Can I AXE you a question?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by kwhilborn, May 1, 2013.

  1. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Even in America, where our words have more syllables and our cadence is slower than the Standard British dialect, we do not pronounce the I-A in "miniature" and "parliament" as two syllables. If we're slowing down deliberately to exaggerate or make a point, we might conceivably make four syllables out of mi-nee-a-cher. But not "parliament"--for one thing, that's a word we never use at all unless we're talking about a foreign government. The national institution is a "congress," and at the state level they're "legislatures."

    The names of the two chambers vary. All states have a senate, but the lower house could be a house of representatives, an assembly, a house of delegates, etc. (Nebraska is unique for having a unicameral legislature.)

    We refer to "parliamentary procedure" as the proper way to run a meeting, but that's always pronounced par-la-men-ta-ry. Not par-la-men-try as the Brits say it, and never par-lee-a-men-ta-ry.
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  3. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    The Oxford dictionary says this, on February:

    Note that February is spelled with an r following the Feb-. Precise speakers insist that this r should be pronounced, but this is not easy, and most people replace the r following Feb- with a y sound: Feb-yoo- rather than Feb-roo-. This is now becoming the accepted standard.

    Parliament is /ˈpɑːləm(ə)nt/
    Mayonnaise is /meɪəˈneɪz/

    The list is not only condescending, it is wrong.

    Re Sherbert:
    That's how I pronounced it as a five year old,
    and I've stuck with it.
    Sherbert was a disgusting sugary mess that you dipped liquorice into.
    It made your face an equally disgusting sugary mess.
    Sherbet is probably far more sophisticated.
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    My mother was unusually precise when teaching me to speak as a toddler. Although she was born in the USA, her parents were from Bohemia and Bohemian (we call it "Czech" today because that name is easier to spell and pronounce) was the only language she heard at home. She didn't learn English until she was sent off to school and she always had a thick Bohemian accent. When she moved out of the ghetto and married my father (a second-generation native speaker with no Slavic heritage) she put considerable effort into learning to speak like a native and she succeeded. She had always felt stigmatized as a foreigner or immigrant and she didn't want me to be identified as a "Bohunk." So she insisted that I speak English perfectly.

    So I was taught to pronounce both R's in "February." But after all these years of hearing "Febuary," I don't usually even notice.

    Somehow I got away with "comfterble," although when I'm on my toes I make a point of saying it correctly.

    I confess that I do the same unless I'm really trying to be perfect.

    But the point is that many Americans pronounce it mæˈneɪz/
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  7. quinnsong Valued Senior Member

    I have a friend from Edinburgh and he would never let me live that Scotch mistake down. ooopps! Might be that I like my rye and whiskey but Scottish not so much.

    Captain Kremmen you crack me up!
  8. quinnsong Valued Senior Member

    Not sure this explains my lack of a southern accent as my younger cousins have very strong southern accents.
  9. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    The way you speak will often depend on who you are talking to.
    In my part of the Midlands we say "gunna" for going to.
    eg "I'm gunna take my dog for a walk"

    In informal spoken language to a fellow Midlander I would say "gunna".
    Why wouldn't I?

    I couldn't say it to an American at all.
    They would assume I was talking about guns,
    and become either enthusiastic or upset,
    according to their disposition.
  10. quinnsong Valued Senior Member

    You are gunna and I am fixin to.

    So I even though your accent may not give away the area of England from which you originate your words do. My gunna is the phrase fixin to, although I am not using it as much these days. I have been away from the Southeast for a number of years now but I still find myself saying it. The thing is, when I say fixin to now, it sounds funny to me.
  11. Enmos Registered Senior Member

    Which is sad enough.

    I think Americans say "gonna".
  12. Janus58 Valued Senior Member

    I originally hail from a part of Northern Minnesota that has an accent that is distinct even from the rest of the state. I haven't lived there for over 40 years, so mine has softened, but I still catch myself adding a "t" to the end of "across", dropping pronouns when they are implicit and using the word "boughten" (As in "Are those cookies home-made or are they boughten?")
  13. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    That's true.
    I wonder if we've always said it,
    or did we get it from Tom Mix movies.

    AAVE is currently getting plenty of coverage. The Charles Ramsey video has gone instantly viral.
    What a character!


    If you enjoyed that, check out the original phone call:

    Last edited: May 7, 2013
  14. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    His mother and mother's family was lower class midwestern British Isles origin rural - that's where I first heard "ax" for ask, and still where I hear it most often.

    Not saying that's where he picked it up, but it's possible. There's at least a couple of linguists out there who think much of the accent we regard as Ebonic or Black came from a district in southern England that happened be the home source of a key fraction of the early Southern slave-holders and trainers.
    I don't think South Side Chicago and Chicago politics qualifies as a "small pond" for the mixed race child of a twice divorced lower class hippie chick from Kansas via Hawaii, raised by his army vet and bank teller grandparents, BA Occidental College, two years out of law school. More like going to the big city to make good. I can see where he'd pick up pronunciations to fit in, though.

    As far as identifying as black - in the US he had no choice.
    I've usually seen them referred to as "Scotch-Irish", with the "Scotch" serving as an adjective - like Scotch whiskey, or "Scotch".

    And a lot of the migration was not so much fleeing violence, as taking part (under some duress, maybe) in a semi-formal British crown program to install them as thugs in the colonies as they had been installed in Ireland, to provide some muscle for Crown policy among the unruly settlers and protection for the more civilized English colonists as well as pioneer the unforgiving hinterlands. These weren't the people who fled violence so much as the people who brought it.

    It backfired.
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Actually it's just as common in American English. In fact it's universal in vernacular conversation. No one says "going to" unless the words are stressed to make a point. We spell it "gonna" and perhaps there is a slight difference in the vowel (much more an OH than an UH), but it's the same word.

    It's the result of five common forces.
    • 1. The change of the participial inflection -ing to -in: "going to" to "goin' to."
    • 2. The weakening of an unaccented vowel to a schwa: "goin' to" to "goin' tuh."
    • 3. The reduction of a T or D to a flap (the sound of a Spanish or Standard British R) between two vowels or between an N and a vowel: "goin' tuh" to "gointuh" to "goin(d)uh.
    • 4. The eventual disappearance of even the flap: "goin(d)uh to "goinuh."
    • 5. The elision of an unaccented vowel: "goinuh" to "gonuh."
    What surprises me is #3 in British English. It's universal in American; as I said earlier, "liter" and "leader" are both pronounced "lee(d)er" on this side of the Whaleroad. It's very uncommon in Britain, although I have seen regional dialect transcribed that way in British novels. In Brian Jacques's children's stories, a baby animal sometimes says "I gorra" for "I got to," with "RR" read as a flap in British English but quite confusing to American readers who think it's some Irish interjection like "sure and begorrah."

    Like it or not, the USA has always been a gun culture and it permeates our slang. "Stick to your guns," "come out with guns blazing," "the big guns are here." The Wild West is our Camelot and Sherwood Forest all rolled into one misty, whitewashed fantasy. The Lone Ranger is our Lancelot and the Bonanza ranch hands are our Merry Men. When I was a kid, cowboy movies and TV shows were all the rage. Our films and television are still quite violent. Despite the psychologists' warnings that it gives children a twisted impression of adult culture, there is something undeniably cathartic and satisfying about watching evil people being gunned down. In our heads we know that life imprisonment is more civilized than execution (especially since the rate of wrongful conviction for capital crimes is utterly alarming), but in our hearts we still want to see the bastards' brains blown out.

    It's hard to control our Inner Caveman.
  16. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    Re AAVE
    I loved the TV series "The Wire".
    David Simon should shoot in Cleveland next time.
    Only trouble was that I couldn't understand half of what the black folk were saying.
    I wonder if there is a version with subtitles.
  17. quinnsong Valued Senior Member

    Hmmm, I understood Ramsey perfectly well. You are on the perfect thread to ask for translation.
  18. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    Ramsey, I could understand.
    A decent man, I think. Hope his new-found fame does him no harm.

    But some of the Wire was impenetrable.
    Sometimes I would play a piece time after time, with no success.
  19. quinnsong Valued Senior Member

    After I reread your post I understood you meant The Wire, probably should have deleted post. Kept it there just in case you didn't understand Ramsey.

    I worked for a corporation that handed out an Ebonics List of phrases and words that ended up helping me more with what my teenagers were saying than at work. Let me tell you there a some new words and phrases in the urban dictionary that will either make you gasp in disbelief or laugh until you cry(depending on your sense of humor)
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    AAVE is widely used in movies and song lyrics. For Americans who live in urban areas and therefore hear it spoken occasionally in real life, it becomes more understandable.

    It almost qualifies more as a cant than a dialect. Most Afro-Americans can speak Standard American perfectly well and only use AAVE among themselves in informal situations, or to be deliberately difficult for outsiders to understand.

    Although there are some impoverished rural and inner-city regions where people speak it at home, so their children have to learn Standard English in school.
  21. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    Cant is a term of disparagement.
    It suggests that the person using it is engaged in a criminal activity,
    which they are trying to disguise.
    Most of its synonyms, of which there are many, suggest much the same thing.

    Argot is better, as it can also be used for people who have mutual interests, and who use specialised words.
    Train enthusiasts, and gardeners, for example.

    The safest word is dialect.
  22. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    A cant is a system of speech created deliberately to foil understanding by outsiders. Shelta, which is used by the Irish Travelers, is the most elaborate cant. It has a complete vocabulary built from English, Irish Gaelic, and a few Romany words, with a system of phonetic alterations that makes even familiar words difficult to identify. It was indeed created so that neither the English nor the Irish people among whom they lived would be privy to their conversations. "Bloke" and "moniker" are Shelta words.

    But the most well-known cant is Pig Latin, or "Ig-pay Atin-lay." It was created as a childhood game to divide the in-group (those who understand it) from the out-group. It is so successful that it long ago lost its ability to serve its intended purpose. I doubt that there's an American older than six who cannot understand it. (Do children speak Pig Latin in other anglophone countries?)

    Surely there are many cants created and used by criminal networks. But that does not mean that every cant serves a criminal purpose. There are many other reasons for not wanting to be overheard. I suggested that AAVE is "like a cant" because sometimes people seem to use it for the primary purpose of excluding the rest of us from their conversation.

    In any case, "cant" is not a word in most people's vocabulary, unless they're linguists, sociologists, police, etc. I wouldn't worry about it being misinterpreted, although I'll take your advice to heart just in case.

    These words have specific meanings and you can't interchange them on a whim. A cant is a particular kind of argot, but as you note, argots also include the arcane vocabularies of jewelers, psychologists, computer programmers, brewers and model railroad builders. They have no intention of leaving us in ignorance and if you're not careful they'll spend hours teaching you their argot.

    "Jargon" is another type of speech using specialized vocabulary, but jargon typically spreads out into the host language whereas argot does not.

    Absolutely not. A dialect is a variant of a language that differs from other dialects in vocabulary, and usually also in phonetics and grammar. Standard American and Standard British ("BBC English" or "Oxford English" as we call it over here) are the two most widely used dialects of English, with Indian English a close third. Dialects invariably arise naturally, usually through geographic separation but also class separation. The key attribute that distinguishes a pair of dialects from a pair of languages is mutual comprehensibility. It may take a person from Beijing and one from Chengdu a little time to get used to each other's dialect of Mandarin, but within a couple of days they'll get the hang of it. But a person from Beijing speaking Mandarin and one from Hong Kong speaking Cantonese (two distinct languages despite Americans calling them both "Chinese") will take years to achieve this, if at all.

    The purpose of a cant is to foil understanding, whereas a dialect by definition is understandable. The two terms cannot be used interchangeably.

    I can see calling AAVE an argot rather than a cant, since no one is going to admit that they use it to prevent us from understanding them.

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    Still, I'm not quite comfortable with that because argots and cants differ from the host population's speech only in vocabulary. (Even Shelta arranges its fanciful words with both the sequence and inflections of textbook-perfect English grammar.) AAVE has considerable grammatical variation from Standard American--IMHO, its grammar is considerably different from all the standard dialects.

    This is why most linguists call AAVE a dialect.
  23. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    I've heard the word meaning something a little different,
    but still maintaining the main idea of something incomprehensible.
    After the Reformation, rival Protestants would sometimes accuse each other of "cant",
    meaning their words were twaddle.
    At that time, you could be burned alive for twaddle.
    This usage could well come from the word "chant", with its Catholic association.
    Last edited: May 10, 2013

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