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Talking Words

The art of American accents. Also: Saigon Democrats. Vanishing Episcopalians -- questions for Bishop Schori. Gobbling up Nancy. Plus much more.

11.26.06

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TONGUE TUGS
Re: Lawrence Henry's To Accent or No:

Mr. Henry's fun essay, "To Accent or No," prompted a few observations. Trained theatre actors and singers will tell you that the secret to being heard and understood in a large theatre without amplification, is complete enunciation of your words, especially the final consonants. Twenty-five years back, when I took classes in both, I learned from several different teachers that the key was not as much volume, but enunciating the words completely. Speak naturally, in that you don't over-enunciate, but say all the constants and the rest will come naturally. If you do so any English-speaking audience will be able to hear you and understand you, even in large theatres. If you carry out this behavior in regular speech your accent disappears. The modern trend toward stage amplification removes this necessity.

The other observation is that accents are not regressing to a mean, but are mutating and combining in new and novel ways. This effect is very prevalent in English as our language freely borrows words from other languages and also creates new ones fairly spontaneously. There are many interesting examples of the mutation/creation of accents, including the creation of the British "posh" accent in the 18th century and the effect of colonization on old/new accents, particularly with the colonization of the British Empire. Both logic and illogic effects language use in many and varied ways. The result guarantees that accents will forever evolve.
-- Tom Abert

When I was working in International Law, I took a class called "Git the Souf Out Yo Mouf" (Get the South out of your Mouth). It was a course designed to teach people to speak without a discernable accent, a consummation devoutly to be wished when dealing with persons of foreign extraction on the telephone. This was pre-Internet so I spent a lot of time speaking by phone with persons whose English was heavily accented, and they did not need to deal with my michegoss of an accent -- not only had I a Southern Mama and a Northern Daddy, but I spent 17 years in Atlanta after growing up in a part of New York tenanted mainly by Italians from the Bronx, and you have never heard anything like the way I spoke. My teacher described it as "Bugs Bunny does Alabama." I now speak with what is called a Midwestern Television Announcer accent, and Germans in particular have commented that "You don't sound like an American."

However, I still yell in a Bronx accent (especially, my kids will remind me, "What the HELL ya doin'???") and when calling someone across a long distance, I tend to bark "Ey Frank EEE!" And the one "Southernism" I cannot stop is "y'all". That part of the South is stuck in my mouth.

As for relentless mispronunciation, my personal bete noir is the TV-speak "ADD-lt" for "adult" (which is of course pronounced "ad-DULT"). Where this came from I don't know, but it needs to disappear.
-- Kate Shaw
Toronto, Ontario

Mr. Henry's article hit the spot, or as Diane Smith says, "Spot on." We Texans are not to be lonely in the accent game Mr. Henry speaks of. Having grown up in Lyndon Johnson's Hometown of Johnson City, Texas, we spoke both cowboy and German. Around the Texas hill country there are many ranchers whose families migrated (legally) over a hundred years ago. Their accent depends on the location the grandparents came from. I discovered this after living in Germany for four years and working hard to learn the language. The highest compliment ever paid me was when my teacher told me she was sorry but that I had developed a Bavarian accent. I asked her why that was a problem and she answered, "Well, that is Southern accent and when you travel up north they won't understand you." I told her I had the same problem back home in the United States.

The one thing I know is that you and know two Texans anywhere you travel in the world. They are the first to find and greet each other with one particular phrase..."How much rain did ya get!" This happened to me in Germany, Washington, D.C., Kansas, Kentucky, and Arizona...all places we were stationed. Why receiving rain in another place was important to either Texan always made me laugh. Then I reasoned that rain and receiving it is always a part of the Texas mentality for here it is always a feast of rain or a famine/drought.

Happy Thanksgiving....
-- Beverly Gunn
East Texas Rancher

Another entertaining article from Mr. Henry; one of my interests is in regional accents and how it shapes opinions of others.

One of the most fascinating political ramifications of accents was from a PBS or Discovery Channel special I'd seen many moons ago. It focused on how the connotations of accents change over the years. For example, in the 1960's, an upper-crusty New England accent (imagine JFK saying "Harvard Yard") was supposedly a net positive to a presidential candidate, while a more "common man" accent like LBJ's Texas twang was a net negative.

Over time, the JFK accent has changed so that it's now perceived as a negative -- certainly John Kerry always seemed to me to be "talking to the help" when on the stump. By contrast, a Southern accent is more comfortable and down-home, which gives candidates like Dubya -- and Bill Clinton! -- an edge with the (IMO) most critical swing voters. By that I don't mean those who vacillate between parties -- I mean the 10% of the electorate which is ideologically innocent, only looking at the candidates a week or two before Nov. 7, and thinks, "Hmm, who looks and sounds most trustworthy?"

I do have to take two minor issues with Mr. Henry's close:

"My son Bud has noticed that his classmates' accents are less pronounced than their parents'. Absent some temporary fad, like slurry or Valley Girl, that is the established trend."

I live in Los Angeles, so perhaps I see different trends, but what starts out here in Hollyweird seems to propagate East. And what you'll see out here is a rise in 'gangsta street' accent, and Hispanic tones.

Oh, and 'Valley Girl', far from being a quick-lived fad, seems to be on its way to being enshrined as an official 'dialect', according to a couple linguists I've chatted with. There are some unique characteristics that keep cropping up (aside from "y'know" and "like") -- the chief two are to break statements into small sentences, and to end each sentence on a higher pitch. It's a little annoying to me since every sentence sounds like a question!

If I was to leave a voicemail with you on this topic, it would go as follows:

"So, Mr. Henry?"
"Valley Girl is like, so not going away?"
"Maybe we?"
"Could lobby for?"
"Some government funds, to, y'know?"
"Make it official?"
"Like ebonics?"

Much Obliged,
-- Michael Bellomo
The Heart of the Left Coast, California

Lawrence Henry is very mistaken if he thinks his son speaks without an accent -- I will guarantee anyone in Britain will say Bud speaks with an American accent. We all have accents -- there is no such thing as unaccented English, and never has been. Unfortunately there have always been snobs and fools like Mr. Henry who think the way someone pronounces words is a guide to their worth. It's what people say, Mr. Henry -- not how they say it. Nick Faldo grew up just a few miles from where I grew up myself, and to my ear he speaks in a perfectly acceptable Southern English accent.

Incidentally, what is this "slurry" accent he claims some Londoners speak? Does he mean Estuary?
-- Martin Cornell
Edenton Middy, Great Britain

With respect to Lawrence Henry's column, I'm puzzled by the reference to a London-area accent referred to as "slurry":

To the Pygmalion audience, a glottal "t" indicated a yob. Today's Brits have adopted it as part of a kind of commercial London speech known as "slurry."

From the context, Mr. Henry seems to be referring to what is known as "Estuary English."

Could "slurry" be a mistake -- a typographical error, a slip of the error, or whatever -- for "Estuary"?

If not, what did Mr. Henry mean?
-- Mark Liberman

Lawrence Henry replies: I learned of the accent I call "slurry" from none other than Dick Francis, can't now remember which novel. He described it in some detail as a kind of commercial affection based on suburban London, and gave extensive examples in a character's speech.

I once wrote the word "draw" on a piece of paper and asked my friend from Boston to read it. He pronounced it "drawer." Then I wrote the word "drawer" beneath it, and he said "draw." And when I ordered a pizza in Schenectady, the girl asked if I wanted it to be a six or an eight chug' (8-cut).
-- Ted Hans
Niskayuna, New York

South Africans don't have accents! -- they have exclamation marks!

Happy Thanksgiving America!
-- Marc de Jung

CUT AND RUN SYNDROME
Re: Andrew Cline's Still in Saigon:

I could not disagree more with Andrew Cline (and others') arguments that Democrat are somehow fighting the last war. If anything, I have been shocked by the number of Republicans who seem to write and/or go on air and try to rewrite history as it relates to Vietnam.

Turn on any FOX News show or read the Washington Times and The American Spectator and you will find dozens of examples over the past 6 months to a year, especially, wherein an author or pundit is trying to somehow make a point that Democrats lost Vietnam. They continue to bring up the specter of helicopters leaving Saigon and how we "abandoned" our allies and our principles...and somehow try to suggest that this all happened because McGovern's anti-war efforts had led Dems astray.

Do these folks really believe that? I was in junior high and high school in the early '70s and there was no one, and I mean no one, who wasn't in favor of getting the hell out of Vietnam by that point. Nixon, Kissinger and everyone under 30 agreed...we had been there too long, we weren't winning and too many Americans had died unnecessarily.

Oddly, now all I read about in the right leaning-press is that Democrats lost Vietnam. Our imbacile [sic] President suggests his key learning from Vietnam is that we are an impatient country...and that we could have won had we stayed...(or something like that). What a fool!

It's okay for you guys to root for your right wing philosophies and such but you really are making yourselves look stupid to a whole generation of now 50 to 80 year old voters who think you are nuts. Your crazy re-take on Vietnam is all but assuring us Democrats of another huge win in 2008.
-- Joe Scaccia
Pasadena, California

I agree with your assessment that Democrats are trapped in the mindset of "hell no we won't go."

And for Democrats to compare fighting fanatical terrorists that killed on our soil to Viet Nam is delusional.

We all hate war. The problem with Democratic leadership is that they refuse to fight when left with no alternative. Instead, they choose to ignore the threat with the hope it goes away.

In your article you said that Democratic leaders ignored the comments of top military officials and those with boots on the ground. Are you surprised?

After all, as John Kerry said, the military is comprised of uneducated numbskulls.

Losing in Iraq will go a long way toward losing the global war on terror. If the Democratic leadership convinces the majority that fighting terrorism is wrong then we are certainly doomed.

Thanks for your great article.
-- John A. Pozniak Jr.
Severn, Maryland

Mr. Cline may think that the political left is still stuck in Vietnam, but I have another theory. George Bush is acting in bad faith with the American people, therefore the inverse of whatever his policy happens to be is probably the proper course of action. I have long ago quit trying to make sense out of their positions and this is the only one that works for me consistently.
-- J. Brick
Beaver Dam, Arizona

RELIGIOUS SLOWDOWN
Re: Mark Tooley's Not Much Thanksgiving for Episcopalians:

Bishop Jefferts Schori's interviews always feature softball (or even NERF-ball) questions. Here are some questions I would like to see a reporter ask her (I can dream can't I...)

In your papers and press releases prior to your election as Presiding Bishop, you made a big point of "el buen Samaritano" and your deanship of the "Good Samaritan School of Theology." Yet, you have admitted both of these were inflated terms. They have also disappeared from any post-election materials (such as the Episcopal page "Who is the Presiding Bishop?"). Why did you lie on your resume?

Why were you elected? On paper, even with your inflated claims, you were clearly the least qualified candidate. Were you elected solely because of your gender?

During your tenure as Bishop of Nevada, you used the Kairos Prison Ministry materials inappropriately. This organization considers the breaches significant enough that they are suing the Nevada Diocese for copyright violations. Would you care to comment?

The Kairos organization feels that their approach of gender-specific ministers for prison populations is both sound Biblically and practically? Would you care to comment.

What happened to "el buen Samaritano"?

Reporters seem to be very impressed by your experience as an oceanographer and as a pilot. Why are these relevant?

During you tenure as Bishop of Nevada, how much did the diocese grow? In that same period how much did the state of Nevada grow? Why do you think the Episcopal percentage is so much lower?

Jesus said, "No one comes to the father except through me." What does that mean?

The Episcopal Church has been losing members for many years, why?

Do you really think, as you said in a New York Times Magazine interview, that the conservatives (such as Catholics) are "outbreeding" the Episcopalians?

Is it not possible that the liberal social gospel and ordination and promotion of gay ministers bears some responsibility for the membership loss?

In recent memory, two ministers confessed to breaking their wedding vows, one left his marriage and one did not. Why has one been made an Episcopal bishop and the other has resigned his position in disgrace. Compare and contrast -- Vicki and Gene Robinson's marital breakup and Ted Haggard's fall.

You state in the New York Times Magazine interview that we "are all hypocrites." Isn't the Christian belief that "we are all sinners?"

What is sin?

The Episcopal Church in America was at one time named the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States. With this Protestant background, how is "deeds-based evangelism" consistent with the Protestant principle of "faith alone"?

Why was one of your first acts as Presiding Bishop the formation of a committee to make sure property does not leave the TEC when parishioners leave the TEC?

Why does all material related to the issue of gay sexuality refuse to include references to Dr. Gagnon's work. For example, the study guide prepared by the association of Episcopal Seminary Librarians has expressly excluded Gagnon's work. This is so, even though Biblical scholars consider it a masterful treatment of the Biblical issues.

If the Millennium Development Goals are so important, why is the TEC allocating only seven-tenths of one percent of its budget to them?

If the MDGs are a sign of our deeds-based evangelism, how do you justify the buildings, salaries, and budget of the TEC bureaucracy?

Why have you singled out eight dioceses as "problem dioceses"? What exactly is the problem?

Has the Dennis Canon ever been tested and upheld in a court of law?

You and your supporters often criticize the African Bishops for turning a blind eye to polygamy. Where is the evidence of this?

You have an "honorary" doctorate from CDSP. The African Bishops, as a group, have a significant number of earned doctorates from major Western theological schools. Why should we listen to your theology rather than theirs?

Why is the Episcopal Church in Nigeria one of the fastest growing churches anywhere on earth?

Who is Jesus?

In what way is threatening churches consistent with deeds-based evangelism?

Two churches in Virginia have just proposed leaving the TEC. Their Average Sunday Attendance exceeds that of the entire Nevada Diocese. Shouldn't their concerns be taken seriously?

In your New York Times interview, you discuss the relative childlessness of Episcopalians in terms of stewardship of the Earth's resources. In light of this stewardship, what percentage of the TEC budget could be reduced if the offices at 815 were moved to say, Topeka or Omaha? In this day of instant communications and the Internet, surely a less expensive and wasteful location could be found for the headquarters of such an environmentally responsible church.

Why should I be Episcopalian rather than sleep in on Sunday morning?

I understand your mother became an Orthodox Christian in the 1970s. What was that like?

You have criticized some for placing God in a "little box." Jesus speaks of the "eye of the needle" and the "narrow way." Compare and contrast your and Jesus' viewpoints.

Why has the outreach to LGBT individuals been such a failure in terms of growing the Episcopal Church?

A significant portion of Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy) does not allow women to be priests. What is your response to this fact?

At your investiture, I noticed that none of the major celebrants nor you had any cross symbols on their vestments. Was this intentional?

What is the Resurrection?

Thank you
-- (Mr.) Terry Ward
El Paso, Texas

I attended my Anglican Catholic church on Sunday and heard in the Prayer of the Church an admonition to God to explain to people that homosexuality was a lot more complicated than most people think it is. I was too astounded to chime in with "Lord, hear our prayer" and I suspect that, as well as being another way to make sure there are no more Episcopalians as of course homosexuals do not reproduce, the Lord could hear them just fine and will make sure the rest of them disappear too.

It's a shame, because that was a beautiful, devout, old time congregation and now it is ruined and fading away. tick with us -- we're going places!
-- Kate Shaw
Toronto, Ontario

What a mind-bending comment by the Bishop Schori. These leftists are truly demented. If their "religious" philosophy is to be achieved only by their own extinction, then I guess they don't quite grasp the concept that a self-terminating religion certainly doesn't encourage converts, and has a hollow spiritual content, as vividly demonstrated by Tooley's article. I've read some reports on a recent study which relates the "depopulation" of leftists, via gay rights, abortion, etc. as opposed to the higher conservative birth rate. Looks like conservatives will ultimately prevail in our arguments, if for no other reason than default. But, hey, a win's a win.
-- William J. Dye, Jr.

It would seem that Episcopalian leaders -- perhaps its priests? -- have forgotten that in the Holy Bible's Old Testament book of Genesis, within its first few verses, it's recorded that God make humans in His -- actually their, the Triune God's -- image.

While they're reacquainting themselves with that, they might ponder Mr. Tooley's truly damning indictment of how they apparently view humans: "The growing Anglican communion, like nearly all growing religious groups, view people as gifts from God, not as parasites on an exploited planet earth."

They might also reflect on how their ordination of a homosexual as a bishop and then their election of a leader who is decidedly pro-homosexual not only puts them at odds with what the Bible says about homosexuality, but also with their fellow Anglicans worldwide who decided not to write their own version of the Holy Bible.

Perhaps when the Anglicans expel or finally reject the Episcopalians, the latter will have more time?
-- C. Kenna Amos
Princeton, West Virginia

NANCY'S GOBBLES
Re: Peter Hannaford's All Rise for Her Ethicalness:

On this day before our Thanksgiving we ought to offer thanks for Ms. Pelosi's demonstration of the difference between democrats and Republicans. In the former and now renewed democrat "congressional culture of corruption" there remains one constant: the democrats promote or try to promote their corruptors, while Republicans fire theirs. That's something to give thanks for.
-- Jay W. Molyneaux
Wellington, Florida

So this is Pelosi's "most ethical Congress in history." Sounds a lot like the promise from Bill Clinton for "the most ethical government" in history.

In her first two appointments, she chooses to bypass people with decent records, in favor of others with ethics problems in their past.

There is an old saying: "Begin the way you intend to go on." If this is an indication of how Ms. Pelosi intends to go on, she's going the Republicans are going to have a field day.
-- Mary Migala
Hummelstown, Pennsylvania

And the voters expected the Democrats to be pure as the driven snow???? They got just what they voted for and I do hope the turncoat Republicans will come back to the party in 2008 and we will have a REAL Republican to vote for. Hint, hint, not McCain.
-- Elaine Kyle

ON THE BEACH
Re: William Tucker's Endorse Kyoto:

I live at sea level within walking distance of a wide estuary, and have done so, more or less, for twenty-eight years. If temperatures were rising and ice caps were melting as Conventional Wisdom would have me believe, the water would be wetting my rugs as I write.

Who am I to believe: them or my own eyes?
-- Robert Nowall
Cape Coral, Florida

FIRING BACK
Re: Frank Natoli letter (under "Not Buying") in Reader Mail's Sweet Dreams

Re: Frank Natoli comment, "... since firearms ownership is the ultimate privilege and responsibility... "

Please be advised that firearm ownership for all American citizens is an unqualified RIGHT that may not be abridged. This is taken from laws that far exceed the age of the nation.

A license to drive a car is a privilege

Thanks,
-- Doug Hurd
Belton, Texas

HOMELAND SECURITY
Re: Quin Hillyer'sFirst Say Nothing, Then Say Thanks:

Quin is right again about remembering to be grateful.

I am blessed. I have a little house, a new car and peace in the night.

My country, my homeland -- priceless.
-- Cara Lyons Lege'

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