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Archive for September, 2012

HRSFAlum Academia hits Pop Culture

A shout-out to HRSFAN Aaron J. Dinkin, linguist of the dialectological variety, who appeared as a Major Quoted Someone for Slate last month in an article on the Northern Cities Vowel Shift (NCVS aka NCS).

The article is raising awareness of some recent (~our lifetime) re-jiggering of “linguistic turf” for short vowels (cat, cot, caught, &c.), which seems to be radiating outward from areas like Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit &c. The write-up is fun, and Aaron sounds in his element.

I like the content of the article, but am not sure where the tone is coming from. Aaron, Emily, and anyone else with opinions and/or data, please chime in:

  • Why does the introductory expert, William Labov, explicitly present the NCS as a PROBLEM? It’s kind of cool to be catching systematic pronunciation change in the act — especially if it may truly be as big a vowel shift as we’ve seen (heard) in the past millennium. And it’s not like Northeast/Midwesterners feel like we can’t understand or be understood by others. Is this actually an aesthetic judgment? I think most of us already feel English vowels are dead ugly, and don’t care except (possibly) in an operatic context.
  • Are the experiments described as supporting lack of self-awareness on the part of NCS speakers (Preston, Niedzielski) presented accurately? Neither seem damning to me. How is “flipping a mental coin” for cat v. cot in isolation — if in one’s own pronunciation they are homonyms — different from flipping a mental coin for to v. two v. too in isolation?
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My errors

I owe Elisabeth a massive apology for some poorly considered writing of mine last winter.

I’m really sorry: it was thoughtless of me not to ask you directly first.

A standard apology probably would have sufficed had I given it when it came due, but that was seven months ago. And culpability, like Rumour, grows swiftly and fearfully. In other cases when someone else here has written something that baffles or otherwise inspires me, I have been more courteous about prior notification of what I’m thinking, so I really have no excuse for neglecting that step in February.

So, just a few more lines to throw out on the question of ‘pleasure’ and/or ‘work’ reading:

  • A new short essay on Aristotelian leisure
  • Franz of Sunday in the Park with George

    Work is what you do for others — Liebchen —
    Art is what you do for yourself

  • A family member overheard someone in an airport security line complaining that he was 100s of pages into a book and nothing had happened. He turned around to see what book the other passenger was reading, and it was American Gods. My family member nearly blurted out, “What do you mean?”
  • This same relative was chewed out by a friend to whom he had recommended Ilium for sending him through an 800-page “slog.” To me (and my relative), reading Ilium is much more like being poor Phaeton in Apollo’s chariot. Slog? How? I’m being dragged too fast for my feet to stick in anything!
  • But one of my blockmates says he would characterize both American Gods and Ilium very similarly, simply because he would define “something happening” in a novel as “a scene advancing the main plot.”
  • Huh. I never would have thought of that.

So in conclusion, I do grasp that, very often, someone else’s reading tastes utterly confuse me because I’m just not imaginative enough. And I should remind myself more often to ask before I expound, even if I can’t ask before I wonder.

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