LINGUIST List 3.734

Wed 30 Sep 1992

Disc: Baby-talk, Non-sexist Language

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  1. Allan C. Wechsler, Baby talk, inspired by 3.720 Reanalyses (Part 1)
  2. , 3.724 *dog* as non-sexist language
  3. Allan C. Wechsler, 3.724 Summary: 'dog' as sexist language

Message 1: Baby talk, inspired by 3.720 Reanalyses (Part 1)

Date: Thu, 24 Sep 1992 10:18-040Baby talk, inspired by 3.720 Reanalyses (Part 1)
From: Allan C. Wechsler <ACWRIVERSIDE.SCRC.Symbolics.COM>
Subject: Baby talk, inspired by 3.720 Reanalyses (Part 1)

>> Linguist List: Vol-3-720. Wed 23 Sep 1992.
>> From: Dennis Baron <>
>> Subject: reanalysis

>> And I know quite a few children who reanalyzed the _you_ in
>> certain phrases: both our younger kids in response to
>> "Do you want me to carry you?" would say, "Carry you, Mommy."
>> And in response to "I'm going to put you to bed now".
>> "No, Daddy putyou."

This reminded me of the following. I am not a Japanese expert, so this
should be confirmed by someone who knows whereof they speak.

In Japanese, small children use the "brash" 1sg pronoun /boku/, which in
adult speech is mostly proscribed. But in the "baby talk" register that
adults use in talking to toddlers, the adult uses /boku/ as a 2sg
pronoun! Apparently the adult anticipates a mistake like the one Dennis
Baron describes, and tries to avert it by calling the child "I".

Apparently this practice goes even further. I was in a Japanese
restaurant with my son, who was then about three. We asked for a spoon

for the boy, and the waitress conveyed the request into the kitchen in
Japanese. A question came back, which I think was /doko-ni?/,
literally "Where?", but I think in this context it meant "For whom?".
The waitress answered, /boku-ni/, literally "For me.", but using a 1sg
pronoun that a well-bred young woman would never use of herself unless
she were making a political statement of some sort. My only theory
about this answer is that it was intended to mean "For one who would be
expected to call himself /boku/, i.e., for the little boy." Is this
plausible? Perhaps I misheard.

On another subject, how widespread is the English baby-talk in which the
baby is addressed with a special 2sg pronoun "ums", with 3sg agreement?
I've only seen it written. "Does ums want aunty to carry ums?" If
anybody knows a native speaker of this atrocity, I'm interested.
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Message 2: 3.724 *dog* as non-sexist language

Date: Fri, 25 Sep 1992 12:29:15 3.724 *dog* as non-sexist language
From: <>
Subject: 3.724 *dog* as non-sexist language

 The ad in question read

 If your date is a dog, get a vet.

 Am I missing something? One seeks for many qualities in a date. Physical
attractiveness is frequently one of them. But only one of them. One important
trait that I seek in
a date is quality of character. Many other people would agree. When they read
the billboard, they might be more likely to conclude that the *dog*, i.e.,
person of low character, was a male. Right?

Also, if the
status value of the car is what is being sold, then in order to achieve
contrast, the proper intended meaning for *dog* is that of "a disreputable
person" or "a loser".

 The billboard has lots of
implications. It might be best politically to suppress the ones that don't fit
a particular political agenda. But it does violence to the data. Slang tends to
be crude. Its terms tend to be polysemous, its usage multiply evocative and

 What if the results of the informal survey had showed clearly that most
readers assumed the date to be male. Would the billboard then be "sexist"? What
if the responses were evenly balnced (50 percent saying the date was male and
50 percent saying the date was female.)?

 The informal study reported was not in any sense systematic or scientific.
It gathered largely anecdotal evidence to support a conclusion announced in
I can't avoid the impression that the purpose of the *study* reported here is
to impose conformity of meaning and expression in order to make an
example of the car dealer that posted the billboard. I can
certainly understand that - I think this sort of advocacy rather than any sort
of scholarship is an important part of the self-understanding of many
academics. But surely ambiguity and plurality of meaning need not be sacrificed
to that end? Isn't sociolinguistics far more sophisticated in its methods?
I would think that in sociolinguistics, as e.g., in experimental psychology the
experimental protocol would be designed to screen out any biases of the tester.

 JA Given
 SUNY Stony Brook

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Message 3: 3.724 Summary: 'dog' as sexist language

Date: Fri, 25 Sep 1992 14:28-0403.724 Summary: 'dog' as sexist language
From: Allan C. Wechsler <ACWRIVERSIDE.SCRC.Symbolics.COM>
Subject: 3.724 Summary: 'dog' as sexist language

I agree with Wheeler's conclusions about the semantics of "dog";
further, the car dealer must have been being disingenuous when he denied
sexist intent. But I have a nit to pick with one of the cited studies.
If we claim to be doing science, we should at least do it right.

In particular, I take issue with the way the results are reported from
the study by Brice. Brice's questionnaire was "disseminated to 75
female and 75 male students"; we then find statistical summary
statements like "... 38.7% said ...", "61.3% of the female informants
said ...". If percentages are used instead of actual counts, it's
unwarranted to give three significant figures with a sample this small.
The third figure only becomes significant with samples of (roughly)
1,000,000; even the second figure is questionable for samples of less
than 10,000. While I don't expect to see margins of error or 95%
confidence figures in an informal posting, it was a little jarring to
see a digit that represented the opinion of about a twelfth of a

(I anticipate a possible rebuttal: "But it is simply TRUE that the cited
percentage of the sample responded as shown; it would have been false to
say 60%." Yes. I advocate using the word "about" as a code to show
that an approximation is being presented instead of the exact, but not
statistically generalizable, figure. Something like "46 of the 75 women
(about 60%) said..." would have been nice.

Let me reiterate that I think all the conclusions drawn are drawn
validly. It was only the statistical detail of the presentation that
bugged me.
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