05 May 2011

"We wuz in town an' we seen 'im. "

I've been reading up on dialects. Dialects of American English. Those that are given more than just a cursory treatment are spoken in the eastern half of the country. Once you start heading west, phonology and lexicon and grammatical structure from all kinds of dialects get jumbled together and dialect groups become difficult to circumscribe. Other influences also come into play--Mexican and Central American Spanish, Pacific Rim languages--linguistically it's the "melting pot" metaphor.

Some may say that my opinion about why dialects are more solidified in the East than in the West betrays my well-established partiality for the West. (See bio.) The West Coast has a wonderfully fluid population. It's like this: Everyone has just moved there from somewhere else. They didn't bring friends with them either so everybody "mixes." Often, social activities and venues are not racially segregated. Sure, these are generalizations. That's because they're generally true.

In the East, the vast majority of the populace was born here and stayed here. They're 40 years old and still driving to their parents' every weekend. Their best friend now, is their best friend from high school. Everyone in their social group is their same color and from their same socio-economic background. Often they vacation in their same state. In the same place. Every summer. So although there are a few very separate and distinct dialects here ("separate and distinct" can't even capture it), there is limited other variation. Most variation comes from first-gen transplants. There is assimilation more than incorporation. I don't like it.

So I got this book on U.S. dialects. For books like this, prices run from $40-$195. (I just checked Amazon so no one would think I made that up. Prices like this are the result of very small print runs. Print runs of, like, 23 because roughly 23 people in the world read these books. You can, on Amazon, almost always "Be the first to review!"

So I stayed close to the $40 end and got American English by Wolfram and Schilling-Estes, which you see here. Or there. Or there. I still don't know how to place art in this blog thing. This has turned out to be a really good book. I have only one complaint: Reading it in Starbucks or wherever makes me look like I'm in remedial language arts.

Oh, my. Look how long this is. Since my own attention span favors short posts, I'll stop here. In a later post, I'll go into some interesting facts about dialects. No, I'm serious--guaranteed fascinating facts about dialects. Aren't you riveted so far?

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