The main argument of this dissertation is that the language of John Hodge's screenplay Trainspotting, even though it appears to contain sub-cultural social contexts, cannot be categorised within the framework of linguistic theory as representing a youth subculture.
The verbal conflict formation in the text should be read as reflective of the larger worldview that verbal conflict behaviour is inevitable in all societies, as are the existence of social dialects and the usage of common slang.
1. Gumperz' Term: 'Speech Community'
In his 1982 volume Discourse strategies, John Gumperz discusses the concept of a 'speech community'. He defines 'speech community' as 'a system of organized diversity held together by common norms and aspirations'. He also states that the speech community must form the starting point of linguistic analysis. He further states that although members of the same speech community may differ in terms of their beliefs and their behaviours, that this is a normal variation and has been shown to be a systematic regularity of communities. For, the most part, however, members of speech communities generally share norms of evaluation.
Gumperz stresses the point that it is not the individual speakers of a language that make up a speech community. He cites the theories of Saussure and others of that time period to support this statement: 'It was believed that these reflect either momentary preferences, personal idiosyncrasies, or expressive or emotive tendencies, which rely on universal signalling mechanisms and are thus not part of the system of meaningful sounds by which substantive information is conveyed' (11-12).
According to Gumperz, although the ability to form grammatical statements is common to all speakers of a certain language, the more complex knowledge of contextualization convention varies widely. He also points out that contextualization is not something that can be attained through formal education or reading, but must be learned through face-to-face interactions. Discourse at this level is marked by conventions that 'reflect prolonged interactive experience by individuals cooperating in institutionalized settings in the pursuit of shared goals in friendship, occupational and similar networks of relationships' (209).
Language and social identity, a volume published in the same year, was co-authored by Jenny Cook-Gumperz. In this work, he discusses the role of communicative skills in our society, asserting that they have been radically altered. It is absolutely essential for individuals in today's society to be capable of managing or adapting to a variety of diverse communicative situations. In addition, they must be able to interact freely with people who are virtual strangers to them. These abilities are an absolute necessity if one is to acquire a sense of personal control and to establish a sense of order in one's life.
The cause for this change, he asserts, is the bureaucratization of public institutions, which have become increasingly pervasive in our day-to-day lives. He sees this as a result of our post-industrial society and states that it exists in both Western and non-Western countries. The skills required to function at this level are far more complex, but must be mastered if one is to function autonomously as a member of a speech community.
2. Halliday's Notion: 'Antilanguages'
In Language as social semiotic: The social interpretation of language and meaning, M.A.K. Halliday explains the initial acquisition of language as part of the development of the child as a social creature: 'Language is the main channel through which the patterns of living are transmitted to him, through which he learns to act as amember of a “society”' (9). The child does this, she goes on to explain, through associations with family, neighbourhood, and various social groups; these comprise the foundation on which the child bases his or her belief systems and values.
The child does not learn these things directly, but rather indirectly, Halliday explains. It is 'through the accumulated experience of numerous small events, insignificant in themselves, in which his behaviour is guided and controlled, and in the course of which he contracts and develops personal relationships of all kinds'(9). The unifying factor here is language; language is the medium through which all of this takes place.
She develops her discussion further by introducing the notion of an 'antisociety' which is in direct contrast to 'society', describing the antisociety as a conscious alternative that can also be viewed as a form of resistance. This resistance can take a number of forms. It can be passive, in which case it will appear, at least outwardly, to cause no harm. On the other hand, it can be actively hostile to the point of causing actual destruction.
The 'antilanguage' is the language of the antisociety. It is parallel to the antisociety, which of course generates it. Both language and its counterpart, antilanguage, share equal linguistic significance. According to Halliday, 'either pair, a society and its language or an antisociety and its (anti) language, is, equally, an instance of the prevailing sociolinguistic order' (164).
Halliday describes the antilanguage as a form of resocialization,as a mechanism that creates an alternative reality. In this sense, she does not see it as a negative construct, but rather of reconstruction(170). The significant aspect of the language/antilanguage dynamic exists in the distance between the two, and in the tension that is caused by that distance. The individual may function in either world and may go back and forth with relative comfort. In this sense, it may seem that he is living a double existence.
Still, it should not be forgotten that both aspects—language and antilanguage—originate from the same place. Because of this common background, there is continuity between them which parallels that between society and antisociety. Not only is there a continuity, there is also tension. Hence, although the languages may be expressed by members of different social strata, they are both parts of the same social system. In other words, 'the antisociety is, in terms of Lévi-Strauss's distinction between metaphor and metonymy, metonymic to society—it is an extension of it, within the social system' (Halliday175).
Thus, basically, an antilanguage is just another language. However, the world it exists in is a counter-reality, which in itself has certain implications: 'It implies preoccupation with the definition and defence of identity through the ritual functioning of the social hierarchy. It implies a special conception of information and of knowledge' (172).
In addition, there will be a certain amount of secrecy in an antilanguage; this is inherent in its nature. The reality in which it functions is a secret reality. Generally, the members of this reality do have secrets. Often these secrets may have something of an illegal association to them. It is just as likely, however, that the secrets are not illegal, but merely lacking in respectability and social sanction. They may be the secrets of a segment of the population which exists at least partly in its fringes, although its members may not want this known in the mainstream. The antisociety is, then, a metaphor for the society, and it joins society at the level of the social system.
The perspective of the antilanguage is generally that of a distinctly different view of the world, 'one which is therefore potentially threatening, if it does not coincide with one's own' (Halliday 179). The purpose of the antilanguage is primarily for display as its speakers struggle to maintain their counter-reality while existing within the confines of the world.
An antilanguage, according to Halliday, 'brings into sharp relief the role of language as a realization of the power structure of society' (181). The antilanguages of counter cultures, such as prisons and criminal networks, are often full are defined against the social structure. Essentially, they are defined by what they are not. This is not unlike the jargon or nomenclature of certain highly-specialised professions, which may in some sense be seen as having a similar—though acceptable by society—counter-reality.
Members of mainstream society who are speakers solely of standard dialect may have negative reactions to antilanguage. However, they will usually express this indirectly. For example, they may state that they don't like 'the vowels' as they are pronounced by the speakers of the antilanguage, when in essence what they are saying is that they don't like 'the values' held by the speakers of the antilanguage.
3. Labov's Finding: The Concept of 'Sounding'
Labov and his colleagues (Paul Cohen, Clarence Robins, and John Lewis) studied the vernacular of young American black males in the inner city areas of New York. The youths ranged in age from eight to 19 years old, and they spoke a relatively uniform grammar, the language of street culture.
Labov and his team used a variety of methods to gather their data, the most important of which was long-term participant-observation with peer groups (via). They collected tape-recorded conversations that took place on school buses, field trips, and parties—essentially, any type of gathering where the youths got together and socialized. They then carefully analyzed the data they collected, noting the patterns they found in speech events. Two examples of these exchanges are below.
A: Eat shit.
B: Hop on the spoon.
A. Move over.
B. I can't, your mother's already there.
The following exchange is between two adolescents, John and Willie, with an observer.
(Rel) looking on:
John: Who father wear raggedy drawers?
Willie: Yeh the ones with so many holes in them when-a-you walk they whistle?
Rel: Oh . . . shi-it! When you walk they whistle! Oh shit! (326)
Given the insults against the person, his family, his poverty, a person who is not a member of a given culture might expect the situation to escalate into physical conflict.
However, Labov points out that these are actually ritual insults. He refers to this as 'sounding', which he describes as a complex pattern of verbal conflict. Sounding has also been called 'playing the dozens'or 'signifying'. It consists of a dialogue that is usually performed for an audience of observers who are usually peers. The dialogue itself consists of ritual insults, most of which are directed towards the other speaker's mother, self, or housing situation. The speakers trade these 'sounds' back and forth as though in competition, and the audience looks on.
Occasionally an audience member will comment, approve, or disapprove of the statements of one or both speakers. Labov points out that the audience is an essential ingredient to this process: 'It is true that one person can sound against another without a third person being present, but the presupposition that this is public behavior can easily be heard in the verbal style'.
The presence of an audience has a definite impact on the speech event. The sounds are no longer spoken in a direct, face-to-face conversational mode when others are present. The speakers' voices tend to be raised and they become more projected, suggesting full awareness that the audience is there. In the second exchange above, Rel makes acomment on Willie's insult, praising it. In a sounding session, Labov points out, 'everything is public—nothing significant happens without drawing comment. The rules and patterning of this particular speech event are therefore open for our inspection' (327). In fact, the existence of an audience is considered a defining factor, according to Labov. A primary difference between sounding and other speech events is that 'most sounds are evaluated overtly and immediately by the audience' (325).
By closely analyzing the discourse of this segment of the population, Labov was able to isolate certain characteristics and to discern patterns in the structure of this ritual exchange of insults. After a while, the fundamental difference that divides ritual insults and personal insults became clear. For example, there was a very clear opposition between an insult that is made during this ritual performance and an actual, personal insult. 'The appropriate responses are quite different: a personal insult is answered by a denial, excuse,or mitigation, whereas a sound or ritual insult is answered by longer sequences...' (335). The ritual insults must be exaggerated to the point of being ridiculous and clearly untrue. This is clear to both the speakers and to the audience that is following the exchange. If the insults violate this rule—for example, one speaker makes a comment that is both derogatory and which is known to be accurate—the ritual may turn into conflict.
'The speech event we call sounding is not isolated from other forms of verbal interaction: it can merge with them or become transformed into a series of personal insults', asserts Labov (330). He points out that when ritual insult passes over into a different level of discourse, that of interpersonal conflict, the difference between the two is unmistakably clear.
Audience reaction is a key tool in assessing sounds. Laughter is the primary mark of affirmation. 'A really successful sound will be evaluated by overt comments... Another, even more forceful mode of approving sounds is t repeat the striking part of the sound oneself'(325). Negative reactions to sounds happen with a similar frequency and are equally overt. At the end of any sounding contest, all members, speakers and audience alike, are keenly aware of the who has come out ahead.
4-a. Goffman's Notion: 'Face' in Politeness
Goffman writes that 'the ritual order seems to be organized basically on accommodative lines' (109). These lines allow individuals to build and maintain illusions about themselves, and are not governed by laws or justice. Rather, Goffman asserts, 'the main principle of the ritual order is not justice but face (110). Hence, the governing principle is what allows individuals to save 'face'. Individuals who cross the line do not suffer retribution, but rather receive what is necessary to bolster the illusion of self to which they are committed.
The ways in which an individuals may insulate themselves are myriad. Some of them include half-truths, illusions, and rationalizations. Therefore, not only are they able to convince themselves of the beliefs necessary to his continued sense of self, they are further bolstered by the support of those close to them. Thus they continue to believe in the illusion of self, and this illusion is further maintained and reinforced by the members of their immediate, intimate circle (109).
4-b. Does 'face' exist in the discourse when verbal conflict occurs?
An incidence of verbal conflict requires the individual upon whom the offense has been committed to react in some way. The type of reaction will depend on the level of offense. One mechanism for saving face is avoidance. That is, if a person is offended by another individual, but can let the incident go without losing 'too much face', then it is likely that the offended person will let the situation go. He or she may rationalize this by telling themselves that they will deal with the offender at some point in the future, perhaps when the circumstances are optimal—although it is just as likely that when this point in time presents itself, no action will be taken.
If the offense committed against the person is great, an action must be taken by the offended person. They may decide to withdraw from the situation and may avoid future encounters with individuals who break the ritual code. Alternately, they may arrange to have the offending person removed, thus ensuring that there will be no further communication necessary with this individual.
'Societies must mobilize their members as self-regulating participants in social encounters' Goffman asserts. Ritual is one way of doing this. Members of society are taught the importance of 'face', and that they should value such qualities as pride, honor, dignity, and poise (110).
Maintaining 'face' then is a one way in which individuals protect themselves and maintain their illusions of who they are and where they stand in the social hierarchy. This does not mean that 'face' is real or authentic: 'Universal human nature is not a very human thing', asserts Goffman. 'By acquiring it, the person becomes a kind of construct, built up not from inner psychic propensities but from moral rules that are impressed upon him from without' (110). This construct is necessary for the individual's sense of self and helps him to maintain the ritual equilibrium that is essential for his survival.
5. Brown and Levinson and the 'politeness phenomena'
Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson derive their definition of 'face' from Goffman. They also include the English folk term, which includes the concept of being embarrassed or humiliated—or, simply put,'losing face'. They explain this further: 'Thus face is something tha tis emotionally invested, and that can be lost, maintained, or enhanced, and must be constantly attended to in interaction' (Brown and Levinson61).
Brown and Levinson also point out that one individual's sense of face is dependent upon the continued maintenance of everyone else's sense of face. A threat to one individual's face, then, becomes a threat to all. Individuals in the community soon learn that it is in their best interest to defend not only their own faces, but those of the other members of the community as well.
Brown and Levinson discuss two kinds of linguistic politeness: 'positive politeness' and 'negative politeness'.
Central to our model is a highly abstract notion of “face”which consists of two specific kinds of desires (“face-wants”) attributed by interactants to one another: the desire to be unimpeded in one's actions (negative face), and the desire (in some respects) to be approved of (positive face)(13).
Brown and Levinson offer fifteen strategies that speakers use to establish positive politeness: [H= addressee]
1. notice, attend to H's interests, wants, needs, goods
2. exaggerate interest, approval, sympathy with H
3. intensify interest to H
4. use in-group identity markers
-use of in-group language or dialect
-use of jargon or slang
-contraction and ellipsis
5. seek agreement
6. avoid disagreement
7. presuppose/raise/assert common ground–gossip, small talk
9. assert or presuppose S's knowledge of and concern for H's wants
10. offer, promise
11. be optimistic
12. include both S & H in the activity, using 'we'
13. give (or ask for reasons)
14. assume or assert reciprocity
15. give gifts–goods, sympathy, understanding, cooperation
If 'positive politeness' is defined as 'redress directed to the addressee's positive face', then negative politeness is 'redressive action addressed to the addressee's negative face: his want to have his freedom of action unhindered and his attention unimpeded' (129). Strategies used by speakers in the process of establishing 'negative face' include:
1. be conventionally indirect–opposing tensions, indirect speech acts
2. question, hedge
3. be pessimistic
4. minimize the imposition
5. give deference
7. impersonalize S & H
8. state the FTA ['face-threatening act'] as a general rules
10. go on record as incurring a debt, or as not indebting H
Brown and Levinson have a third category for speech actions. This one is 'off record'. 'A communicative act is done off record if it is done in such a way that it is not possible to attribute only one clear communicative intention to the act' (211).
1. give hints
2. give assocation clues
6. use tautologies
7. use contradictions
8. be ironic
9. use metaphors
10. use rhetorical questions
11. be ambiguous
12. be vague
14. displace H
15. be incomplete, use ellipsis
'Off record' politeness is a sort of hybrid strategy that falls in between the two and is difficult, if not impossible to definitively categorize (Brown and Levinson, 230).
6a. Grimshaw's concept of 'conflict talk'
In the introduction to his 1990 volume Conflict talk: Sociolinguistic investigations of arguments in conversations, Allen Grimshaw writes:
Conflict talk is at the same time so complex a phenomenon and one so deeply implicated in every dimension of human social life that it would be possible to identify dozens of reasons why it should be a focus of systematic inquiry; by the same token one would be left wondering why its study has been so neglected (3).
Grimshaw points out that conflicts may have as their focus a number of subjects, including 'beliefs, objects (things), persons, groups, or institutions' (294). Interestingly, he asserts that as long as conflict talk is sustained and the participants do not withdraw, conflicts need not increase in hostility. The increase in hostilityseems to occur only with an increased sense of intensity on both sides
6b. Goodwin and Goodwin: 'interstitial argument'
In their essay 'Interstitial argument,' Charles Goodwin and Marjorie Harness Goodwin present the findings of their research regarding verbal conflict. During the course of their research theywere able to closely study the relationship between participants and their local environment. One thing they found is that despite the disruptive behavior that accompanies an argument, the participants pay extremely close attention to the details surrounding them. During the argument, what goes on is actually 'a process of very intricate coordination between the parties who are opposing each other' (85).
For a year and a half M.H. Goodwin audio taped a group of urban black children as they played together in the street. This was one segment of a larger project in which a range of speech activities were being studies. These activities included gossip, arguments, stories, and directives, and similar activities. Specifically, four children were audiotaped during oppositional exchanges, and these exchanges were then transcribed and analyzed. One of the issues at hand was a slingshot battle. All exchanges, from the planning stages to the selection of teams to the preparation of weapons, were studied in meticulous detail. From these data Goodwin examined content shift and context within argument, multi-party argument, and 'piggybacking', or affiliation in argument.
Analysing their findings, the Goodwins discovered that by following the sequence of utterances, it was clear that the four individuals involved in the exchange did not have equal positions (107). It seemed clear that each side had a primary spokesman, followed by a second individual who followed the behavior of the primary spokesman. This led Goodwin and Goodwin to conclude that the structures utilised in the process of negotiating opposition also provide resources for the participants, enabling them to duplicate types of social organization.Thus, the process of arguing essentially gives the participants resources for reproducing 'a life that is greater than that of the argument itself' (113).
Finally, Goodwin and Goodwin write that it has been argued that the talk people produce during their dealings with each other is often considered to be too disorderly to be properly organized and studied. In response to this, they write that in analysing the data from this study they found 'anything but disorder. The participants themselves, within the space of a very few turns, produce a range of systematic permutations on a basic structure with a precision that would tax the ingenuity of even the most inventive experimental design to replicate'(114).
6c. Schiffrin: 'argument: the role of opinions and stories'
Deborah Schiffrin asserts that 'everyday forms of talk are guided by norms of co-operation and competition. Even argument, a form of talk which might seem to be the paradigm example of conflict talk, can be aco-operative way of speaking as well as (or instead of) a competitive way of speaking' (241).
Schriffin uses Goffman's concepts of 'footing' and 'frame' as additional links. 'Footing' and 'frames' are very similar to each other. Schriffin explains the frame as the 'definition' of the situation, and the 'footing' as 'the sort of alignments taken up by participation' (242).
She then goes on to explore opinions and stories. With regard to opinions, she admits that 'it is not always possible to find linguistic features which mark a declarative statement as the presentation of an opinion', and that because of this, one needs to look elsewhere, and she presents her criteria for discerning what an opinion actually consists of, concluding that 'opinions are unverifiable, internal, subjective depictions of anexternal world...the facts presented by the author cannot remainundisputed, but the principal's stance toward that proposition cannot be/ disputed' 248-9). This, she explains, 'also gives opinions a paradoxical status in argument, such that they can either initiate or end an argument' (249).
She then discusses the role of stories, breaking them down into:
- selective interpretation
- deictic (time) shifts
First of all, she asserts, one must consider that the interpretation of stories is highly selective. Individuals will choose certain stories and interpret them in a way that justifies certain behaviors and actions. Second, there are deictic, or time shifts, to be considered. For example, frequently a speaker must re-orient him or herself back to the actual time of the story, to a time when they might have had less knowledge or information about the story. The third aspect of stories that Schiffrin finds significant are the evaluative devices used by the storyteller. These devices can be phonological, grammatical, or textual in nature. Finally, she asserts, stories are presented as frames within certain events are explained, contextualizing them.
Text Analysis on Verbal Conflict, using examples from the screenplay of Trainspotting
Trainspotting is a coming-of-age story in story of a group of heroin-addicted young people from Edinburgh. It is a very vivid depiction of junkie life as well as a cross-section of life in the 90s.The title of the book, Trainspotting, is also a term used in the British Isles for people who, as a hobby, keep track of local train schedules with excessive vigilance. Essentially, the term is synonymous with wasting time, making this activity a sort of metaphor for heroin addiction. Both activities are essentially pointless and futile.
Drugs are a central focus of the story, and in particular (but not exclusively) heroin. This is very clear from the language that is used.This can be noted from the frequency of the occurrence of terms which relate to heroin. There are numerous references to the sale, acquisition, preparation, injection, and withdrawal of heroin. The drug-related words which appear with highest frequency include 'hit','junk', 'shot', and 'inject', each of which appear more than ten times. Other commonly used drug words include of course the drug itself—heroin—along with its many variations, such as smack and skag.
However, despite the omnipresence of drug and drug-related activities, the story does not set out to glorify heroin use; neither does it condemn or moralize use of the drug. It does, however, give a clear depiction of the bleak environment this group of young people must survive in. The area is working-class. References are made to DSS checks and Giro, which are terms associated with the life of poverty and struggle. This dismal backdrop, and the fact that they have little hope of physical escape, makes their wreckless behaviour a bit more understandable. Their addictions seem to be the most reliable, if not the only, escape.
Trainspotting is very definitely a movie about youth culture. It shows an intricate understanding of the issues and influences upon youth at that period in time, and it realistically reflects the cultural experiences had by young people. Trainspotting appeals to acult-prone youth because it contains the elements that comprise foundations of subculture in British culture. Although other works appealed to the youth culture of that period, Trainspotting enjoyed a popularity that exceeded most of them. This may have been due to its authenticity in replicating the youth culture experience.
When it first premiered (and even now), the graphic detail of its language and content was found to be rather shocking by some. However, it resonated very strongly with anyone familiar with drug culture. It reflects, sometimes quite graphically, the underbelly of Edinburgh in the 1980s, and focuses, as mentioned earlier, mainly on one group of heroin addicts, as well as their friends and families.Their experiences as they struggle with very real issues that many can identify with: life, work, family, death, the struggle to survive. Other issues—ones that may not have been part of mainstream culture—are presented as well: AIDS, heroin overdose, heroin withdrawal, and raves, among others.
The use of dialect is very powerful in Trainspotting. In addition, the social, political, and economic views expressed by the characters would have mirrored the views of society's 'fringe' members—specifically members of the youth and/or drug cultures.
Renton and his mates do not rebel against society, but they do attempt to transcend in their destructive ways. Renton often parodies famous Thatcher quotes through his “Choose life” rants and frequent comments regarding the emptiness of society, as demonstrated in the following examples from the screenplay:
Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers.
Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends.
Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics.
Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth.
Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself.
Choose your future. Choose life.
I chose not to choose life. I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?
The lifestyle portrayed in Trainspotting has been described as representing a detached 'subculture' of British youth. However, there is no evidence in the screenplay to support this assertion. The young characters in this story simply attempt to survive in the larger environment by adapting in whatever ways they can, primarily through music and through drugs. They do not attempt to change the status quo, nor are they champions of social reform. They simply react to the bleak social conditions that they were born into.
Unable to physically escape their environment, they find release in music, drugs, alcohol, and sex.
Renton is a prime example of this. He is not proactive, he is simply a survivor. He assesses situations with the manipulative eye of an addict, and he reacts accordingly, taking advantage when he sees the opportunity. He and his contemporaries are merely representative of youth who are struggling for a sense of identity. Their mindset is ambiguous; they react to outside societal pressures by employing their chosen means. But they cannot be considered as a youth subculture based on their language that has been described in the previous section.
The language used in the screenplay is clearly a reflection of the time. In addition to the frequency of drug-related words, as discussed above, there are a number of terms that may be considered vulgar, or at least not acceptable, words. These usually refer to bodily functions.For example the word 'fuck' appears in one form or another over one hundred times in the screenplay.
The word 'cunt' is another example. Generally speaking, the word cunt can be used to refer to any person, even a friend, but it isusually used to refer to an enemy or someone one does not particularly like. However, in Hodge's screenplay, it is used in a different way. It appears with relative frequency, approximately 16 separate occasions, some of which are shown below:
Examples from Renton:
1. The only drawback, or at least the principal drawback, is that you have to endure all manner of cunts telling you that.
2. Under the normal run of things, I would have had nothing to do with the cunt, but this was not the normal run of things.
3. If they think you're not trying, you're in trouble. First hint of that, they'll be on to the DSS, "This cunt's no trying," and your Giro is fucking finished, right?
Examples from Begbie:
1. Then this hard cunt comes in. Obviously fancied himself. Starts looking at me.
2. So what does the hard cunt do, or so-called hard cunt?
3. It was fucking obvious that that cunt was going to fuck some cunt.
4. Well, you know me, I'm no lookin' for trouble but at the end of the day I'm the cunt with the pool cue and I'm game for a swedge.
5. You daft cunt.
6. Sorry's no going to dry me off, you cunt.
As evidenced by the lines from Renton, the term 'cunt' here is quite versatile. In Example 1, 'cunts' refers to members of the mainstream society, individuals who have power and authority, something that Renton and his crew decidedly do not. In Example 2, it is used as an almost everyday, casual expression for females. It does have aslightly negative connotation, but the general attitude towards women is negative throughout. Therefore it is difficult to make this determination. In Example 3, 'cunt' refers back to the self. Renton is referring to how the 'cunts' in Example 1 would theoretically refer to him as a 'cunt' who is not putting forth an effort. In the selections from Begbie, Examples 1 and 2, 'cunt' is a derogatory use of the word for a woman. In Example 3, it refers to other males. Example 4 is another instance of 'cunt' referring back to the self in a negative manner. Examples 5 and 6 demonstrate examples where 'cunt' is used as a form of direct address to females.
Excerpt of Screenplay by John Hodge:
Renton turns to see Begbie making his way through the crowd with the pints held precariously. A Man standing with a group of friends accidentally nudges Begbie, causing a pint to spill over him.
BEGBIE: For fuck's sake.
MAN: Sorry, mate, I'll get you another.
BEGBIE: All down my fucking front, you fucking idiot.
MAN: Look, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it.
BEGBIE: Sorry's no going to dry me off, you cunt.
RENTON: Cool down, Franco, the guy's sorry.
BEGBIE: Not sorry enough for being a fat cunt.
MAN: Fuck you. If you can't hold a pint, then you shouldn't be in the pub, mate, now fuck off.
Begbie drops the remaining three pints. As the man looks down to the falling glasses, Begbie smashes the fourth pint in his face.
A fight breaks out between the Man and Begbie. Sick Boy and Spud rush in to restrain Begbie. Renton sits still, not even looking at the fight or what follows. His eyes are fixed on the bag while his hands fiddle.
Gumperz' concept of a 'speech community', or 'a system of organized diversity held together by common norms and aspirations', does not seem to adequately describe the 'community' of Begbie, Sick Boy, Spud, and Renton in this scene. They may have similar 'aspirations' in terms of completing a drug deal. Also, they may have similar value systems, considering the fact that they share a disregard for values that are ordinarily esteemed in mainstream society.
Gumperz also discusses the role of communicative skills in our society. He states that these skills are now much different than they were in the past, requiring a complex level of expertise to establish a sense of order in one's life and to acquire a sense of personal control and direction. According to Gumperz, it is absolutely essential for individuals in today's society to be capable of managing or adapting to a variety of diverse communicative situations. In addition, they must be able to interact freely with people who are virtual strangers tothem. These are abilities that Gumperz finds indispensable.
In the scene above, it is clear that the communicative skills of Begbie are not quite at what Gumperz would consider an acceptable level. He is unable manage his behavior, and he is unable to adapt well to a diverse communicative situation. In addition, he appears unable to interact freely with a virtual stranger. Whether this is due to lack of skill or lack of desire, the end result—conflict—remains the same.
In keeping with Gumperz' ideas, the skills required to function at this level must be mastered if one is to function autonomously as a member of a speech community. It may be argued that Begbie, Sick Boy, Spud, and Renton do function, albeit on a rather limited level. Sick Boy and Spud do step and try to control the escalating situation, but this is actually damage control, not autonomous functioning. In addition, Renton's focus is completely diverted; in this scene, he is clearly not an 'autonomous member of a speech community'.
Halliday explains the initial acquisition of language as part of the development of the child as a social creature. The child does this, she explains, through associations with family, neighbourhood, and various social groups; these comprise the foundation on which the child bases his or her belief systems and values. She develops her concept of the'antisociety' by stating that is direct contrast to 'society'. Antisociety, according to Halliday, is a conscious alternative, a form of resistance, which can be passive, at least overtly, or hostile, to the point of being destructive. The 'antilanguage', then, is the language of the antisociety. It is part of the antisociety which has generated it.
Applying this theory to Trainspotting in general does not seem to be effective. Renton and his mates cannot be said to be rebelling against a belief system that they assimilated as children. They still share the basic values of their families. Therefore, if they were truly members of an antisociety, and speaking the antilanguage thus generated, they would have swung towards the other pole—back towards mainstream, 'acceptable' society. However, having been born and raised in a society that might itself be considered 'antisociety', this theory does not apply here.
The exchange could be seen as argumentative, or at the very least highly provocative. Applying Labov's sounding theory, this would be an example of when ritual insult passes over into a different level of discourse. This is clearly an interpersonal conflict; the difference between this and ritual insult, or sounding, is very clear.
According to Labov, audience reaction is a key tool in assessing sounds. Laughter, the primary mark of affirmation, is noticeably absent in this scene. Neither are there negative comments. Instead, the 'audience', which consists of Sick Boy, Spud, and Renton, react differently. Sick Boy and Spud take direct physical action, rushing into control Begbie and to contain the situation from further agitation. Renton's response is actually a lack of response: he is focused on something totally apart from what is going on with Begbie and the Man.
Goffman writes that 'the ritual order seems to be organized basically on accommodative lines', and that these lines allow individuals to build and maintain illusions about themselves, and are not governed by laws or justice. Rather, Goffman asserts, 'the main principle of the ritual order is not justice but 'face'. In regards to Renton et al., this is questionable. In the first place, Renton and his crew do not have many illusions about themselves—at any rate, certainly not positive ones. Goffman speaks of individuals crossing a line; this line is non-existent in Renton's world. It may have existed at one time, but it has long since been crossed.
Goffman also asserts that the ways in which individuals insulate themselves are include half-truths, illusions, and rationalizations. Though it can be argued that Renton and his mates certainly do indulge in all of these things, it is certainly not to insulate themselves: for that, they have drugs, alcohol, and other equally self-destructive behaviors.
Goffman also asserts that an incidence of verbal conflict requires the individual upon whom the offense has been committed to react in some way, and that the type of reaction will depend on the level of offense. Therefore, if a person is offended by another individual, but can let the incident go without losing 'too much face', then it is likely that the offended person will let the situation go, perhaps thinking they will confront it at a later, more opportune time. If the offense committed against the person is great, an action must be taken by the offended person. They may decide to withdraw from the situation and may avoid future encounters with individuals who break the ritual code. Alternately, they may arrange to have the offending person removed, thus ensuring that there will be no further communication necessary with this individual.
In the passage above, there is no indication that Begbie had any inclination to stop and think about the level of injury inflicted during this accidental encounter; neither did he consider the results of his actions. He simply reacted in a very impulsive way, which is the only way he knew. He acted before he had a chance to think—in Begbie's world, this would be considered normal behavior.
'Societies must mobilize their members as self-regulating participants in social encounters' Goffman asserts. Ritual is one way of doing this. Members of society are taught the importance of 'face', and that they should value such qualities as pride, honor, dignity, and poise (110). However, in Begbie's world, the concepts of pride, honor, dignity, and poise have very different definitions.
Brown and Levinson suggest that an individual's sense of face is dependent upon the continued maintenance of everyone else's sense of face. A threat to one individual's face, then, becomes a threat to all. Individuals in the community soon learn that it is in their best interest to defend not only their own faces, but those of the other members of the community as well.
Then break this category down into two main categories of linguistic politeness: 'positive politeness' and 'negative politeness', and a third category, which they call 'off record'. The latter category is used in cases that do not easily fit into the first two divisions.
By using the criteria stipulated by Brown and Levinson, it is apparent that several dynamics are at play. Initially, the passage from the screenplay appears to employ several of the strategies that Brown and Levinson describe as ways to establish 'positive face'. However, upon further examination, it becomes apparent that strategies from the category of 'negative politeness' are evident as well. Application of the third category, the 'off-record' category, further complicates matters. Thus it appears impossible to accurately place this excerpt of text in any of the categories suggested by Brown and Levinson.
Grimshaw's theory of conflict talk is based on the premise that conflicts are focused subjects that include belief systems, object/things, persons, groups, or institutions, and that the conflict talk will be sustained as long as the participants do not withdraw. This theory does not apply to the passage above.
Goodwin and Goodwin defy the assertion that the talk people produce during their interactions is often considered to be too disorderly to be properly organized and studied. In response to this, they write that in analysing the data from this study they found 'anything but disorder. The participants themselves, within the space of a very few turns, produce a range of systematic permutations on a basic structure with a precision that would tax the ingenuity of even the most inventive experimental design to replicate' (114). The exchange between Begbie and the Man is truncated before any such order is discernible.The involvement of additional individuals, specifically Sick Boy and Spud, only lends to the sense of disorder. The ultimate escalation of events into the resulting violence forces a final situation of chaos, which does not fit in with the theory put forth by Goodwin and Goodwin.
Schriffin uses Goffman's concepts of 'footing' and 'frame' as additional links. 'Footing' and 'frames' are very similar to each other. Schriffin explains the frame as the 'definition' of the situation, and the 'footing' as 'the sort of alignments taken up by participation' (242). She continues her discussion by exploring opinions and stories. With regard to opinions, she admits that 'it is not always possible to find linguistic features which mark a declarative statement as the presentation of an opinion', and that because of this, one needs to look elsewhere. Her ultimate conclusion is that opinions are basically 'unverifiable, internal, subjective depictions of an external world'. This, she explains, 'also gives opinions a paradoxical status in argument, such that they can either initiate or end an argument' (249). In the confrontation between Begbie and the Man, stories and opinions do not come into play. Begbie's nonverbal message of smashing the pint in the Man's face ends the encounter abruptly, and renders all further communication pointless.
This dissertation set out to explore a number of importantl inguistic theories in order to analyze the language of John Hodge's screenplay, Trainspotting, which is thought by many to contain sub-cultural and social contexts that cause it to be interpreted linguistically as a youth subculture piece. However, a close look at the language of this screenplay makes clear that this is a story of the underbelly of Edinburgh, populated by characters who are haunted by a number of issues and addictions. The world these characters in habit is bleak and hopeless, and their days are filled with the futile search for temporary respite through artificial, chemical solace.
This is a world bereft of hope, plagued by poverty, addiction,violence, and AIDs, among other issues. As such, it may be representative of a sub-culture of sorts, but this is a consequence of the environment, not a linguistic construct based on linguistic theory.
The verbal conflict formation in the text should be read as reflective of the larger world view that verbal conflict behaviour is inevitable in all societies, as are the existence of social dialects and the usage of common slang.
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Brown, Penelope and Levinson, Stephen. 1978. Politeness: Someuniversals in language usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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Goodwin, Charles and Goodwin, Marjorie Harness. 1990. 'Interstitialargument'. Pp. 85–117 in A. Grimshaw (ed.), Conflict talk:Sociolinguistic investigations of arguments in conversations.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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Gumperz, John and Jenny Cook-Gumperz. 1982. 'Introduction: language andthe communication of social identity. Pp. 1–21 in Gumperz, John,ed. 1982. Language and social identity. London: CambridgeUniversity Press.
Hansell, Mark and Seabrook Ajirotutu, Cheryl. 1982. 'Negotiatinginterpretations in interethnic settings'. Pp. 85–94 in J. Gumperz,(ed.), 1982. Language and social identity. London: CambridgeUniversity Press.
Halliday, M.A.K. 1978. Language as social semiotic: The socialinterpretation of language and meaning. London: Edward ArnoldPublishers.
Labov, W. 1972a. 'Rules for ritual insults'. Pp. 120–169 in D. Sudnowed., Studies in social interaction. New York: Free Press.
Labov, W. 1972b. Language in the Inner City: Studies in the BlackEnglish Vernacular. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Schiffrin, Deborah. 1990. 'The management of a co-operative self duringargument: the role of opinions and stories'. Pp. 241–259 in.A.Grimshaw (ed.), Conflict talk: Sociolinguistic investigations ofarguments in conversations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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