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Main page » Non-Fiction » Science literature » Talk Is Cheap: Sarcasm, Alienation, and the Evolution of Language

Talk Is Cheap: Sarcasm, Alienation, and the Evolution of Language


Talk is Cheap begins with this telling observation about irony and proceeds to argue that such "unplain speaking" is fundamentally embedded in the way we now talk. Author John Haiman traces this sea-change in our use of language to the emergence of a postmodern "divided self" who is hyper-conscious that what he or she is saying has been said before; "cheap talk" thus allows us to distance ourselves from a social role with which we are uncomfortable. Haiman goes on to examine the full range of these pervasive distancing mechanisms, from clichés and quotation marks to camp and parody. Also, and importantly, Haiman highlights several ways in which language is evolving (and has evolved) from non-linguistic behavior. In other words, this study shows us how what we are saying is continually separating itself from how we say it.

As provocative as it is timely, the book will be fascinating reading for students of linguistics, literature, communication, anthropology, philosophy, and popular culture.


"Haiman's book represents the very best kind of work [being done] in cultural studies today. It constitutes a provocative--and refreshingly unpretentious--inquiry into human behavior (mainly linguistic but also non-linguistic)....A conceptually coherent whole that is nothing less than brilliant. Not to mention a terrifically good read. The book is dazzling in terms of the range of scholarship and documentation it draws on....It is altogether original in what it proposes and how it goes about its performance." (Suzanne Fleischman, University of California at Berkeley)





Introduction: The Cheapness of Talk

1 Sarcasm and the Postmodern Sensibility 

2 Sarcasm and Its Neighbors

3 The Metamessage "I Don't Mean This"

4 Alienation and the Divided Self

5 Reflexives as Grammatical Signs of the Divided Self

6 Un-Plain Speaking

7 The Thing in Itself 

8 Zen Semantics 

9 Nonlinguistic Ritualization

10 Ritualization in Language

11 Metalinguistic Ritualization

12 Reification and Innateness

Appendix: Questionnaire for Eliciting Sarcasm



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Tags: dialogues, conversations, Thanks, screenplays, everyday, Cheap, Evolution, Language, Sarcasm, Alienation