Thursday, May 18, 2006

Low Back Pt. 2

Oregonian: So I was just talking to Dawn...
Chicagoan: Wait -- who's Don?

The Oregonian was my long-suffering wife, and the Chicagoan was her long-suffering supervisor. Incidentally, this selfsame supervisor has already made an appearance on these very pages as the native of Wheaton (an outer suburb of Chicago) who frequently uses positive anymore in her speech. The other day I remarked to her that her use of this construction was, well, remarkable, and she told me that it is actually an affectation for her -- she heard someone use positive anymore at some point in her childhood (she forgets who and when), was impressed by it, and decided to adopt it.

How 'bout that?


Queenie said...

Affectations suck.

Aidan Kehoe said...

She was impressed by it? *Boggle.* People are fascinating. The construction is like fingernails on a blackboard to me, and she liked it enough to adopt it.

Ben said...

Yeah they do. Or rather, they mess up your data. Other than that, though, they can be fairly amusing. Heck, if I didn't have my affectations, I'd be one dull dude.

I think we just hit on an interesting sociolinguistic fact here. I'd venture that Americans, when not simply puzzled by PA, attach a certain prestige to it, whereas on the Emerald Isle, and maybe on the beige (?) isle next to it, it's stigmatized. Someone told me once that it's a typically Scots construction, which might explain its unpopularity in Ireland.

Say, here's an interesting exercise in perceptual dialectology. Forget who uses PA and who doesn't or who understands it and who doesn't. The interesting question is who feels what way about it. Is it cool? folksy? or something only a "wzpqsman" would say? That, incidentally, is my word verification word.

Aidan Kehoe said...

Ben: Have you read the Hayock paper on the usage of it in Canada? I just skimmed through it, and two things struck me:

“… the level of use of positive anymore roughly corresponds inversely to population density.”

So it’s a rural thing in —that would count against prestige, it’s only airline pilots who want to talk like hicks, not wider society in the West :-) . And this, too:

“In the United States, those areas distinguished by positive anymore attach no social implications to the usage (Bryant 1962, Cassidy 1985, Labov 1991). It is found across the socio-economic spectrum, and its use betrays no particular level of education. Beyond these areas, however, the usage does draw notice, and at least some prescriptivists see it as somewhat of a barbarism. As such, the usage may not be seen simply as a regionalism but may bear social significance as well, particularly if used by those outside positive anymore regions.”

That may be the root of my reaction—I didn’t grow up speaking remotely standard English, and regionalisms that I’m not familiar with from people otherwise using the standard language strike me as unnecessarily obscure.

The paper also mentions Scots and/or Irish roots for it in the New World—that could well be the case, I grew up a good bit away from that part of Ireland that speaks like Scotland, and my college classmates from there constantly came out with things that sounded like nothing I'd ever heard before. “I don’t do this but!” was one of them, apparently it’s common in India too—cool!

Ben said...

I too have only skimmed the Haycock paper, so I'm glad you brought these parts of it to my attention. I think the population density thing is only true in Canada (and I have to say that I have never heard a Canadian use PA, which seems to support this theory, since all the Canadians I know are urban). I like the Tom Wolfe quote you link to, and, like most Tom Wolfe, I found it amusing, and insightful, but not quite right. First off, he's way too specific about the drawl. It's really more of a blend of Southern Midland and Inland Southern features - rhotic, monophthongization of /aj/ to /aa/ - a feature foreign to West Virginia, incidentally. But where he errs most is ascribing this specifically to airline pilots. Though pilots do often adopt this drawl, it's not a pilot thing - it's a military one, and many pilots have a military background. Also, truckers speak the same way.

In short, plenty of Americans want to sound not necessarily rural or southern, but homey and unsnooty, which I think adds a nuance to Haycock's assertion that "the usage may not be seen simply as a regionalism but may bear social significance as well, particularly if used by those outside positive anymore regions."

“I don’t do this but!” is beautiful.

Anonymous said...


Aidan Kehoe said...

(Aside: I'm wrong in my introspection above on why I dislike positive anymore, I have not remotely the same reaction to Scots using “outwith” to mean [metaphorical] “apart from”. It seems to be a matter of the polarity being wrong, after all.)

Right, accepted, a touch of “homely and unsnooty” is attractive in speech in US. I’m surprised I hadn’t internalised that, give that the place is run by someone of family background in New England who went to private prep school and university there and energetically shows no sign of it.

Ben said...

anonymous -
I guess I don't have much to say about the national language law, other than that it's stupid, which we knew already. I also don't have anything to say about Tony Snow saying "bupkus." What Fed-ex commercial do you mean?

Aidan -
Yup, I think our president is a prime example of the American impulse to populism, even when said populism is patently false.

Polarity problems sure cause much cognitive dissonance, nicht wahr?

Queenie said...

Along the same lines of the 'Don' thing a fun interaction happened at a bar:

Me (Chicago person): Could you send that blond [bland] girl that just walked in over here?

Waitress (Canadian): I don't see a black [blak] girl.

Ben said...

I love it! Lowered /ae/ and raised /ah/ meet in the middle, forming a vocalic Ambassador Bridge. Maybe now at least these two nations can live in peace.

Ain't that just 'vidly'? (my charming verification word)

Queenie said...

At least she didn't think i was calling my friend bland. That would have been mean!

I'm not ruling out war with Canada just yet, but to their credit, I will say that languages/dialects that have a low-central vowel [a] are inherently the best. YEAH!!!

One of the phonologists over here thinks that there is an underlying pressure to "restore the triangle". I love it.

Ben said...

Me, I don't want to restore the triangle, I want to invert it. My ideal language has three vowels: /ah/, /ae/ and schwa.