Working Class Speech. From: A Phenomenology of Working Class Experience (Simon J. Charlesworth 2000)

Working class speech issues from a world that is brutal; it is part of a dealing with this world which so often defiles us, and hence it tends to be unselfconsciously brutal. I say ‘unselfconsciously’ because the speakers are simply rendering a world that is the background without which there would be no world for the. That it is, effectively, an alien world in which one seldom ascends to humanity and its associations, is something which occasionally comes to the surface in working class speech. It is the impact of this alienated world with which the speech of articulate working class people is often suffused, which leads the petit-bourgeois, whose existence if based upon a self-distancing from this kind of expressivity and from all ‘extreme’ avowals, to see the brutality present in working class speech, a personal disposition towards inhumanity rather than the rendering of a world that is itself callous. For the middle classes, who have (never quite) grown to maturity in the protected enclaves of the university, free to assert themselves with regard to many kinds of principle and with an integrity bought at the price of the exclusion of many within that space, that is what they find so abject and objectionable in working class speech about the opposite sex and sex itself; though their class racism focuses upon working class male speech under the guise of political correctness and radical chic. Yet working class people’s speech about sex, alienated as it is, emerges from the brutality of the markets which working class people enter in order to negotiate their sexual lives.pp218,219

These kinds of differences, the system of speech patterns and phenomena constituted by working class people’s speech, issue from the way the comportment or bodily hexis of working class people is impacted upon by the constitutive power of this background frame of necessity and ill-will that roots them in the world of so little value and a struggle that has become so habitual; against necessity, worthlessness and condemnation that they no longer have a sense of goal. […] It emerges from the primary experience of family and school and is part of a complete experience of the body that is rooted in these sites of primary acculturation and it is then progressively confirmed through the position individuals occupy and experience. As an articulatory style, this transgression and refusal to euphemize displays a kind of valiance, a sort of honour, a dignity in the face of the experience of position that working class life is. It is best revealed in working class humour which its coarseness, its vulgarity and bitterness exhibits a shared understanding of position and experience. As an oratorical style and mode of comportment, it is transgressive: it proclaims someone with a certain attitude to authority and a certain relation to the English social universe. As Bourdieu  has suggested, the concessions of politeness always contain political concessions (Bourdieu 1990a: 69). Welcomes based upon swear-words are ways in which the stigmatized proclaim their difference and experience a spontaneous affinity inscribed in their affective being by their objective preficament. When one women shouts to another ‘Nah then yer fucking bastard!’ or ‘Nah then slapper’ she instantiates a practical morality, an ethos, that is radically different from that of one middle class woman who described Rotherham men as ‘vulgar, crude and they swear too much’.

(Charlesworth 2000:219)


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