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« Not now; SC's got a headache | Main | An announcement »

October 18, 2004


Dawn M. Mueller

Dear Author(s):

I am not a linguist. I am not an academic. I hold a bachelor's in physics and do try to expand my awareness of various topics; however, I profess no "ivory tower" knowledge of linguistics, whatsoever.

I do not consider myself a member of the "ay-leet", as has been a rather popular word this election season. I might not refuse a "lah-tay", if offered, but my own inability to afford such luxury ranks me in with the commoners. I speak only for myself.

I find the labels "liberal" and "conservative" to be wholly inadequate. My mind does not perceive politics as a linear, one-dimensional function. (Logarithmic, perhaps, and multidimensional...)

The lib-cons dichotomy is, for better or worse, widely used by pundits and journalists. It may be that Lakoff is trying to do the best he can with a political model that is fundamentally inadequate and inaccurate to begin with.

I have only read, "Don't Think of an Elephant," and not yet, "Moral Politics." Eventually, I will read the latter.

Of the former, given that the labels of "liberal/conservative" seem to me inadequate to begin with, Lakoff's little book was useful to me.

I am a woman who has been in a very serious domestic violence situation. I have a daughter, who I have tried to "nuture." People frequently accuse me of being "too nice." Her father, who is both quite a "totalitarian dictator" and an "ignorant fool," seems to demonstrate Lakoff's "strict father mentality" rather cleanly.

I nuture. He rules. Lakoff made points with me!

For what it is worth, I voted Democratic this year -- straight ticket. In the past, I have voted variously for Libertarians, Greens, Independents and Democrats. I was an independent until this electoral season, whereupon I became a "Dean Democrat." I've never been drawn to a candidate before, but I found Dean attractive and persuasive. Dean recommended to me Lakoff's book. Peg me as you will.

I have been in no physical or verbal contact with the father for the past two years, and I cannot prove that he did vote for George Bush in this election. However, I feel quite confident that, had he voted, it would have been for Bush. The father is an Illinois "red-county redneck" who almost perfectly fits the Lakoff characterization.

Whether or not Dr. Lakoff is correct in all of his analyses and characterizations is not of primary importance to me. What is more important is that he did succeed in making a connection with me that has made me more aware of political rhetoric.

And, he was able to get it out in bookstores in time for the closing laps of the election. And, I willingly plunked down ten bucks for it, after having skimmed through it in the store.

After reading his text, I am inclined to invite him out to a nearby university in Iowa (yes, politically-hot Iowa!), to discuss his ideas and goals.

I might see you on some of the points you have expressed. However, I do not feel as inclined to invite you out to speak to my local political group and to the community, which is largely Democratic. (I'm just trying to be honest here...Please don't take offense!) Whether or not your arguments are sound and valid, I know not -- but I have not found them to be particularly motivating.

So, right or wrong, George Lakoff seems to be offering something to me that I feel worth developing and refining. I am not either a studied or a natural politician, so any help I can get in framing political arguments is potentially helpful. I am a political newby.

Whether or not Lakoff's analogies and metaphors are accurate, is of secondary importance to me. What is more important, is that it has got me THINKING about my own framing of political arguments, and it has me on the watch for the way other people and advertisers frame theirs.

I don't see that Lakoff's parallels of "nuturant mother" / "strict father" are necessarily stereotypical. Rather, it comes across to me as more "archetypal." (Perhaps not Freud...but maybe Jung?)

I bought his book and read it. I even felt motivated to telephone him the other day, to inquire about his speaking availability. Perhaps this suggests that the man is doing something successfully!


The idea of single-payer health care (for example) does not appeal to me, but frankly I haven't done a lot of research about how it's worked it other countries. My position on the issue does seem to stem from a broader ideological framework, and it seems plausible to me that I reason about that with some metaphors. (Although a father-figure or reward-punishment metaphor don't ring true at all -- I'll have to think about what they might be)

Reading your review I wonder if Lakoff isn't on to something, but he's merely got the details wrong because he's relying on his stereotype of conservatives rather than actually listening to them.

liberal japonicus

Directed here from LanguageHat.

Apologies, but I think your discussion of introspection is lacking. First of all, you choose an example from a work that cites two lingusts who would probably rather be caught dead than put in the same category as Lakoff (Williams and Riemsdijk) in a chapter that seeks to point out the flaws in Chomsky's approach (another person who would rather be caught dead than be listed with Lakoff) In fact, Lakoff has written about the problematic nature of grammaticality judgements on several occasions.

But more substantially, you misunderstand why introspection arose as a valid linguistic approach. Structuralism was primarily concerned with describing languages to which we did not have personal native speaker access (in our heads, not in terms of informants) It was Chomsky who argued that the rules that we could discern through introspection were actually a universal 'program' that could explain all human languages. (It should also be noted that Sapir toyed with the idea when he wrote about ths psychological reality of the phoneme.) It is also telling that Chomsky has a a number of occasions directed his ire at Labovian linguistics which has a statistical basis and I'm pretty sure that he has directed the same ire at corpus folks. Your discussion implies unfairly that linguists were given a choice working with real data or introspective data and chose the latter. This really misrepresents the way the field has developed.

You may argue that regardless of Lakoff's use of data in his linguistic work, he is using introspective data for his work on political rhetoric. But that obscures the essential problem of doing work in political rhetoric along the lines Lakoff does in that how does one delimit the corpus of political rhetoric? Would only public speeches be included? Would Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Al Sharpton, Michael Moore be included in such a corpus? Since it is not possible to have a delimited corpus in the way that corpus linguistics operates, all that is left is introspection.

I should finish with some apologies as I think you are probably familiar with all this, but presenting it the way you have suggests that Lakoff has gone down some garden path and is trying to take everyone with him.


From Dawn Mueller:

Whether or not Dr. Lakoff is correct in all of his analyses and characterizations is not of primary importance to me. What is more important is that he did succeed in making a connection with me that has made me more aware of political rhetoric.

Thank you, you said it better than I could have said it.

From liberal japonicus:

But more substantially, you misunderstand why introspection arose as a valid linguistic approach. [much good stuff deleted...]

Thank you, liberal japonicus, I got some useful history-of-linguistics from that.

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