05 October 2008

the phony 'nu-cu-ler' hubbub

Yes, Palin's folksy affectations are obnoxious, and possibly even offensive. But guys: 'nuclear' can, in fact, be pronounced 'nuke-u-ler'. It's called metathesis, and we do it with lots of English words that have an awkward consonant combination. Like 'comfortable' or, in some vernaculars, 'ask'. I don't see anyone running around screaming, "Obama can't pronounce COM-FORT-ABLE!"(although I bet we'd hear about it if he ever said 'aks' . .).

It is ridiculous, and maybe a tad elitist in a bad way, to make fun of metathesis, because you're essentially saying: anyone who doesn't speak absolute dictionary-standard English isn't one of us. For whatever reason, we don't value vernaculars as a rich part of our language; we make fun of them. This is sad, and has gotten us into a lot of trouble in education.

So if I flip next time someone makes fun of 'nuculer' -- you've been warned.


Max said...

Very interesting blog, which I just found by chance.

One thing, I'd say that your criticism of "anyone who doesn't speak absolute dictionary-standard English isn't one of us" is hard to apply to any candidate to the vice-presidency of this country because (that without mentioning that your use of the word "absolute" distorts the issue by "fundamentalizing" it), such a position is underpinned by, and in it self reinforces the "not one of us" discourse: it is position of power.

As I see it, political representation is not about equivalences: considering viable to elect as a political leader someone "average" for people to identify with, seems very problematic if one takes into account that average means just average: mediocre at best.

Again, very nice blog.

Whitney said...

Hi Max, just noticed your comment, and thanks for it! While I wholeheartedly agree no one wants and "average" leader, I'm not sure pronouncing nuclear as "nuke-u-ler" is in fact the sign of someone's mediocrity. Plenty of brilliant academics of color, like Cornel West, speak in Black English Vernaculars that don't follow the American Standard; that doesn't make them average. Jimmy Carter has a nice Southern accent that twists words around in a nonstandard way; I wouldn't call him average either. Admittedly, Sarah Palin is another story -- but I want to be careful about equating a nonstandard dialect or sociolect or pronunciation or way of speaking with mediocrity.

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