Metalanguage, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and The Misogyny Debate

In Australia, Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott are often critiqued in relation to their use of language and are often perceived as lacking integrity on the floor of parliament and in their policy behaviours. Consequently, they have both been subjected to scrutiny of their use of language by fellow politicians, comedians, media personalities and social commentators as well as in the private domain of members of the public.

In the very early days of Julia Gillard’s political rise as Deputy Prime Minister, her strident Australian accent was commented on and criticised– even mocked – by many, especially the educated and upper classes. (Yes, Australia The Lucky Country of The Fair Go does have class stratification.) Consequently, she appears to have undergone enunciation and speech delivery training to modify this, possibly to make it more universally acceptable across ‘class’ accents.

As a female leader, some would argue, she has also been subjected to commentary on her appearance, in both visually evocative words and in visual images (quite tame compared to some) which would not be applied to a male. This coverage involves the metalanguage of visual communication. Whether or not it is truly biased is for you to research, consider and come to your own informed interpretation.

After the famous or infamous Misogyny Debate sparked by Julia Gillards’ short but impassioned speech in Parliament – aimed directly at Tony Abbott’s criticism of her for not taking a stand against disreputable behaviour by The Speaker, Peter Slipper – public debate has raged about whether or not she accurately addressed the term ‘misogyny’ to Abbott. This has become a world wide phenomenon, possibly with significant longevity. See the New Yorker article response here: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/10/julia-gillards-misogyny-speech.html

Recently, the editorial team of Macquarie Dictionary, a dictionary for Australian and New Zealand English, weighed into the deep waters of this debate by deciding to revise the current  common and public usage of the word ‘misogyny’  and consequently to broaden the definition. Some people have considered this akin to moving goal posts at a football game — mid game. Others consider it a valid reassessment and record of how language use evolves. What do you think?  Please read the Australian Financial Review’s informative article here: http://www.afr.com/p/national/macquarie_dictionary_has_last_word_NzrQFdWcPJG6G8qLRRiZtK

Also peruse the ABC news article; and the Comments section which sometimes includes commentary from the public about the underlying feminist discourse and gender/identity politics as people struggle to clarify definitions and differences between term such as ‘sexism’, ‘chauvinism’ and ‘misogyny’ with varying degrees of insight. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-10-17/misogyny-redefined-after-gillard-speech/4317468

Oh and weighing into the women-living-in-poverty aspect of the misogyny speech debate and politician Jenny Macklin’s ill-thought through comment, here’s a link to an article on The Vine website: http://www.thevine.com.au/life/news/the-35-dollar-a-day-challenge

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Because of the nature of this particular debate, this is a wonderful and fascinating opportunity to observe both the extraordinary use of language in the halls of power and arenas of media as well as metalanguage being consciously applied to parliamentary and public debate.

What you make of all this, dear reader, is now up to you. Cheers again,

Julie

METALANGUAGE

Metalanguage is a term which some students try to avoid approaching because it sounds too intimidating and mysterious.

Initially, I explain it to my students this way:

“Metalanguage is simply the language you use to think, talk and write about how others use language.”

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You may engage in using metalanguage for a number of reasons: for example, to describe, to analyse, to endorse, to critique, to educate, to entertain, to manipulate. As a VCE English or English Language student, you will put the first two into practice.

English students use metalanguage to describe and analyse how language is used to persuade in relation to current media issues as well as how writers use language to construct fiction and non-fiction texts. Important aspects of language studied in this way include vocabulary and glossaries, grammar, tone, language devices, accent and dialect and structural, style and genre conventions. For further discussion of metalanguage and course expectations about it, please access the following link and read this informative post by VCE Study Guides.  http://www.vcestudyguides.com/what-is-metalanguage

Parents modelling and overtly teaching their young children the  ‘mother tongue’ are using  metalanguage daily to educate, as do educators teaching first and subsequent languages.

Comedians and social commentators use metalanguage to entertain and/or to evaluate the way in which people use language and the implications of this. When well known public figures have their use of language subjected to such treatment, it is often satiric and often politically motivated. One example is the ridicule attending the tendency of past US president, George Bush, to the language faux-pas. A highly intelligent and educated person can lose credibility if their command of language in the immediacy of impromptu speaking is less than their more considered and reflective written or rehearsed formats. Combined with losing political favour, it is a minefield for a politician thus afflicted.

By contrast, current US President, Barak Obama, showed enormous statesman-like promise in his inaugural speech. However, with the Global Financial Crisis repercussions and an extreme right wing driven backlash, he has come under fire not only for unpopular reforms promised but for being perceived by those wanting reform to be unable to back his promising speech with adequate policy and action. A double whammy.

When it comes to words within a public ‘performance’, appearance means much even if not representative of the content. Metalanguage can be used to discuss aspects of the delivery of the spoken word as well as the written word, to compare and contrast them and to analyse the interaction between them and the implications of how they enhance or detract from each other.

I acknowledge much of this content has a political bent. The ability to apply understanding of metalanguage is an important aspect of critical thinking in any field of human endeavour. In understanding socio-political events, issues and public debate, I consider awareness of language use and how it can influence our thinking and position our perspective as a cornerstone of being a good citizen.

I hope this gives a broader context which helps you to understand the rather pompous term, ‘metalanguage’.

Cheers,

Julie

Here’s an example of a poetry glossary or terminology resource; and also a resource for poetry types: http://www.poeticterminology.net/

VCE Literature students and others studying poetry may find this alphabetical resource more detailed and extensive in its content:

http://www.poetrysoup.com/poetry_terms/

Of course there are other relevant links you can find in your research.

You are invited to share links with others in the comments section along with other observations.