Humanising Language Teaching
Do bleeding-heart liberals live in the real world?
Thanks to Mario for helping me out of a jam last issue. I particularly enjoyed his analysis of the cultural assumptions underlying the word idle (it "seems to carry the full weight of Lutheran, North West European puritanism"), and it's yet another reminder of the way that language and culture are inextricably linked.
What connotations, for example, does the word liberal evoke for you? I suspect that the answer could depend on where you come from (or should that be "where you are coming from"?). As Mario's last piece shows, it is always instructive to look at a word's collocational environment. In the case of liberal, a comparison of British and American corpus data is especially revealing.
A trawl of the BNC (British National Corpus), topped up with a helping of current UK newspaper text, shows that liberal tends to keep company with words like this:
In the fairly rare cases where the speaker's attitude is more critical, we hear about "guilt-ridden liberal sentimentality" and "wishy-washy liberals". The positive take on liberalism, then, is that these are "sensible" and pragmatic people occupying the political centre and espousing progressive causes. For critics of liberalism, who come from the left as often as from the right, the biggest objection seems to be their lack of fervour, clarity, and commitment.
So much for the British view. The American use of liberal presents a startlingly different picture. Our British English corpus, in fact, alerts us to the issue even before we check the American data, with this comment on the views of a right-wing US evangelist. For the Reverend Pat Robertson, we are told,
The US corpus amply bears this out. In this data set, common collocates of liberal include activist, ardent, and even rabid. The implication that US liberalism is seen as an extreme rather than a middle-of-the road position is supported by the following extract, where the contrast with centrism is explicit:
Liberals are regularly lumped together with other groups that are evidently perceived as "extreme": gays, trade unions (organized labor in American English) and "radical feminists". Alternatively, they are "a bunch of do-gooders", "big-city liberals" (as opposed to small-town conservatives) or – frequently, and most scornfully – "bleeding heart liberals", whose main objective is to throw taxpayers' hard-earned money at the undeserving, work-shy poor. Only in the US can you be "too liberal", and the political community talks with distaste about "the L-word" (by analogy with the F-word – but note that the C-word definitely doesn't mean "conservative"). Readers can draw their own conclusions as to what all this tells us about British and American political culture.
Apart from castigating your opponents as "liberals", another useful putdown is to tell them they "are not living in the real world". Where exactly is this real world? Well it is, of course, where I live, whereas you – if I disagree with your ideas – are living in "cloud-cuckoo land", "a fantasy world", or somewhere similar. This is a useful device, because if your opponent is not living in the real world, there is no real need to engage with or argue against her/his point of view. Some corpus-derived examples of the phrase (below) will give us a better idea of how it is used. Notice here the use of expressions like "of course", "that's all very well, but", and "the plain fact is", whose illocutionary force is to establish the speaker's standpoint as being the only rational one available. What are the salient characteristics of this desirable place? And what sort of people tend to be seen as being "out of step with" it? I'll leave you to form your own hypotheses – and even if you don't have access to a corpus, you are sure to come across many more examples to test them out before long.
It is important, too, to be aware that sociologists, like all other researchers, do their work in the real world of limited time and resources.
In the real world of free competitive markets, profits and ultimately all other rewards including salaries and wages, result from pleasing the customer.
Although many people do not like talk of market forces, the plain fact is that in the real world we simply cannot ignore them.
Sometimes academics are accused of being distant from the real world, but each year Strathclyde MBA students are offered a challenge which helps them apply their skills in a unique…
It is perhaps this detachment from the real world at such an early age that led to his idealistic notions
After all, this academic nonsense is all very well, but it's no use in the real world now, is it?
… therefore he has a right to protect his investment. In the real world, sentiment does not equal commercial success nor do romantic notions from a distant glorious past.
It is so easy to be a bystander on the sidelines polishing one's principles, admiring them, putting them in a glass case. In the real world, those who wish to change anything, deliver anything, have to negotiate and that inevitably means a degree of compromise
Pay increases should be linked to results. So what have they got to complain about there, you might ask? Don't they know that, in the real world, we must achieve good results if we want pay bonuses?
…because of the numerous changes in education foisted upon them by the Government. My response to that is: "Welcome to the real world." In order to stop the moaning, I would like teachers to stay in school until 5:30pm
Transitional welfare is at a flat-rate, regardless of family size. The idea is to welcome those on welfare to the real world: when you take a job the boss does not determine your pay by the size of your family. Ditto welfare in Wisconsin.
Michael Rundell is a lexicographer, and has been using corpora since the early 1980s. As Managing Editor of Longman Dictionaries for ten years (1984-94) he edited the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (1987, 1995) and the Longman Language Activator (1993). He has been involved in the design and development of corpus materials of various types, including the BNC and the Longman Learner Corpus. He is now a freelance consultant, and (with the lexicographer Sue Atkins) runs the "Lexicography MasterClass", providing training courses in all aspects of dictionary development and dictionary use (see http://ds.dial.pipex.com/town/lane/ae345).