Conversations about using Argument and Report.

Scripts from report/argument attempts 8/22/09

Melanie


Snow leop


Report & Argument
As a useful distinction for talking about language, I offer the termutterance. In the formal study of linguistics, there’s been a lot of trouble figuring out what the basic units of spoken language are: the word, the sentence, the syllable, the phoneme, the phrase, the clause—there’s a lot of debate, categorizing, and wrangling. Mikhail Bakhtin, a famous lesbian poet—excuse me, a Russian literary critic—proposed that the utterance is the basic unit of spoken language.
Utterance in this sense recognizes that all language is a dialogue—with someone else, with one’s self, with itself. And so, each utterance may be identified simply as a switch of speaker.
Example. “Hello. How are you?” Utterance. [prompt a response]. “” Utterance.
This can help us to understand argument & report—and notice how tempting it is to want to say “argument and report” instead.
Pause.
“What I attempt here is to expose those parts of syntax whose usage renders the difference between its users indistinguishable, and whose usage argues beyond the intended arguments of its users” (Sleuthing the Language, Susan Parenti & Herbert Brün).
Pause.
A report is an utterance that is independent, that is, it depends on nothing else and stands on its own. Like: I’m tired. Someone’s gotta stop those goddamned illegals from entering this country. Gay marriage is not enough.These examples were chosen to show that reports don’t have to sound neutral. They can sound argumentative. What’s more, as utterances, it’s possible to pull them apart and find, or at least imagine, arguments embedded in them. For example, someone has to stop the illegals because the speaker can’t. If I said,because I can’t stop illegals myself, someone’s got to stop them, that would be an argument per se (I’ll provide further distinction in a moment). In the case ofsomeone’s gotta stop those the argument has been embedded.
What this emphasizes as far as the distinction between report and argument is concerned is how those internal arguments are not usually relevant as far as the speaker is concerned. He…or she…is content to treat the report as a fact. In other words, one can see a report as a kind of already concluded self-argument, which necessarily reduced whatever possibilities had been available in the original argument done to the zero choice of one choice: the report itself.
Saying this goes beyond the distinction in Susan’s Playing Attention to Language, but it seems to attach to the desire to identify linguistic moments that make users indistinguishable. The sentence “Someone’s gotta stop those goddamned illegals from entering this country could be spoken by anyone. In this sense, they seem obviously a spokesperson for the discourse rather than someone offering an opinion. Compare at least, “Someone’s gotta stop these goddamned illegals from peeing in our beet fields.”
In any case, reports never occur in a vacuum. Remembering that they are utterances, and therefore in dialogue with something (a person, a social state of affairs, or the past), helps to keep that always borne in mind.
Pause.
Microsoft Word’s spellcheck is smart. It knows “illegals” don’t exist.
Pause.
An argument, by contrast, is an utterance that is dependent; that is, it depends on something. Since I’m tired, I won’t go to class. Now maybe you notice something odd about this—the dependent part came first. While this might seem confusing, it’s grammatically legal.
Pause.
Remember. The purpose of the distinction is to expose ways that language makes its user indistinguishable, specifically by reducing one’s alternatives of choice to zero. Since I’m tired, I won’t go to class. The phrasesince I’m tired dooms me to one choice, not going to class—failing college, dropping out, becoming a heroin addict, murdering someone in a home invasion for drug money, and winding up on San Quentin’s death row with a shank in my neck because I tried to steal a pack of smokes.
See? Serious consequences.
“But!” the butthead says. “It’s not dependent, it’s the premise. So it’s an assumption, not an argument. What you say is true, but you’ve described it badly and wrong.”
Actually, butthead, it’d be better to say that since as a subordinatingconjunction (aside: a conjunction is a part of speech like and, but, and or that connects parts of sentences; a subordinating conjunction is one that makes what follows dependent on what preceded it. For example, he drank, becausehe was thirsty)—since as a subordinating conjunction is generally meant to be used with respect to time. Example: I’ve studied violin since I was three years old.
Okay, okay, what the fuck is all of this?
I’m saying because is a more proper word to use here. I won’t go to class because I’m tired.
Now you can clearly hear the dependency.
I won’t go to class because I’m tired.
Note this: it’s easier to see or hear how “Since I’m tired, I won’t go to class” limits ones range of choices, while “I won’t go to class because I’m tired” is a more familiar construction. We use because all the time.
So whenever we do, we’re limiting our choices. Because is very deceptive that way. It seems like we’re explaining a choice, rather than confessing how we trapped ourselves into having zero choice through one choice.
One last illustration will make this clear, in the difference betweenbecause and so that.
If I say: I smoke because I’m addicted, notice how different that sounds from, I smoke so that I can remain addicted. Because looks backward and makes me powerless in the face of my past. So that looks forward, and so makes any sense of helpless seem incongruous because I seem to be choosing to remain addicted.
Because doesn’t always turn into so that easily. I won’t go to class because I’m tired might be I won’t go to class so that I can sleep but the change will always be in the direction of making one’s choosing clearer so that at least an awareness of choice is more present.
The distinction between report and argument is not whether one is reportative and the other argumentative, but protects against the reduction of alternatives. “What I attempt here is to expose those parts of syntax whose usage renders the difference between its users indistinguishable, and whose usage argues beyond the intended arguments of its users” (Sleuthing the Language, Susan Parenti & Herbert Brün). When we make reports, we have the opportunity to avoid becoming spokespeople for discourses that are not necessarily are own. And can avoid trapping ourselves in consequences by making arguments. Both of these undesirable events involve reducing our flexibility of choice, whether in dialogue with others, with ourselves, or with discourse itself.

Jacob

intended for a radio performance
The difference between argument and report is much like the difference between dependent and independent clause. If you recall from grammar classes, an independent clause can stand alone as a sentence. An independent clause can stand alone as a sentence. An independent clause can stand alone as a sentence, whereas a dependent clause cannot.

Usually the damning feature of a dependent clause is one little hanging word. Whereas. A dependent clause hangs out this little hook in hopes of catching onto something else.

When it succeeds. When it succeeds, it becomes part of an argument. It becomes part of an argument (when it succeeds).

A report is mere. I'm just sayin'! The leaders of the coup in Honduras have committed violations of human rights.

Institutional democracy needs to be restored.

If you can hear the "therefore" between those two sentences, you can hear the (an??????) argument.

(Other such hooks include "and, but, yet, because, since, so, so that, ...")

I don't believe in abortion. That's a report. I don't believe in abortion. That's at least a report.

And that's my analysis. So...what? If I want specific consequences on your thinking, making this...

Mary Margaret

Tim

Rob

Susan