The language of my publications has long chafed subtly at the bit of academic conformity. But now, liberated from such pressures, I still regularly interrogate my use of vocabulary.
On a site like this, for a surprisingly global audience, you might think I’d settle for the LCD [trad as he is, that’s “Lowest Common Denominator”—Ed.] style to which academics disingenuously pretend, despite wilfully introducing a barrage of eye-watering neologisms—shooting themselves in the foot in a way that competes with Tweety’s assault on Comey’s testimony.
Anthropologists tend to drizzle ethnology in a rich jus of technical vocabulary, as if to assuage their guilt at stating the bleedin’ obvious—and I should know. Academic language seems to be founded on the sound principle of being “neutral” and thus intelligible, not least to non-native speakers—the expression of personal linguistic idiosyncracy is taboo. This tends to produce an arcane kind of language that yet prides itself on being as far removed from everyday usage as possible. Yet the neologistic mouthfuls belie this. It is as if every McDonalds order is liberally sprinkled with a compulsory dollop of foie gras.
On one hand, I want to write in my real voice. But also my fieldwork experience, whose most fruitful material resides precisely in the local dialect of my masters, encourages me to persist in rendering my own voice faithfully too—which, as you see, is a personal pot-pourri [“enough with this potpourri!”) [That’s not quite how it goes, but hey—Ed.] of my whole life experience—Alan Bennett, Monty Python, Flann O’Brien, Stella Gibbons, WAM, and so on. I gave a little guide here.
Sure, this will be as much of a challenge for my international readers as Yanggao dialect is to me; but it is where you will find any such riches as there may be. In other words, if I can make the effort to understand Li Manshan, then you try understanding me…
Indeed, even when writing with a certain sobriety, one’s text can still be mangled.
For my outmoded Chinese vocabulary, see here.