Golden Globe HBO afterparty (2010) Credit: HBO inc.
Be Part of Something BIG - Facing the Atlantic - Face The World - Helping Disfigured Children Worldwide:
It's been said before but it bears repeating, the True Blood cast is among the most generous bunch of 'creatives' in show business. Despite their many commitments including shooting their hit HBO supernatural vampire melodrama True Blood, thespian husband Stephen Moyer ('Bill Compton') and wife, Anna Paquin ('SookieStackhouse') are working to raise funds for a cause you may be familiar with and if not, once you hear about it I'm sure you'll agree is extremely worthwhile.
Below are the formal details but suffice to say this cause can't be construed as anything but hugely important and all the folks making it possible from the adventurers to the bidders on the auctions to the following websites who reach out and do their best to serve the cause are to be commended and sincerely appreciated:
Here is what is happening and why you should care about it: On behalf of Facing The World, a humanitarian organisation, the exciting and challenging project Facing The Atlantic will participate in a non-stop-row from the Canary Islands to Barbados.
Some interesting stuff in this article, broaching one of my favourite topics... American English (and other languages, which happened to come up in discussion among family members this past evening, before I read this) and how the way Americans speak it varies depending on several factors. This article goes into that, so I won't elaborate. I should have trimmed the article but just go ahead and skim to the parts of interest.
One of the reasons I enjoy the subject of regional dialects is because I've lived in several distinctly different regions of the US and Canada, picking up bits and pieces from anywhere I live for six years and beyond.
This how it went:
Born: Toronto, Canada Move to Connecticut, USA, age 6 Got the hell out of CT at 18: several areas in Southern California then central coast of California (south of Monterrey, north of Santa Barbara). Age almost 25: Chicagoland, Illinois, USA
(Plus an awful 6 months living in the outskirts of Austin, Texas. Most vivid memory: dead armadillos--they get hit by cars there and you see them at the side of the road. Picture an armadillo though--strange road pizza they got down there.)
To get a feel for the variety of what Robert MacNeil calls "the great family of North American Englishes," start with the opening sequence of MacNeil's engrossing, three-hour documentary "Do You Speak American?" which airs at 9 p.m. Wednesday on WTTW-Ch. 11.
In the montage, Americans from Malibu to Maine speak the program's title in their own dialect. A Californian says, "Do you, like, speak American?" A woman from Cajun country in Louisiana asks in French, "Tu parles Americain?"
Hip-hop artists chime in, "Do you speak American, dawg?" Southern comedian Jeff Foxworthy asks, "Do y'all speak American?" A Spanglish-speaking TV host says, "Estas hablando American?"
MacNeil hosted the landmark 1986 documentary "The Story of English." "I'm curious to see how the language has moved on since then," he says as he signs on this time. "So I'm setting out on a journey now to see what's happening to English in the United States."
"Do You Speak American?" spends too much time showing MacNeil driving from place to place and too little time actually listening to the everyday speech of Americans -- and it uses the terms "language," "dialect," "accent" and "slang" interchangeably. Still, the program provides some wonderful snapshots of American English today, and it proves MacNeil's point that our language is "restless, slangy, constantly changing and ever more informal."
MacNeil begins in New England, where "r's" disappear from the end of such words as "car" and "store." When the British started dropping their "r's" in the early 19th Century and developing what we think of as the BBC accent, East Coast cities, through travel and trade, adopted some of its features -- though the resulting accent turned out sounding less like Alistair Cooke and more like John F. Kennedy.
MacNeil continues through Times Square in New York City, with its flashing advertisements and news and stock market messages rolling by on electronic "zippers." The city's financial, publishing and media might, MacNeil says, make it "the global capital of the English language."
But the global capital's distinctive accent -- "noo yowak" -- is one few Americans associate with sophisticated speech, an irony MacNeil overlooks.
Article continues after the jump:
Language "wars" get special attention, especially the intense rivalry between prescriptivists and descriptivists.
The first group insists the role of English teachers and writers is to prescribe language, instructing people to follow the rules of Standard English at all times. Descriptivists say English isn't static, so all anyone can do is describe the language as it changes and adapts to different settings and time periods.
New York magazine critic John Simon is solidly in the prescriptivist camp. The failure of today's speakers of American English to follow traditional rules means the language "has gotten worse," he laments to MacNeil. "It's been my experience that there is no bottom, one can always sink lower, and that the language can always disintegrate further."
Jesse Sheidlower, North American editor of the Oxford English Dictionary and an avowed descriptivist, doesn't buy it. American English, in all its variety and flavor, he says, "has always taken great pleasure in its slang. You can find even Walt Whitman writing in praise of slang in the 19th Century, about how wonderful it is and how poetic it is, and how this is the American spirit distilled into language."
(Simon retorts that Sheidlower and his lot are "a curse upon their race.")
Anxiety about language change is nothing new, says Dennis Preston, linguist at Michigan State University. He tells MacNeil, "There's a kind of American linguistic insecurity which is very, very old."
On the one hand, we consider British English to be more elegant than ours. "On the other hand, there's American populism and a desire not to be stuffy, not to be too correct," he says.
What is considered correct, Preston says, is the Midwest accent. Linguists refer to that region as the inland North, and it sets the standard for the "normal" pronunciation of American English.
Allan Metcalf explains how this came to be in his superb overview "How We Talk: American Regional English Today" (Houghton Mifflin, 208 pages, $14). In that book, he credits English professor John Samuel Kenyon with helping to shift the perception of standard pronunciation away from the East Coast and closer to Kenyon's native Ohio. In his 1924 book "American Pronunciation," Kenyon, not so modestly, divided American accents into "Southern," "Eastern" and, for his own region, "General American."
However, that influential Midwestern pronunciation is showing changes over time. In a fascinating segment, linguist Bill Labov plays audio clips to demonstrate a phenomenon he calls the Northern Cities Shift: Short vowels have started to become longer in the mouths of many Midwestern speakers. The word "block" has begun to sound like "black"; "bit" resembles "but"; and "Ann" can sound like "Ian."
"Is it fair to say," MacNeil asks, "that North Americans are, in different regions, growing further apart from each other linguistically?"
"I think so," Labov replies. "It's hard to believe. Everyone says to us, we all watch the same radio and television -- how can that be? It's a very surprising finding."
Americans also maintain a remarkable ambivalence toward accents -- the Southern accent (or accents) in particular. On the one hand, Americans tend to admire the emotion and sincerity they associate with the Southern accent. On the other hand, they often hear it as a sign of inferior intelligence.
Foxworthy, the comedian who popularized "You might be a redneck" jokes in the 1990s, doesn't mind being a punch line. "I think Southerners really don't care that Northern people think that [the accent sounds unintelligent]," he tells MacNeil. "Some of the most intelligent people I've ever known talk like I do."
But Foxworthy has some fun with the stereotype. "Nobody wants to hear their brain surgeon say, `Al'ight now, what we're gonna do is saw the top of your head off, root around in there with a stick and see if we can't find that dadburn clot.'"
West Coast factor
After looking carefully at how the Eastern Seaboard ceded its influence on American English to the Midwest, MacNeil mentions only in passing a more modern trend: how the West Coast has emerged as an important language influence.
Today, American English increasingly takes cues from California ("I'm all, like, `As if!'") and Latino dialects such as Spanglish and Chicano.
In particular, the linguistic melting pot of Los Angeles is a cause for alarm to prescriptivists and other purists who fear Spanish will displace English as America's common tongue, but linguist Carmen Fought assuages these fears.
As with European and Asian immigration, "It's still the classic pattern that the first generation born in the United States often will retain the home language, but by the second generation born here, the home language is very often lost," Fought tells MacNeil. "If anything, it's Spanish that's in danger."
"I think there's variations of speaking American," TV and radio personality Steve Harvey tells MacNeil. "You have to be bilingual in this country. And that means you can be very, very adept at slang, but you have to be adept at getting through a job interview."