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Friday, January 23, 2009

The English Language and The Love I Have for Its Other Speakers

American English is my native tongue, and I’ve loved it from the beginning. What a silly, silly language we have going on over here. We’ve got words from every language on the planet...

Banjo? Ukulele? Okra? Papoose? Ha ha ha! We will crush you and then we will steal your words!

English is a language of contradiction. It’s cool! Wait – no! It’s hot!

For cryin’ out loud, we have peace-keeper missiles! Peace keepers. (Good thing they’re not for blowing stuff up, huh? That would not be peaceful.)

As my son would say, the language is totally cheevil.

And that’s just English as we use it in the U.S. What about the “other” native English speakers? I refer, specifically, to the English-speaking English.

I can tell you – and you can believe me! – that in the U.S., anything said with an English accent is automatically interesting.

“Pardon me, love.”

Who, me? Insert furious blushing here. Heaven help me, he called me “love”.

Whatever you needed, my friend? You got it – just for saying “pardon me, love” in that adorable accent…

Of course, there are many people around the world who probably speak betterer English than its native speakers. Some people would have you believe that this is because students in other parts of the world – the same students, by the way, who would be happy to have the food you left on your plate, you ungrateful wretch! – are beaten with wooden rulers for educational transgressions.

As an aside, my parents never had to browbeat us into eating the foods we didn’t care for by mentioning “starving children in China” because there wasn’t a food that we wouldn’t eat. As a matter of fact, my father was continually trying to pull the good stuff away from us with comments about it being “terrible, terrible food – here let me relieve you of that…” and “none of this is good enough for you kids”.

But I digress.

Since blogging, I’ve been reading a number of bloggers from other parts of the world, people whose use of the language makes me weep with joy. I visit them, hoping for the crumbs of their vocabularies, but I suspect I’m starting to look more like a stalker than a slightly sinister if not entirely innocent fan.

They don’t answer my calls, they don’t accept my gifts of elbow-macaroni busts of their likenesses.

It gets disheartening.

But I love them! And if you’re reading, you English/Irish/Belgium/Australian/Indian/Carpathian gods and goddesses of words of murky pasts and colorful origins, my offer of a beer still stands…

Actually, that offer’s good for all of us. Cover charge will be a four-syllable (or better) mot juste that you can throw into everyday use without feeling self-conscious.

Go.

37 comments:

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

You should read "The Mother Tongue" by Bill Bryson (if you already haven't). Fabulous digestion of the English language. Maybe I'll finally get around to writing a review about it.

Also, at my old job, I had ordered some chemicals from an English vendor. They wanted to follow up and make sure I got what I wanted and if I needed anything else, just call them. Well, it was a woman who called and she got my voice mail. I clearly remember her saying "Good afternoon, Doctor Jenks, I'm..." in her lovely accent and a heavy, somewhat smokey voice.

Oh, I about made a mess right there. I kept the message until I got laid off and couldn't take the phone with me. I wish I had figured out a way to record it for my own personal use. I'd play it on an endless loop.

The Retired One said...

As the Finnish-family people from the U.P. (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) (who are called "Yoopers") would say:
"Holy Whaa". (Which usually means, "Wow").
Being a (former) Air Force brat, it was always interesting to see the difference in colloquial sayings, and different accents. As a northern girl, the southern drawls were the hardest to understand...but I loved them all!!

Dr Zibbs said...

Inglis? What r use talkin bout?

Comedy Goddess said...

I read this post:http://tomusarcanum.blogspot.com/2009/01/john-cleeses-letter-to-american.html
right after yours. Hope you can copy and paste it!

Prefers Her Fantasy Life said...

I'll take you up on that beer. Bring the Artic Monkeys.

Michelle said...

I love the word brilliant!! I use brilliant whenever possible!!!

I also like apollonian which means harmonious, well-balanced.

Wait am i answering your question? My toe is confusing me today!!!

Love ya Pearl!!!!

My word verification is defert!!! Is that like defart!!!???

Ian Lidster said...

I'm a Canadian and we talk pretty much like you do, with a few homegrown terms and nuances.

Nicely done, love.

Sweet Cheeks said...

I love 'British English' and could honeslty listen to them speak it all day about absolutely nothing...(like Alan Rickman)sigh...
:)

EskimoBob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
EskimoBob said...

Pearl -

It was kind of odd,
but as I was reading your blog.
Rex Harrison came back from the dead,
kicked open my door and said:

Hear them down in Soho square,
Dropping "h's" everywhere.
Speaking English anyway they like.
You sir, did you go to school?
Man Wadaya tike me for, a fool?
Henry No one taught him 'take' instead of 'tike!
Why can't the English teach their children how to speak?
This verbal class distinction, by now,
Should be antique. If you spoke as she does, sir,
Instead of the way you do,
Why, you might be selling flowers, too!
Hear a Yorkshireman, or worse,
Hear a Cornishman converse,
I'd rather hear a choir singing flat.

Protege said...

English is not my native language, but I do the best I can. Although I often mix words up and use them incorrectly; luckily my English speaking boyfriend points these out to me.;))
And he has one of those wonderful voices with wonderful British accent.;)It drives me crazy.;)

nsiyer said...

English is a great language and an universal one at that.It unites different countries and binds all of us. Just imagine, I would otherwise be writing in the indian National language which is 'Hindi.

Nice post

Leann I Am said...

If I can just get a Canadian to say, "Out and about" I'm in hog heaven!!!

You're right about the others, though. There's a small part of me that's disappointed that none of my children were born with British accents...

Pearl said...

Indefatigable, You get extra points just for the word "indefatigable". Love it.
Ah, the British. Even when you suspect that they are, as they say, "taking the piss out of you", it still sounds so RIGHT when they do it that I'm inclined to agree with them. OH -- and Bill Bryson is a genius. He's got a beer coming, too.

Sweet Cheeks, the Brits know they have us like that, too, I suspect.



Prefers Her Fantasy Life, I know, right?! :-) I love them...

Michelle, I love "brilliant" as well. We need a word like that. Wait. Maybe we do! What do Americans say that is the equivalent of "brilliant"???

Ian, you had me at "Canadian".
:-) Some of the most amusing people are Canadian...



Retired One, I love the differences in speech by region. This is why I continue to say "pop" for soda, when when I know it makes people from other parts of the country laugh. I'm a Minnesotan! We say silly things!

Dr. Zibbs, as my Aunt Marilyn would say, "What are youse kids doin' over there?!"

Comedy Goddess, Ah, I love that one!

Eskimo Bob, nicely done. :-) Now I've got THAT stuck in my head!

Protege, do you know that I've not noticed that you're not a native speaker?!

nsiyer, is "namaste" Hindi? If so, that is my only word... Oh, and maybe "walah". Or is it "walla"? Yes, English has become a universal language, but honestly, I know that the U.S., for one, needs to concentrate more fully on educating its children in more than one language. I find it embarrassing that so few of us can get by in more than English...

Leann I Am, is it too late to force your children to adopt an accent?! And you're absolutely right about "out and about". Good ol' Canadians!

swenglishexpat said...

A pint of Viking mead, .....love?

Douglas said...

Whatever gets the point across, the idea expressed, the concept understood is speaking the language. Whatever makes your heart beat faster, brings a tear to your eye, or makes you sigh, is poetry.

Whatever happened to "Far out!" and "Groovy"?

Steve said...

Indubitably, my dear, is the word that affords my escape from many a faux pas or social snarl-up. Just toss it nonchalently into the ether and then perambulate towards the bar there to imbibe one's liquor of choice with your conscience clear and your superior vocabulary undoubted.

EskimoBob said...

Pearl -

Did you ever find the portal that leads to my new blog? Hope that you do. Any questions. Just ask.

darsden said...

hooked on phonics wuked fer me. ummmmm Pearl I'm from the fur south, how ye feel about us here folks? LOL (where do you get this Chit from ?)

Pearl said...

Swenglish, that sort of talk will get you the first pint for free. And then?! WE DANCE!

Douglas, "far out" and "groovy" are still perfectly cromulent words.

Steve wins! Steve wins! :-) Witty little fucker, ain't ya?!

Eskimo Bob, new blogs are cheating.

Darsden, I love the expressions from the South. Of course the only one that truly springs to mind at the moment is "time for a little Come to Jesus meeting". I was astounded the first time I heard that and I think it's just the perfect combination of funny and vaguely threatening... :-)

Brother Tobias said...

It's not the length of our words, but the way that we use them that counts, Pearl. Look...You see? Not a word more than one sill a bull there. Oh, we can do long words. Serendipitously, mercurially, unpredictably, devastatingly ephemeral ones. But what the english speaking English can still do well, through all their shortfalls and dwindling education and ends-up economy, is the one-syllable Anglo-Saxon pithy epithet. Pithy we can do, better than anyone. Hell - pithy is our gift to the world. Mix any two vowels with any two consonents in any order, and you have an Anglo-Saxon swear word. And the betting is, Shakespeare used it too.

Kevin Musgrove said...

I speak English as a first language, which is to say, hardly at all. When I visited friends in the States last I took a phrase book so that they had a fighting chance of understanding me.

I'll let you explain "deadbatted" to the folks out there. (-:

word veri: hydit - what a teenager does with a zit and a gallon of foundation cream

darsden said...

Pearl my former boss used that expression all the time "Come to Jesus Meeting" I turned around and introduced it to my cajun step dad. He loves using that when he is fixing to get the guys at the shop! GF if you heard my drawal, LOL. Deep South cornbeard fed!

Jeanne said...

As much as a Canadian "out and about" is a Bostonian "I parked my car in the yard." Not an "r" to be heard in the whole phrase!

darsden said...

that was suppose to be cornbread fed...evidentially hoked on phonics didn't work...LOL I am the worlds worst speller and I even finished 3rd grade. :-(

tentativeequinox said...

My boss once used the word 'obstreperous' in a sentence in a meeting -- for realsies. I have adored him from that moment. Gosh, now that I'm looking at it, I really hope that's the way that word is spelled.

And not only is he Canadian, he has the order of Canada, so I guess that means he's allowed. Comes with the medal.

fingers said...

My parents used to try the old 'there's 100 million starving kids in China' guilt trip on me when I wouldn't eat my chateaubriand, so I'd just say 'Yeah...name 3 of them.'
That shut them up.
I so want to win the macaroni bust but i don't know what a mot juste is ?? We don't study German in school here.
The Japanese have a beautiful phrase that just slides off the tongue as gracefully as shit shoots through a goose.
'DAIJOBU DESU'...
Pronounced di-zho-boo-dess...it means 'everything's fine'...

sherri said...

I love to say FABULOUS!

or Excellent!

I'm from Southern Illinois , A "redneck " portion of America, so when using 3 syllable words like these, you are considered brilliant!

SweetPeaSurry said...

I completely agree with you about people speaking with different accents. I absolutely melt when I hear those lovely lilts and harsh 'r's ... It's spellbinding!

Mamalicious said...

I'm living in Australia, I'm American. I have picked up 'heaps' of Aussie sayings. 'Good on ya', 'good as..', 'beauty mate', 'silly duffa'...and not to mention the words that are different over here. Trolly for cart, boot for trunk, pram for stroller, root for fcuk....I'm sure there is much cooler slang for those Aussies living in the city, but I am in Alice - where they actually have commercials about not sleeping in the road.

Steve said...

What did you call me, love?

Bella@That damn expat said...

I moved to the US when I was twelve and I am still conscious of my English, though no one can tell I'm not a native speaker.

Do I get a beer, or what?

expateek said...

Well, I've used ungulates and palanquin in my last two posts, but those are both difficult to casually drop into conversation.

I suggest you just say whatever you like (as you do!) and let your friends bring their dictionaries along with them.

Adrian's Crazy Life said...

I'm with you. I just LOVE language and it fascinates me how we went from car park to parking lot, night dress to night gown, lounge to living room, and serviette to napkin. I have a number of foreign blogs that I follow just for this reason. I think it's fabulous and I really wanted to marry a man with a wonderful accent, but I ended up with an Okie!

kikojmt said...

I highly recommend "Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies: A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite" by June Casagrande... I was an English major, but this book made me understand the whys and wherefors of grammar better than anything I'd ever read before - plus snort milk up my nose.

I'd love to have a beer with you, if only I still lived in the Cities (am stuck in LA now) - Old Chicago Pizza, anyone? Or perhaps The Wild Onion? Yes? No?

My bon mot contribution, by the by, is gustatory. Which nicely applies to said beer.

Gyppo Byard said...

Sorry - was having high tea with the boffins in G section and didn't see this until yesterday fortnight.

Anyway - jolly good show, Pearl. Your supportive amusement for the bloggers this side of the pond is reciprocated. We love the fact that you're as American as mother's apple tart, or chocolate chip biscuits...

Red Squirrel said...

How charming my dear. The old English accent does tend to go down well over there, unless the person is of irish descent - then it tends to go one of two ways ;-)