How to be English

I don’t think anyone is really missing this blog, (except one person and you know who you are, in Ireland), but in any case sorry for my absence.  I’ve been preoccupied. Here is a comic for you all with explanation below.


For complicated reasons, I am taking over my autistic son’s speech therapy. He is mild on the autism spectrum, with deficits in theory of mind (understanding other people’s thoughts and point of view), empathy, emotional regulation (recognizing and moderating emotions),  figurative language, metaphoric language, expressive language. To give you an idea, years ago, when we talked about the ship Titanic, he was not concerned in the slightest over the deaths of 1200? passengers but was upset about the broken china. Well, I can’t really make him feel empathy. But I can try to work on his linguistic deficits. So I started. I have a background in linguistics and so does my mother. Helpful, but I still have a lot to learn about pragmatics. I ran some language tests on him to see if he would correctly interpret the following:

You say to your friend, “Would his highness like a cup of coffee?”

Which is true:

a. You are trying to be polite.

b. You think your friend is lazy.

He knew the correct answer. This is actually called in pragmatics “persona deixis” and it includes the tu/vous distinction.

Next was spatial deixis (can relate to distance in time):

Your friend says, “I could be in Hawaii now if I had a lot of money.”

Which is true:

a. Your friend is going to Hawaii.

b. Your friend is not going to Hawaii.

He got this right, too. I was at happy that he passed this part so I don’t have to worry about that. Maybe he understood this one because of the grammatical clues.  Next I test him on presuppositions and entailments. If this is all sounding really dry, well, that’s why I didn’t get a PhD in linguistics although I thought about it briefly. You would get trapped in some academic wasteland arguing with other idiots about some esoteric topic like indexicals until you blew your brains out.

This reminds me of people I knew in publishing who would brag about their grammar knowledge. They would insult you if you forgot any metalinguistic labels or minor grammar rules for a particular structure. While I worked in publishing, two people got breast cancer, one died of a fatal heart attack brought on by overwork, one developed colon cancer and died within a year, and one got rectal cancer and died within a year.  There are more important things in this world.







About kinneret

Hello, and welcome. I'm writing this blog under an alias. Why an alias? I started to write what may be described as an "American Gothic" novel (sort of Henry James/ Franz Kafka with violence) with some autobiographical details. ..when I started this blog I just decided to use the alias. This blog is about art and art history, but my interests also include literature, film analysis, psychology, forensic psychology, faerie tale analysis, cognitive therapy, cognitive linguistics, classical theater, World War II, and Russian and British history. My favorite writers include Kafka, the Brontes, and Philip K Dick. Thank you for reading this blog and I will happily reply to any comments.
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5 Responses to How to be English

  1. Tony Single says:

    Completely agree. There are more important things in the world. Given what you’ve discussed in your post, I feel your cartoon was quite appropriate. 🙂

  2. marblenecltr says:

    I am sorry to take so long to respond to this, I was distracted and lost the post. Let me know if it would make matters better were I to give you a note from my parents. That was meant as a joke, not sarcasm. That is a problem with print; body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and decibel levels are not there to assist in understanding. Even so, there are manners of speech and customs that make clarity of understanding uncertain when thoughts are uttered face to face, and the English are great at that ambiguity.
    The movie “The Governess” addresses this well with a line from Minnie Driver, the eponymous governess, who complains that the English don’t tell you what they mean. They communicate in a communication fog, not just London, but English verbal fog, and it includes understatement. And they understand each other well. They have by nature suppression in utterance of admiration and approval, different from our own national habit of blurring expressions of adoration over the simplest things. I like the statement, “I’ve had, seen, heard, or tasted worse,” for it avoids both offense and effusive signs of approval. Your mother-in-law serves you a meal, you say, “I have had worse,” as you nod your head slightly with approval. (I doubt your mother-in-law would tolerate that, that was just used as an example.) You can have options for later clarification .”such as, “But not much,” and, “But not for a long time.”
    To convince you of confusion in my own communication, if that is necessary, I responded to the last part of your post in a comment given for another post. Does that clear things up? I’ve done worse.

  3. Great post. Thanks for sharing.
    I recently started following an amazing person. I think you should take a look. She had a wonderful post a few days ago.

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