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  • I enjoyed the exercise Stephen presented and I agree that there might be a rise in confusion among English speakers about norms, not least because external pressure of language change and grammaticalization of features and speech patterns are ever growing in an interconnected world. I consider myself familiar with the ebonics debate as well – if you could call it a consensus among liguists there was the notion that “appropriateness” should be the more befitting category. Correctness is a concept that does not help those, whose vernacular is by comparison considered defective. But you can still teach appropriate varieties, adapting speech patterns to meet the social norms of respective speech situations. You know that Professor Higgins would have been torn a new one, had he used his pompous ass lingo in the hood. Vice versa, students who are unfamiliar with established speaking norms of academia will have a hard time succeeding in that environment without learning the sociolect.

    I do disagree with your definition of code switching btw, but perhaps the linguist terminology has been picked up by native English speakers to have broader meaning. “Less formal” however is again a concept like “correct” that misses the point if you want to convey it to students who seem to have a different understanding of formality – it is inherently ethnocentric. Instead it might be helpful to look at language use functionally. Addressing your professor with “hey” is a linguistic choice only, if you know there are alternative choices. And it surely is a bad choice, if your professor does not approve the level of social deixis that is associated with your appelation. You could teach your students about social deixis and what choices they have in their use of language that goes beyond the T-V distinction English students rarely even know.

    Check out the Japanese honorific system if you want to see some mind boggling levels of “politeness” turning into grammatical categories, even ascribing reference at times.

  • Another fascinating post. Thank you. And another anecdote from my time in France in response.

    From childhood French I’d learned the safest, polite you-form was “vous”. It took me a while to realize that, as an adult, using “vous” in informal situations came across as deliberately distancing: typical, crushing, English sang-froid.

    I’d just add that in my experience “Hey Professor”, or a more England-centric variant, isn’t a very recent phenomenon. I came across is tutoring at a university in 2001 (proof, were it needed, that I’m getting old too!).

    I didn’t know Baba Brinkman rapped on language too. I met him rapping about evolution: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hod20AzYB4o.

  • Do you know, Pip, I had the same experience: in France as a teenager, there were times I used vous instead of tu, erring on the side of extra-polite caution, only to be (sometimes) informed that I should relax, be more friendly, or something along these lines! It took a little social learning to figure out what worked best with whom, and why. Thanks for the video link; it was fun.

  • Jakob: Thanks for your thoughtful comment and interesting observations. What you say about varieties of correctness is true; it’s something I’ve written about several times on my own blog. I’ve seen people criticised for using standard Hiberno-English idioms that are considered non-standard outside Ireland. This, and your points about Ebonics, relate to what Geoffrey Pullum helpfully calls “correctness conditions“.

    As for the appropriateness of “Hey Professor”: yes, it depends on the professor and the context and the relationship with students. Some professors would be fine with “Hey”; others wouldn’t. The impression I got from the person I mentioned in par. 3 was that it was considered to be too informal, as was the general tone of correspondence. I didn’t try to define code switching, by the way; rather I offered examples based on the definitions in The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar and David Crystal’s Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics.

  • Stan, glad I could provide some additional insight. Always fascinating to look at language from different angles. It’s bound to catch up with the correctness doctrine that prestige is shifting away from some native english standards to a world english of sorts now that second language speakers are outnumbering native speakers. Korean Airlines already uses non-native English speakers (French people in fact) for their announcements on purpose, because their English is easier to understand to the Asian customers. Very interesting to see how this comes to bear on perceived levels of politeness and how they will be codified in the future.

  • ‘Always fascinating to look at language from different angles.’

    Hear, hear! Thanks for your examples of, and ideas about, international English. I agree with you about prestige. There’s a lingering belief in some quarters that standard English is innately superior to other kinds, but of course this is not the case, and the great diversity of equally valid forms of English accords with your earlier point about function. Ultimately it boils down to effective and appropriate communication. Like you, I’m curious to see what the effect will be on conventions of (in)formality.