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What's the "norm" in normal?

"The idea that there is a single 'normal' language, a common currency shared equally by members of a society, is an illusion. Any actual language consists of a highly complex range of discourses, differentiated according to class, region, gender, status and so on, which can by no means be neatly unified into a single homogeneous linguistic community." Terry Eagleton say in "What is Literature?." (4)

What is "normal"? I have always felt that "normal" is a relative term. I like how Eagleton forms the question of normality in language by using the different aspects of speech throughout a society. But, we have to look at all the aspects of the usage of language, not only is the "norm" different within the same country, but it alters throughout all English speaking countries. We in America use different terms when speaking of the bathroom, an elevator, even cigerattes; while in England they say the loo, the lift, and call cigerattes fags. So, even among the same language there are barriers which cancel out what some of the Formalists would call the normal discourse of language.

When we include class, region, gendeer, and status, among many other differences, the uses in poetry are transformed beyond what society or critics would call 'normal.' There is no such thing as true normality in language, nor in other aspects of our world. This, for me, is what makes literature so appealing; the different range of ideas that can be gleaned from every walk of life through the power of language.


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Comments (3)

Derek Tickle:

This is a very interesting concept. For example, our dialect in Pittsburgh is much different than someone from New Orleans. In Pittsburgh, many people say “Yinz.” In other words, language seems to transform based on human interpretation. For some people to say that language has a 'norm' seems unbelievable. What if someone is born in England, as you mentioned, or in Ireland? The result, most likely, is a cultural accent. This may increase or decrease the communication or enunciation of the language.

I actually had to create a lesson not long ago that addressed the differences in language from region to region in the United States. I brought up the Pittsburgh accent and also some other accents/word/phrases from our area that are a little out of the "norm". I agree with what you said though, that there really isn't a norm, because after comparing the differnces of the same language with in our own country, it would be very difficult to create a standard for language that would be "normal".

James Lohr:

There is no such thing as "normal" and thank God for that. 300 years ago, those who believed they were normal, would have burned someone like me at the stake. Normal is an indefinable word, it very much is a relative thing. If you grow up in a society that considers eating people to be normal, who are you to think otherwise as your grow into adulthood.

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