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More on Rules of Discourse



To the editors:

Mr. DuBrul, in his November 18th letter, obviously read my October 7th letter on differences in black and white use of generalizations through his own special filter. What I said in my October 7th letter was that blacks and whites have different discourse rules (or standards) governing the use of generalizations (of the kind that Jeff Bloom was talking about in his letter "Stereotyping Honkies" 9/16/88). Mr. DuBrul has taken this to mean that blacks use one set of criteria when evaluating these kinds of generalizations when made by whites about blacks and another set of critetria when blacks use them about whites. That is not the case, and not what I said. Blacks, as whites, consistently apply their different standards to these kinds of generalizations (there are other kinds of generalizations, such as "you people," in which different rules seem to apply) regardless of whether the speaker making them is black or white.

As to Mr. DuBrul's cavalier dismissal of the use of folk sayings or proverbs as reflective of a particular cultural perspective or orientation, the best that can be said of that is that it is anthropologically naive. Mr. DuBrul would do well to take a course in linguistic and/or cultural anthropology, especially ethnosemantics. He also needs to understand anthropological methodology, especially ethnography of communication, which seeks to understand how people view the world by how they talk about it.

I already have a sense of how Mr. DuBrul views the world by how he talks about it. He would seem to deplore the fact that we are not all on the same track. That, of course, is his right. However, I would rather seek to understand the nature of the differences that exist among us than bemoan the failures of the American "melting pot" to make us all walk and talk alike.

And that is, of course, my right. As the black proverb says, "different strokes for different folks."

Thomas Kochman

Professor of Communication

University of Illinois at Chicago

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