Thursday, October 18, 2007

It’s Just Talk


In a couple of hours, I will be on my way to New Orleans for a meeting of the national advisory committee on which I serve.

I have never been to New Orleans, so I am anticipating a bit of a different cultural experience than. . .shall we say, central Pennsylvania?

The last several classes I have been teaching at my community college have been emphasizing language and how language matters. We have discussed the implications of language shaping reality. We have also looked at how language is power and authority. I can’t say that all the students “get it” but we have had good conversations.

One of the essays we discussed today was Barbara Mellix’s piece called “From Outside, In.” She writes about growing up as an African-American where the language spoken at home in an informal context was filled with expressions from what she calls “black English.” Her essay chronicles her discovery that how she learned to speak at home was not standard English. She eventually went to college, and earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees and now teaches English at the University of Pittsburgh.

Her essay prompted my students to begin thinking of some of the informal ways they spoke at home—take, for example, the word “you.” If you are from Pittsburgh, the word becomes “yunze” or “yinze” (you uns), or if from Philadelphia the word becomes “youse”.

Of course, as I am heading to a southern location, I am flexing my “y’alls.” So, back to my New Orleans’ meeting. Previously, this committee has met in Louisville. I find myself inexorably drawn into the languorous drawl of this near Southern city. One step off the plane, and I find myself battling to retain my uninflected (to my ears) mid-Atlantic accent. I expect the same may happen in New Orleans.

The English language is fascinating. There are so many variations to how we speak, as evidenced by the number of pages linked on
this website.

When I return from New Orleans, I will let you know whether my way of talking has been affected or not.

11 comments:

Beverly said...

I will be interested in your impressions of NO.

When my son was in PA, he couldn't stand the youns and youse. I told him, "Well, we say, 'y'all'", and his response was that at least it sounds pleasant.

When my daughter was in college in NC, she said the kids there could tell what part of NC the other was from by their accent.

Interesting.

Denise said...

The “yous”, “you-uns”, etc have always fascinated me. There isn’t really any variation of “you” in my neck of the woods. However, for some reason I have picked up “y’all”. Where? I don’t really know. Another thing that people say around here, when talking about a family, is for example, “are Donnas coming to the show?” (I’m not sure if it is a plural s or a possessive s. I’ve never seen it in print, so I don’t know.) They will take the head of the home and add an “s” to the end. Donnas represents the whole family. That is one thing I have not picked up and hope not to. Well….see ya’ll later and hope you have a great trip. Enjoy!

Anvilcloud said...

We get some "youses" around here. In fact, I think that servers must be taught to say "youse". :)

possumlady said...

Say hello to New Orleans for me. I love that City and was heartbroken watching the Katrina coverage. My association was supposed to have its annual conference there in 2008 but had to pull out because we couldn't get the necessary insurance for a group as large as ours (20-25,000 attendees), as it is held the first week of November, the tail end of hurricane season.

Coming from Minnesota everybody just said "you guys". But, having lived south of the Mason Dixon line for 25 years now, y'all is firmly implanted in my brain. (I also switched from calling soda pop, soda instead of pop).

Ruth said...

"Youse" makes me cringe! No drawls up here in Ontario. My mom says we all have a germanic clip to our words.
Have a good trip.

Anonymous said...

Donna, Some of your mother's side of the family had either the younzez or youzez variations. To Ruth: I was always interested in the Canadians oot and aboot (not quite that pronounced, but sort of) for out and about came from Scottish influence. Thank you Donna.
Love, Father "C"

Liza Lee Miller said...

I lived in Texas for awhile and it doesn't take much for a "y'all" or two to drop into my speech. My favorite is "all y'all." An Entry from the Department of Redundancy Department.

My husband is in N'Awlins this weekend. I tried to go out but couldn't justify the airfare for basically one day there and two days of travel. He is having a blast though.

Mary said...

"Ya'll" sounds much better than "youse" - definitely. "Ya'll" and "All ya'll" were the first southern slang I developed. "Thank yeww" is another.

Have a wonderful trip, Donna! I look forward to hearing all about it!

Pam said...

You are so right about the English language, a simple word said one way by one person can mean an entirely different thing said by someone else with a different inflection. "Naked" and "nekid" come to mind, thanks to a standup comic whose name I can't remember. "Naked" means you are undressed, "nekid" means you are undressed and up to something.

Have a good time, y'all!

RuthieJ said...

Hi Donna,
When my brother was stationed at Barksdale AFB in Shreveport, LA, he took me to New Orleans once when I visited him. People I talked to down there told me they knew I was from Minnesota because I pronounced it, New Or-lee-uns. I guess if you're a native, it's N'Awlins (as Liza Lee says it).

P.S. I hope you have a good trip.

Mo said...

In Scotland we have lots of varieties of English too and our spoken language bears little resemblance to standard English. We have "ma" for my, Ye for you, duzny - doesn't, willnai, won't, day for do. Dinnae day it - don't do it. And even within Scotland you have Glaswegian, Dundonian, Fife, Edinburgh, Highland as well as Gaelic and Doric (dialect of the north east) which are both regarded as separate languages.

Having said all that, isn't it great how written English unites us all!