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Language is dialectible

Thursday, January 27, 2022
Language is dialectible

I love language and words - all of the words including the ones I pay my swear jar to say.

Language is the only thing I do that feels completely natural to me and also at war with me at the same time.

I am a grammar nazi, a product of my upbringing by Bob Hamilton - dinnertime was for English lessons and all the politics the 1970’s held. My dad couldn’t spell worth a hoote(!), but being a journalist he held the way you presented words in high esteem. Besides, he was spoiled with proofreaders.

Still, I grew up with impeccable grammar thanks to Dad, and mad spelling skills, thanks to my Mom and publisher who was also at the table (and who was coincidentally my dad’s proofreader at the time).

But the way you pronounce a word? Well, that’s a different and exciting proposition.

You can spell it properly and use it properly in a sentence, but if you pronounce a word differently than I do, or (please God) with an accent I don’t have, that throws me into a whole different dimension and it’s a fun place to be.

In other words, accents, dialects and regional affectations are my heroin and I’ve been addicted since I can remember.

My friend, Darla, is either from Indiana or maybe one degree removed. Either way, since I’ve known her - sixth grade, yo - she has pronounced the words milk and pillow as ‘melk’ and ‘pellow’. I was on the edge of my seat if she said both words in one sentence.

She blamed it on her Indiana roots and I didn’t even care. I would just periodically ask to to say those words throughout junior high and high school because that was the kind of kid I was. I’m the same kind of adult, because I still regularly ask her to say milk for old times sake.

This brings me to my two new favorite words - yestaday and comftable - both compliments of my Tennessee-born and raised son-in-law, Branden.

It took longer than usual before I noticed he had replaced the ‘er’ with an ‘a’ in yesterday, and told the ‘or’ in comfortable to back all the way off.

And I do the same thing to him as I always have Darla, because it tickles me more than you can imagine when he says something like, “We went bowling yestaday,” and I follow it up with, “Ooooh, say that again!”

I’m not making fun, I am truly invested in people’s speech.

I was talking to Branden on FaceTime recently about the possibility that the reason he pronounces it like that was his geographical (Southern) heritage, and he assured me that no, it was because he is linguistically lazy. I’m still not convinced. ‘Yestaday’ sounds very Tennessee to me.

I might have mentioned to him that it would be great if Boyz2Men would have recorded “Yestaday” instead of their hit single “Yesterday” and then I sang a profoundly vivid version of it for Branden.

My son-in-law has the voice of an angel, and well, my voice is somewhat south of that, but he got the point.

Suffice it to say, in the end we agreed those Boyz2Men made the right choice.

This all comes as no surprise to my children who will confirm that if I speak to someone with an accent for more than a couple of minutes I begin speaking with that same accent and I don’t even know it. My brain was built for language, apparently.

I also am really good at doing color commentary in a British accent directly into the top of a long-neck bottle, but that is a topic for a completely different column about how to lose friends and annoy people.

For now, I’ll just roll around in all the good words and the ways people say them and keep my British accent to myself.

For now.