ON LANGUAGE CORRECTNESS AND INCORRECTNESS.

“Everyday language” is not innocent or neutral. It is the language of Western metaphysics, and it carries with it […] a considerable number of presuppositions […] which are knotted into a system.

Jaques Derrida, On Grammatology.

For most of people born and raised in a literate environment, thinking of a language becomes an equivalent of thinking of its writing: despite the fact that writing, as we know it now, is historically much more recent than orality;  despite we don´t learn our mother tongue by means of writing; despite the predominance of oral language in our lives, writing is often the basis of any reasoning when it comes to reflect on language.

This “writing-centrism” has made us believe that language has an immutable presence, that it exists regardlessly people who speak it, just like writing. However, it doesn´t. Homogeneous societies are ideal abstractions: variation is a constitutive part of every language.

Unfortunately, the only reference most people often  have about language is the one they have studied at school or while learning a second language: in both cases, language is taught as a prescriptive grammar concerned with rules for correct usage.

However, there is no such thing as correctness neither is there and absolute truth in what grammar explains: prescriptive grammar is merely one among hundreds of theories about language (not precisely the most popular between linguists) and it´s been developed for didacticism´s sake, after making a decision on which one, out of millions of slangs, is going to become the standard language.

Why is that, if no society has ever been homogeneous in terms of slangs, there is such a great effort made to keep this idea?

Because language is, among other things, a tool of power. (Click here for another post on the subject).

What is claimed to be the “correct language” is nothing more than just another slang (not that surprisingly it´s often the most powerful people’s slang), chosen to be the archetype of the language and imposted via educational system onto the rest of people. Behind every grammar there is a linguistic policy. It is normally taught as neutral to evade controversies on why one specific slang should be more adequate than others to represent the whole community.

To criticize one specific slang in terms of incorrectness is simply to claim that your own slang (and this always means your own belonging group) is better than others to represent the society as a whole, but there is no objective validation for that since there is no objectivity in grammar.

KISSING GOODBYE

 

The making-your-point-across issue I talked about in a former post doesn´t count for farewells. Kissing goodbye is only a part of the whole act.

Saying goodbye is a ritual. As well as we like to spend time at a cafe or after a meal (having what we call “sobremesa”) we spend, if not hours, a proportionally long time saying goodbye: you don´t want people to think you want to run away. If you´ve had a great time or even a good time, we like to show it.

Announcing that you are leaving

We start to make casual comments such as “I think I am going in a few minutes”, or “I am tired, I think I am leaving” at least fifteen minutes before we actually walk away. If someone in the party wants to say something or if they don´t want you to miss something important, they know that is the moment.

Later (enough time later to finish the conversation we are having) we normally say something like “I will take my stuffs and I am going”.

Kissing goodbye

After taking our stuffs kissing time begins.

Contrary to what most visitors think, you are not expected to kiss everyone. You can avoid it if:

– it is a big party with people all around the house. However, you should approach to those ones you have been talking to.

– there are people having a conversation, separate from the rest and not paying attention.

– If you don´t know any of them and you haven´t talked to anyone. However, if there are only a few and they notice that you are leaving, you should do it.

Small talks

When you kiss goodbye someone, it is nice to make a short  comment about what you have been talking about, to say you will find them on FB (although it might not be true), that you will help them with that problem they told you about, to wish good luck if they have an exam, wish they get better if they are sick, etc.

The goal of these small talks is not to actually commit with what you said but to let the other person know you have been paying attention and you´ve had a nice time. Of course this talks can bring a new topic to the conversation and postpone your leaving.

As I wrote before, we are never conscious of these “rules” until someone breaks them. Someone announcing: “Ok, I have to go” and leaving right away might provoke comments like: “Have your friend left already?”, “was he or she tired/getting bored?”, “does he or she feel ok?”, etc.

The closer the tie, the longer the time you spend: You shouldn ´t leave a party without telling your closer friends that you are doing it because they could be annoyed because you left without letting them know and they would be right.

Saying goodbye is a sad thing, especially if you are having a good time. Why not to stretch that time a little bit. It is also a great time to find new friends and the perfect moment to get someone´s mail or number if you happen to need it.