1 of 2
1
Harmless Drudge: Under God
Posted: 01 April 2010 07:03 AM   [ Ignore ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4751
Joined  2007-01-03

Geoff Nunberg takes on the Pledge of Allegiance.

[ Edited: 01 April 2010 07:23 AM by Dave Wilton ]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 01 April 2010 05:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3107
Joined  2007-02-26

With regard to “I pledge allegiance”

“But the reference was obscure to most people even in Bellamy’s time, and the words have always been utterly opaque to schoolchildren.”

I think he does overstate his case a bit.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 02 April 2010 04:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3507
Joined  2007-01-29

Well, as a data point, when I was a child we basically treated the Pledge like any other piece of rote memorization, rattling it off like a prayer in Latin (for those of you who attended Catholic schools back when Latin was still in vogue); I don’t think any of us could have paraphrased it.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 03 April 2010 03:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Rank
Total Posts:  26
Joined  2007-04-09

With sincere respect for Nunberg, this piece seems pulled out of his hat. He says, that kids “turn the words into jabberwocky anyway: ... ‘one Asian under guard.’”

Please. “Under” is no “pledge.” “God” is no “allegiance.” Both of these words are commonplaces in the vocabulary of the youngest school-age child. (And let’s not forget the oldest and all the ones in between as well.) He notes that Congress’s specific intent was to differentiate American values from atheism by inserting “the ‘G’ word” into the special language of “attachment to flag and country” and the very notion of “speak[ing] American.” I wonder whether he made any inquiry into what actual effect this has had before simply concluding “it doesn’t matter.” He doesn’t say.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 04 April 2010 06:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4751
Joined  2007-01-03

It doesn’t take complex words to make jabberwocky. Witness such classics as “Gladly, the cross-eyed bear” or “Lady Mondegreen” ("gladly the cross I’d bear,” “laid him on the green").

The point isn’t just that the pledge contains some hapaxes that are unfamiliar to and uninterpretable by children. The point is also that the pledge is reduced to a meaningless drone of sounds in its daily recitation by students. It’s a rote ritual with no semantic or moral content. It is meaningless language, i.e., jabberwocky.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 04 April 2010 09:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
Rank
Total Posts:  26
Joined  2007-04-09

Yes, I understand his hypothesis. I am just not convinced that it is self-evident. I am curious what one might find with some research into how the pledge is actually understood in the real world. Perhaps his assumptions would be borne out. I don’t know. Neither does he, I suspect, despite his conclusion being very strongly asserted.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 04 April 2010 11:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3507
Joined  2007-01-29

Are you one of those “if you can’t prove it scientifically, it doesn’t exist” people?  My earlier comment gives you a data point of someone who did not find the Pledge comprehensible as a child, and I assure you there are many, many other people with similar experiences.  If you choose not to believe it, well, that’s your choice.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 04 April 2010 11:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
Rank
Total Posts:  26
Joined  2007-04-09

Of course I believe you. And it’s quite obvious that there are many, many other people with similar experiences, even without your assurance. I am one of them.

Are you one of those “if you can’t prove it scientifically, it doesn’t exist” people?

No.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 04 April 2010 02:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3507
Joined  2007-01-29

I am one of them.

Then I am confused about what your point is.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 05 April 2010 07:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
Rank
Total Posts:  26
Joined  2007-04-09

I don’t take Nunberg’s point to be that kids say the darnedest things. His somewhat less intuitive point is that the words of the pledge are not susceptible of any pedagogical meaning. To think otherwise, he says, is “almost willfully obtuse.” That seems a bit strong.

The words, he concludes, don’t mean much of anything at all… There’s no way to know what you’ve just signed on for that you weren’t down for already… Even grown-ups are not clear on the phrase “one nation under God"… You can take it however you like, because “under God” is a hapax legomenon… Children [of what age, he doesn’t say] do not parse the Pledge of Allegiance… It doesn’t matter much what schoolchildren make of the phrase… Reciting the pledge doesn’t teach kids anything about the meanings of its words, he says.

But suppose that in actuality, alongside the great many young children who have no idea (yet) what the pledge might mean, there are a great many other children who have arrived at a widely-held, common idea of what it means (that America is a godly nation, say) including many who used to have no clue, as well as a large mass of grown-ups (who learned the pledge as children). And suppose further that these include a substantial number of people who don’t share the sentiment of (i.e., are not “down for already”) that common meaning but nevertheless have somehow discerned it’s existence.

Then “under God” would still be a hapax. And many, many children and other living data points would still be incanting jabberwocky. And the phrase would still be divorced from its etymology. But Nunberg’s hypothesis would nevertheless be wrong. In other words, his conclusion does not necessarily follow from his premises. But boy does he assert that it does.

I don’t pretend to know. To me, Nunberg poses an interesting question and presents some illuminating background on the history and linguistic phenomena that bear upon it. I am just not convinced that the answer is quite as obvious as he presumes it is. I, for one, eventually put kindergarten behind me and became a schoolchild data point for, contra Nunberg, parsing the Pledge and experiencing some cognitive dissonance. I have no way of knowing how much of an outlier I was. If I’m being obtuse, it’s not on purpose.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 05 April 2010 08:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4751
Joined  2007-01-03

But what is the “widely-held, common idea of what ‘under God’ in the Pledge means”? That is Nunberg’s point.

Does it mean, as Lincoln originally used it the Gettysburg Address from which it was consciously lifted, “God willing?” “We will be one nation, God willing”? An apt sentiment in the midst of a Civil War, not so much ninety years after the fact. (Actually, Lincoln used in the context of a “new birth of freedom,” not “one nation.")

Does it mean, “one non-communist nation”? This was the political motivation for adding the phrase to the Pledge in the 1950s.

Does it mean we are a nation that respects people’s innate political rights, those “endowed by [our] Creator,” using “God” in a Jeffersonian, Deistic sense?

Does it mean we are a nation that respects and tolerates all spiritually inclined people, regardless of their religion, but that atheists should get the hell out?

Does it mean we are a Roman Catholic nation? After all, it was the Knights of Columbus who were behind the phrase’s inclusion.

Does it mean we are a fundamentalist Christian nation? (Or Anglican, or Jewish, or Islamic, or Hindu, or Buddhist, for Flying Spaghetti Monster--take your pick)

The phrase means whatever you want it to mean. Which, in the context of a loyalty oath, is pointless.

I would go further. A lot of political (and diplomatic) phrasing is deliberately designed to be ambiguous, and this is a case in point. By using phrases with slippery meanings, you can get a broad base of people to agree to the phrase, while they may hold very different and even opposing viewpoints on its precise meaning. You get temporary agreement on weasel wording and keep kicking the can down the road until it doesn’t matter any more, then you drop the whole issue. But sometimes it backfires and you end up creating a worse problem.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 05 April 2010 10:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
Rank
Total Posts:  26
Joined  2007-04-09

But what is the “widely-held, common idea of what ‘under God’ in the Pledge means”?

I would be interested to find out. I am not persuaded that the ambiguity of the phrase, in the abstract, rules out the possibility that one exists. (NB: I’m not suggesting that it’s remotely plausible that there could be only one.) Again, however, I’m not making a claim that one exists; I’m only questioning the dismissive certitude that schoolchildren, of any age, cannot derive any instructional content from the pledge apart from a rote exercise in national belonging that might as well be in Arapaho.

The phrase means whatever you want it to mean.

For whatever it’s worth, that has not been my experience, and I don’t suppose myself to be unique. Or unusually willful. Obtuse, I cannot say.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 05 April 2010 02:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  329
Joined  2007-02-17

This is hardly new.

William Safire wrote a much-quoted article called ‘I Led the Pigeons to the Flag’ in 1979. It doesn’t seem to be on the web, but excerpts from it can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/1996/04/14/magazine/100-years-new-york-times-language-may-27-1979-led-pigeons-flag.html.

And he addresses the under God issue in a later piece: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/24/opinion/of-god-and-the-flag.html?pagewanted=1

Profile
 
 
Posted: 06 April 2010 06:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4751
Joined  2007-01-03

I’m only questioning the dismissive certitude that schoolchildren, of any age, cannot derive any instructional content from the pledge apart from a rote exercise in national belonging that might as well be in Arapaho.

I don’t think Nunberg would make this claim at all. To me, this part of his argument would be better summed up by “schoolchildren, of any age, cannot derive semantic content from the rote exercise of reciting the pledge.” Certainly they are capable of learning what ranges of meaning the pledge carries, but they can’t do this through rote recitation, which is a ritual devoid of semantic content or instruction.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 02 March 2014 06:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
Avatar
Rank
Total Posts:  5
Joined  2014-03-01
languagehat - 02 April 2010 04:42 AM

Well, as a data point, when I was a child we basically treated the Pledge like any other piece of rote memorization, rattling it off like a prayer in Latin (for those of you who attended Catholic schools back when Latin was still in vogue); I don’t think any of us could have paraphrased it.

As a child I took offense at bein’ forced to say The Pledge Of Allegiance and yap-a prayer each morning in school.
When my mother told me that some lady made-it-so we didn’t hav-ta say a prayer any longer the first words form me wee mouth were,
“Do we still have to say The Pledge?”

Here’s a good way of introducing myself to Word Origins, my Corrected Pledge.
Oh, if you don’t wanna click the link, from a stranger (& ya don’t get much stranger than moi), I see an Attachments button. 
Okay, done photoshopped it down to size but the link leads to a much larger version, suitable for downloading and framing.  :coolsmile:
http://www.thenerdmachine.com/community/gallery/sizes/2667-1-pledge-corrected/large/

You folks are most adroit; what do you think/feel about my...corrections?

Oh yeah, the posters sez, ...The Pledge with all mythology, puffery & mis/non/malfeasance removed.

[ Edited: 02 March 2014 06:24 AM by Tor Hershman ]
Image Attachments
tor hershman corrected pledge smallest.jpg
Profile
 
 
Posted: 03 March 2014 03:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1181
Joined  2007-02-14

Although my atheism wasn’t firmly established at the time of the addition of the phrase under God I was sufficiently questioning to just shut up when that phrase came along during our daily recitation.  If nothing else I was at least, at the age of eleven, aware of most of the semantic content of the pledge.

Profile
 
 
   
1 of 2
1