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LINGUIST List 23.1263

Tue Mar 13 2012

Qs: Lexical Study of ''Alright'' in Immigrant Speech

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Date: 12-Mar-2012
From: Eric Byron <bear128verizon.net>
Subject: Lexical Study of ''Alright'' in Immigrant Speech
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I work at the Ellis Island Immigration museum, where among other
things I am in charge of the Ellis Island Discography Project. The
Project examines early commercial sound recordings and the various
kinds of interaction that immigrants, whether internal or external, had
with the general population in the United States. We examine the
dynamics from the perspective of both the general public and the
immigrants. The Project was undertaken because we discovered that in
the early years of sound recording technology record companies made
tens of thousands of records about and by people whom the general
United States population considered to be outsiders. These outsiders
primarily included immigrants, people of color and country folk. Most,
but not all, of the recordings humorously played on the eccentricities
and difficulties associated with foreignness.

One of the things we have noticed is that the language relationship that
most of the immigrants had in this country can be characterized as
bilingualism without diglossia. As our database suggests, the lexical
interference one hears on the recordings tends to make perfect sense .
Words that have something to do with outside contact, whether it be a
job, geographical situation, new technology, and salutations with the
average American are more likely to enter into an immigrant language.
My question is what term(s) would one use to define words and
expressions such as “sure” and “all right.” “Alright” appears over and
over again on the recordings as a way for an immigrant to respond
when he/she doesn’t completely understand and really doesn’t want to

Has anything been written on this subject? Any reading suggestions
would be greatly appreciated.

Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation

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