spanish phrases into English because then we are being racist against Spanish speakers".

Not only was the paper wrong because it presented an absolutist social viewpoint, it was wrong, in my opinion, because the paper advocated Anglo cultural purity by insisting that the normal cultural exchange and the adoption of Spanish culture was racist.

I am not an advocate of racial or cultural purity and because I am not, I found Dr. Hill's papers offensive in the covert advocation of cultural purity.

That is not going to go over well with my professor, or a lot of other people including people at the University and elsewhere.  There is a religious reverence for accepted academic theories and the professors who originate them.  Geocentricism, originally advocated by Aristotle and Archimedes and opposed by Aristarchus, became an academic truth of such veracity that when Copernicus and Galileo challenged that theory they were ostracized by academia, which at that time was centered around the Catholic Church.

I find it mildly amusing that academicians often ridicule the religious faith displayed by believers when they also display a form of religious faith in their academic beliefs.

Be that as it may, I had my answer.  I was offended by the absolutist proposition that cultural exchange is "racist" and therefore cultures must remain distinct and segregated, which is a form of racism.

Unpopular, probably as much as my insistence on being well informed enough to argue against a position that some believe should be so inviolate that no contrary argument should ever be advanced.  Yet, I insist on studying what other people take for granted and sometimes, as in this situation, I reject the popular opinion and stand upon my own two feet.

There are undoubtedly forms of cultural exchange that are racist, the belief that one culture is better or worse than another, there are also cultural exchanges which occur naturally as two or more cultures interact over time that are not racist and do not specify one culture as being better than another.

I am not and will not become a racial or cultural purist.  I reject any advocacy of cultural purism, including absolutist arguments that any cultural exchange is a form of racism.

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