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On langauge

November 18, 2010

he was a nuclear engineer. They called him bubba

From a talk I attended on dialects, regarding the thick accent and dialect of one particular successful southerner.

My own dialect usage is a mix of standard, Southern and African-American Vernacular (AAVE) English1. I wouldn’t say I’m a dramatic code switcher, but it happens. I’ve accidentally surprised a few non-dialect speakers who have overheard me speaking with someone else: “I didn’t know you talked like that.” My answer being well not to you. It is generally unnoticed at work or at the typically all-academics social events where there’s no reason for me to use any dialect.

Recently when talking with someone who studies these things (and has heard me talk)2 it was brought to my attention that I have a few small AAVE markers that I don’t switch out of. This was a bit surprising to me, I thought my standard speech was thoroughly standard. Not quite. She had me say a few words out loud to check my pronunciation. I am apparently unable to not drop the –g in the word frustrating. Unable. The standard pronunciation doesn’t even seem like the same word to me. It sounds wrong.

Ok, this is just one word. It doesn’t matter. Still, the idea that I have a speech pattern that I didn’t notice is slightly disconcerting and makes me slightly self-conscious.

 

1. The last two there are apparently both known as “low prestige dialects”.
2. This person had a few interesting stories regarding dialect and academia. Particularly one researcher who apparently could not code switch out of AAVE at all. As you might imagine she had trouble landing a job.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 30, 2010 11:14 pm

    Wow! I so feel you..also a southerner. I learned I have some words I have consciously say, e.v anything with a short e. The words pen and pin are the same to me. But for the most part I do well – speaking and expressing myself, it’s actually my strength. Even when I do talk with a deep drawl or AAVE I’ve not suffered for it.

  2. December 15, 2010 11:47 am

    It was brought to my attention from a speech therapist that I make the sounds differently as a “native English” speaker. I pronounce most words correctly, it just looks differently when she sees my mouth (sounds are formed other parts of the mouth where I come from?). It’s all very interesting though.

    And as I was taught British English when I grew up (as a second language) I obviously stand out for autumn, elevator/lift etc… and some other words where my accent is thincker.

    I can’t help but wonder what you are referring to with AAEV though. Is it “didn’t do nothin?” or is that just my misunderstanding? (I live in the south and hear lots of dialect, I’m just not sure on what is considered AAEV or what is “local dialect”)

  3. December 16, 2010 5:21 pm

    I enjoyed reading this post.

    I grew up in a rural, southern region (sweet tea and biscuits territory) of a midwestern state. My home county has a distinct dialect. During late high school and college, I actively switched my pronounciation of quite a few words such as the number “tin” to “ten.” There are some words that I know still carry my home dialect, but I could not seem to change them. Now at 33, I still catch a word or two a year influenced by my roots, but worry less about changing my prounciation.

  4. February 15, 2011 6:45 am

    Interesting post. I’d never heard of “code switching”, but I know I do it some. Likewise there are a few words that I can’t switch, like naked-which comes out something like a rapid “neh-ked’-and fixing, which I can’t seem to pronounce with the g.

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