Thursday, July 27, 2006

Extreme Pragmatism

I've been skimming through Saying and Meaning in Puerto Rico: Some Problems in the Ethnography of Discourse by Marshall Morris. The majority of the book is focused on "episodes", each documenting a common oddity of the Spanish used in Puerto Rico. It seems like language has become more of a social lubricant than a tool:

The glossing over of distinctions appears particularly in giving reasons or excuses: "A man and his wife are invited to a dinner party. They do not appear. When their would-be hosts next see them, they give their excuses, he to the man, she to the woman, separately. When the reasons are compared, they bear little or no relation to one another, though they seem genuine." Though in the end it appears that the reasons given were not literally true, being in contradiction, they were of the same value: they had the effect of saying that their failure to attend was due to things beyond their control, consideration for other people, and so on. They had the same effect as literal truth, or better. Literal answers are often more than people want or require, and they are resisted, over-looked and sometimes resented. The effect is what counts.
I'm reminded of the phrase "hung up" from Del Close's classic "How to Speak Hip".

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