LINGUIST List 3.211

Wed 04 Mar 1992

Disc: Linguistics in the Popular Press, E-prime

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  1. Johanna Rubba, Popular Press
  2. , E(nglish)-Prime

Message 1: Popular Press

Date: Thu, 27 Feb 92 16:25:12 PSPopular Press
From: Johanna Rubba <rubbabend.UCSD.EDU>
Subject: Popular Press


Here's an item on dialects from the San Diego Reader's trivia-question column.
It appeared on Feb. 20, 1992. The columnist's name is Matthew Alice.

I quote the exchange in full:

Hi, Matt: Being in Pittsburgh and Atlanta recently, I got to wondering
about accents and how they develop. Where did that distinctive
"Pittsburghese" accent come from?

-John Kent, Carlsbad

They must have known you'd ask, John. Just this month, "Pittsburgh"
magazine published a story about how a ripe, juicy western Pennsylvania
accent can keep you out of certain image-laden jobs in that city.
Apparently, nobody wants an executive who says things like "dahntahn,
worsh, wrench" and "yinz" instead of "downtown, wash, rinse" and "you"
(plural form). Yours truly remembers a sojourn in Steeltown ("Stilltahn"
to the locals) and the happy hours spent decoding things like "Redd up
the place" (translation: "It's your turn to do the housecleaning");
"Ahm fahred" ("Just lost my job"); and "My car needs worshed" ("The
impala's dirty").
 Pittsburghese evolved the way most regional dialects appear, as an
extension and distillation of the accent, vocabulary, and grammar of
the various population groups in the area. According to University of
Pittsburgh linguistics professor Sarah Thomason (remarkably accentless,
by the way), there's no scholarly study of the origins of Pittsburghese,
but certain characteristics are found in Scottish dialects. Scots settled
and built the city in the 18th and 19th centures and may have set the
tone for proper speech -- or so the story goes.
 The hair-raising word "yinz" is the Iron City's offical second-person
plural pronoun ("Did all of yinz see the Pahrts game las naht?").
It is related to the Southerner's "y'all" and the New Yorker's "youze."
British English traditionally had separate words for the singular and
plural forms of "you." "Y'all, yinz" and "youze" are just contracted forms
of "you all" and "you ones," Americans' feeble substitutes for the old
Britspeak plural "ye."
 Dialecticians have spent plenty of personhours trying to identify the
sources of America's regional accents, grammar, and vocabulary. Mostly
all they've proved is that Ph.D.s can get into fistfights just as easily
as the rest of us; most U.S. regions have so many language influences
that the resulting pastiche (known in the trade as a koine) is difficult
to untangle with any certainty. In the past, a Brooklynite's "dem, dese,"
and "doze" was considered the result of the Dutch pronunciation of English
words ("them, these" and "those"), Dutch having no equivalent "th" sound
and "d" being the closest approximation. But as linguists like J.L.
Dillard have pointed out, many of the scores of languages spoken in
New York have no "th" sound, so who's to say "dem, dese," and "doze"
is only the fault of the Dutch?
 Soon all this may be even more academic than it is now. As the
"Pittsburgh" magazine article suggests, regional accents, particularly
those that have some social class implications, are not helpful when
you're trying to talk your way up the corporate ladder. Speech
therapists and voice coaches have made a tidy living in recent years
ridding people of their regional accents. And the increased geographical
mobility of the average American has also diluted our regional speech.

End quote.

Matthew Alice's answer is a nice pastiche of folk wisdom concerning
dialects ("Americans' feeble substitutes") and the attempt (by the
journalist or his telephonic sources?) to compress complex linguistic
wisdom into a few (remarkably unenlightening) sentences -- "an
extension and distillation of the accents ...."

As a consequence of the AP release on the 'grammar gene', which I
thought was a particularly bad piece (I think it could have been
much more enlightening and linguistically accurate in the same space
and without fancier wording), I talked it over with a reporter friend
of mine. We put the blame for the badness of the AP piece in two areas:
(a) failure of the linguist(s) interviewed to explain things in a way
comprehensible to a layperson (the journalist) (b) failure of the journalist
to show his finished piece to said linguist(s) for confirmation that the ideas
were not hopelessly mangled in the process of writing up the piece.
Other factors not under the journalist's immediate control are what
her/his editor and the copy editor do with the piece after it leaves
her/his hands. The moral of the story, for me, is that linguists need
to find ways to explain their work in everyday terms that still preserve
the complexity of the topic without being abstract to the point of
meaninglessness. This is essentially the task that faces anyone teaching
intro ling courses. Second, if linguists are interviewed by journalists,
they should ask for follow-up, for a copy of whatever product emerges,
and give the journalist follow-up on what they think of the piece.

Any space we can get in the popular press is a valuable opportunity
to educate a public that is badly linguistically undereducated,
and pieces on sociolinguistics are, I feel, particularly important
(this area of linguistics is likely to have an impact on many lives,
cf. the bilingual ed. controversy and the national English-as-official-
language movement that has been afoot for a number of years).
We need to treat such interviews with care and give them the follow-up
they deserve. I know I'm implying that the linguists named in these articles
didn't do that, so I beg forgiveness if I'm wrong.

Jo Rubba, UC San Diego
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Message 2: E(nglish)-Prime

Date: Thu, 27 Feb 92 21:37:32 CSE(nglish)-Prime
From: <GA5123SIUCVMB.bitnet>
Subject: E(nglish)-Prime

 In an intended posting under the subject heading "Linguistics in the media",
which seems to have been lost (or I missed it for some other reason)
I pointed out that National Public Radio's "All Things Considered"
recently interviewed a fluent speaker of E-Prime, the be-less English.
 He made two interesting points: (1) that in his opinion the necessity
to find alternatives to constructions with "be" forced him into clearer
and more honest expression; and (2) that most people don't notice that he
is speaking a "different" language until it is pointed out to them.
As I listened to the interview, I found the second assertion quite credible.
 He also mentioned a book on E-Prime, produced by the International Society
for General Semantics, entitled "To Be or Not". On the remote possibility
that my previous posting was suppressed for the commercial implications of
mentioning the price of the book, I will not repeat that information here,
but I will repeat the I.S.G.S.'s new address and telephone number, as well as
my disclaimer that I have no financial or other partisan interest in the book.
 The International Society for General Semantics is at
 P. O. Box 728
 Concord, CA 94522 U.S.A.
 (510) 798-0311
 The Polish-American linguist who founded General Semantics is
Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950).
----------------
Lee Hartman ga5123  siucvmb.bitnet
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