Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pikeys and lesbos

Two words are currently in the news amid claims that they are problematic or offensive. Apparently, the islanders of Lesbos are up in arms about their island's name being used as a label for women who love other women, and are campaigning for the word to be returned to them. Read here for more on this Sapphic madness.

Elsewhere, ITV are being investigated for the use of the word pikey in a Grand Prix broadcast. So what is a pikey and why is it a bad word? The OED defines it as "a vagrant, a tramp, a traveller, a gypsy" and it's probably this last point that makes it more sensitive as a term of abuse as it could be used to label a specific ethnic group: Romany gypsies.

Like many other words, pikey probably isn't intentionally used by most people in such a way, but then I remember not so long ago "gyppo" was often used by people of my generation to describe anyone who looked remotely unkempt, scruffy or shifty-looking. I've heard it chanted at opposing football team players who have sported unfashionable haircuts, and a reliable source from West Ham (our very own Mr Rice) tells me that "anyone slightly east European looking" might find themselves at the harsh end of "pikey" or "gyppo" chants.

But is it just another harmless word, or should we be concerned about the potentially prejudiced social attitudes it might reflect? Linguist Tony Thorne is quoted in the BBC Magazine article as saying

This is the language of social discrimination and it's quite shocking that this
language is now being bandied about. It started with 'chav' and then the 'posh'
stuff about David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

I'm swayed by the social prejudice argument when it comes to groups who have traditionally had less power in society (gay people, travellers, ethnic minorities ), but I can't see what's wrong with attacking those who've got more power than most of us - privileged and arrogant public figures such as Bojo and Cameron - I mean if you can't have a go at the posh who can you have a go at? So, "political correctness gone mad" or due concern for dangerous language?

Useful for:
ENA6 - Language Debates
ENGA2 (new spec) - Investigating Representations


Dessy said...

firstly, for goodness sake! why did the term "lesbian" or "lesbo" become attached to gay women, if it was the Proper noun for a place or used to identify nationality. my first thought was that maybe the first lesbian woman to come out was from this island, but it turns out, they don't accept homosexuals at all.

so obvoiously, there's been a semantic shift, the meaning has changed, but it's not broadening, cos nowadays, people only associate the term with homosexual women, it's not pejoration, cos that would be suggesting that "lesbian" is a negative term, it's not even "narrowing" because i assume natives of this island still intorduce themselves as "hi i'm Antonio and i'm from Lesbo"

it's not like the original meaning was lost, so the "lesbians" don't really need to reclaim the word do they, cos it's not like they've had to change the name of their country is it?

but what process did the word undergo before? it'll be really cool to bring up if the unit 6 paper is like language change, or even representation. the "lesbians" don't wanna be associated with "lesbians"

Dessy said...

secondly, if the dictionary definition has changed since 1924, why try to reclaim the word now?

Dessy said...

oh and "pikey" as a derogatory term is definitely political correctness gone mad. i shall direct you to the bbc voices website, where one of the dots on the map thingy was examining the accents and dialect of Romany Gypsies.

what they were actually talking about, was the word "pikey" and they (to me) didn't seem very offended at all. in fact they were discussing the origins of the word, and they thought it had something to do with the weapons their forefathers used to carry, or even the fact that a lot of them are fishermen/women and so catch a lot of pike or something. i know this is sort of irrelevant to the pc debate thing, but my point is that these Romany Gypsies' weren't offended. they understood why "pikey" might be associated with them, just as pasta may be associated with Itaklians.

i think this case is sort of similar to many other cases of PC, were someone (usually in the bbc) gets it in their head that the intended objects of these terms might get offended so lets remove it from our language. and then they do get offended and the term becaomes politically incorrrect.

i think what is going to happen in this case is what always happens. the word pikey will become some sort of taboo, but it'll probably be replaced by another word. i wonder how long before terms in our everyday vocabulary become wiped out, such as "Black British" before you know it, some genius will get offended and say, 'why can't i just be British, why do i have to be Black and then British?' and then the bbc will say let's penalise itv for using the term 'Black British'.

than the new term for British people of light brown skin origin/parentage (let's not say African so we don't offend the caribbeans) will be differently skinned Britons, and then it will be Brown British and then we'll remove British entirely and it'll be something else, and something else and something else...

you get ma drift.

this pc thing started out alrite, then somebody who wants to prove their openminded just carries it down some next route, and the purpose is lost, because we're now stuck on some kind of euphemism treadmill.

boy was that long!!!

Dan said...

According to etymology online ( a turnpike is: c.1420, "spiked road barrier used for defense," from turn + pike (2) "shaft." Sense transf. to "horizontal cross of timber, turning on a vertical pin" (1547), which were used to bar horses from foot roads. This led to the sense of "barrier to stop passage until a toll is paid" (1678). Meaning "road with a toll gate" is from 1748, shortening of turnpike road (1745).

So I guess it's been clipped to form pike, had a suffix added to form pikey, and then had its meaning transferred via metonymy (metaphorical transference of meaning from object to person) to stand for a person who uses the roads - a traveller.

I'm not sure about this one. One part of me thinks it's harmless, but another sees stuff like what's going on in Rome with the election of fascist council and mobs of deranged fascists (Are they any other types of fascists?) "ethnically cleansing" the gypsy and Romanian areas of the city.

Dan said...

And as a parallel look at hoodie. This has gone through an almost identical process:

hooded top - hood - hoodie - the person wearing the hoodie.

I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that language change has patterns, given that humans are the ones who use language and there are patterns to our behaviours.

Dan said...

Again with "lesbian", etymonline is helpful:

1591, from L. Lesbius, from Gk. lesbios "of Lesbos," Gk. island in northeastern Aegean Sea (the name originally may have meant "wooded"), home of Sappho, great lyric poet whose erotic and romantic verse embraced women as well as men, hence meaning "relating to homosexual relations between women" (1890; lesbianism in this sense is attested from 1870) and the noun, first recorded 1925.

So its a kind of eponym, I suppose, a word named after a person or place, in this case the place where the open-minded erotic poet Sapphos came from.

Yeah, the people of Lesbos - if it is actually lots of them and not some strange fundamentalist sect - should give up: lesbian is here to stay in its current meaning and I can't see it going back.

As the lesbian marchers on a gay pride demo through central London once chanted "We're here, we're queer, we're not going shopping".

Anonymous said...

sir im so confused about unit 6 section b- could you give me some tips please about what to do and what not to do and in general what the examiners are looking for thanxs. sabrina

Dan said...

Hi Sabrina, that's a very broad question. You need to be more specific for me to give you decent advice. When you say section b, do you mean question 2b or question 1b? Or do you mean the whole second part of the paper (ie question 2 parts a and b)?

Check the past papers on the AQA site link and let me know which bit you actually mean.

Dessy said...

i think she means the second part, question 2a and b. but then i may be wrong. but said section b, i think it's wise to plan your answer first. regardless of whether it's a radio script or a letter or an editorial. plan your answer, even if you just put numbers next to the bits in the paper you're reading so you know which bit you must include and in what order. what i found was in the mock exam, for my radio script i left out some stuff i had highlighted and so i didn't do so well.

(correct me if i'm worng) but i remember you told me sir that style is important, but the examiner is more concerned about how i use the information they've given me and how well i've used the sources. not that style doesn't matter, but if the radio script is expertly done, or the editorial is well written, and the texts aren't very well used, and the language debates knowledge is limited it won't score very highly.

Dan said...

That's good advice, yes.

I know it's only two-three days to go before the exam, but the best thing to do is have a clear idea of the basics of each form you might be asked to write in - article, editorial, radio script, web article, letter to the editor - and then make sure that as you read the pack of material in the exam you highlight stuff you want to use and pull it our later.

I'm bringing loads of packs of highlighters to the ENA6 exam on Thursday!

Dessy said...

with a question that asks specifically about a reason for language chnage, how do you go about it? for example, jan 2002, asks about social change and how it affects our language, there really isn't much to say except that all the women's rights stuff and the civil rights movement helped with the pc and that, but that's two paragraphs and i'm done!
what else?

Dessy said...

here's a plan for jan 2005:
why do users of contemporary British Englsih borrow words from other languages and dialects?

* they are really too stupid to come up with new ones on their own.
*because new concepts come in form different languages that are unfamiliar to British English users e.g. sodoku, which is a japanese? game
*because of the media, communications between countries is easier and so British Englsih users have access to American English and especially youth culture copies this and before you know it...
*because of immigration, especially from EU countries...

so sir, what else can i add? and how on earth and is there any other theory apart from the "Infectous disease" thing of JAne AItchison?

Dessy said...

is euphemism a form of language change?

Dan said...

Here's the examiner's report for that paper and that question on social change (ENA5 Jan 2002 Qu.3):

The best answers identified a range of social factors from the last 50 years, used linguistic frameworks to describe concomitant changes in language, and discussed the implications of these changes. Nearly all candidates were able to make sustained and relevant comment on technological developments,particularly e-mail and text messaging. Although most candidates showed some awareness of the prescriptive/descriptive debate, only the best answers were able to fully engage with specific arguments about language change. Most candidates were able to describe the linguistic mechanisms by which words are created (compounds, borrowings, acronyms, eponyms, back-formations).

Examiners noted that a few candidates confused social change with social class and took the
opportunity to off-load notes about Bernstein’s theories. Some candidates strayed from the time frame required by the question and commented on early modern English which obviously used time which would have been better spent examining the stipulated period. It is worth reiterating that this Section of the paper deals with Contemporary Language Change which refers to the period from 1950 onwards.

Successful candidates:
• demonstrated thought and inventiveness in their interpretation of social change
• concentrated attention on linguistic development during the last 50 years
• identified numerous interesting and lively examples of dynamic language development from the realms of popular culture
• offered a variety of specific and relevant examples of new words and meanings for each of the social factors identified
• examined particular lexical formations such as acronyms, eponyms, compounds, blends,
borrowings and back-formations
• explored relevant grammatical formations such as ellipsis in e-mails and text messaging
• discussed American influences such as spellings and use of prepositions
• used linguistic terminology accurately to describe these formations
• related these situations and formations to relevant theory and research
• demonstrated a clear understanding of the prescriptive/descriptive debate
• structured their answer carefully to meet the requirements of the question.

Less successful candidates:
• listed unexplained examples of neologisms
• offered a broad and essentially non-linguistic account of some social changes
• gave attention to language change clearly outside the scope specified by the question, some answers giving sustained attention to Elizabethan usage
• relied extensively on sweeping generalisations
• showed little or no awareness of the debates about language change.

Dan said...

So - as with lots of things - the knack is defining social change as broadly as you can. Just because the internet is a form of technology doesn't mean it's not also a form of social change: it's certainly changed the way we communicate (this blog, for example!).

Dan said...

And for the borrowing question check the report here and scroll down to ENA5 qu.3: