Home > Language, Politics > More on Droppin’ g’s

More on Droppin’ g’s

October 20, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Sarah Palin and the speech pattern known as “dropping g’s,” with reference to a post on Language Log and to an earlier primer on g-dropping at Language Log.

Two days ago, three additional posts on the subject appeared on Language Log, as follow-ups to Steve Pinker’s op-ed piece in the New York Times on Palin’s pronunciation “nuc-u-lar” for the word nuclear and Geoff Nunberg’s post in response. I recommend looking at Mark Liberman’s post two days ago, the subsequent post by Geoff Nunberg, and yet another Liberman post. It’s a lot of reading, but fascinating.

Part of the issue is the extent to which such speech patterns as g-dropping are part of one’s natural accent, set early in life, as opposed to being folksy tools one employs for effect. And if such patterns are tools, under what circumstances are they used? The first of the three posts includes a discussion of g-dropping by McCain and Obama in last week’s third debate. (It’s not just Palin!) The second of the three focuses on Palin, including the following discussion:

Palin can signal authenticity simply by refashioning her original accent, rather than acquiring a new one. You can actually hear how this developed if you pull up the Youtube video of Palin as a 24-year-old Anchorage sportscaster fresh from her broadcasting classes in college. She wasn’t in control of her accent back then: she scattered the desk with dropped g’s: “Purdue was killin’ Michigan”; “Look what they’re doin’ to Chicago.”

It’s strikingly different from the way she talks now in her public appearances, not just because she’s much more poised, but because she’s learned how to work it. When she talks about policy, her g’s are decorously in place — she never says “reducin’ taxes” or “cuttin’ spendin.'”

But the g’s disappear when she speaks on behalf of ordinary Americans — “Americans are cravin’ something different” or “People… are hurtin’ ’cause the economy is hurtin’.” It’s of a piece with the you betchas, doggones and the other effusions that are meant to signal spontaneous candor.

Now there are clearly a lot of people who find this engaging, but I can’t imagine that anybody really supposes it’s artless. What it is is a stone-washed impersonation of a Mat-Su Valley girl. I wouldn’t be surprised if Palin and her friends perfected this way back in high school. There’s no group that’s so unselfconscious that its members don’t get a kick out of parodying their own speech: most Brooklynites do a very creditable Brooklyn, and every Valley girl can do a dead-on Valley girl. And with all credit to Tina Fey, she wouldn’t be so brilliant at doing Sarah Palin if Sarah Palin weren’t so good at doing herself.

See, too, today’s Liberman post and Nunberg’s response on verbiage vs. verbage, following up on James Wood’s article in the October 13 New Yorker titled Verbage: The Republican War on Words.

Thank god for Sarah Palin’s appearance on the national scene. She provides so much material for us to contemplate and learn from.

Categories: Language, Politics
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