Monday, January 20, 2014

Where'd you say you were from?

The character Henry Higgins in the movie My Fair Lady had the ability, or so he said, to tell where a person had come from by the way they talked (There even are places where English completely disappears; in America they haven't used it for years). And of course his ability to change the way Eliza Doolittle spoke, so that she was able to fool another expert, was a key point in the plot of the movie.

In a general sense, our language is very fluid. Words pass out of common use, new words are added, and the meanings of old words change and become something very different. And for me at least, the way I talk and express myself has most definitely changed over the years.

When we arrived here in south central Missouri in 1981, both of us California natives who had spent all of our lives to that point in California (except for 2 years in Oregon), I made a conscious decision to change the way I spoke and chose words, and even pronounced words, so that I felt like I fit in more with the local people, after someone told me “you ain’t from around here are ya…”

As I began to meet more and more people and get to know them better, I discovered that almost everyone "wasn’t from around here" either, and even more interesting I thought, were that many of those who I became friends with, who were born and raised right here in this town and who never left, didn’t have a noticeable accent and sounded just like me. Or at least I thought they did.

I was given a link to a Web site with 25 questions about vocabulary and dialect, and depending on your answers, it provides a map with three cities that are likely candidates of your place of origin.

So, where did it decide I was from? Denver, Colorado, and Louisville or Lexington, Kentucky. Huh? What?

Denver makes sense because my mother was born in Colorado Springs and raised in Elbert, which is near Denver, and she certainly influenced the way I learned to pronounce words as a young child. Not sure about Kentucky though, except that makes sense in a way too, because Missouri and Kentucky share a bit of border in common.

Even as mathematically challenged as I am, I have figured out that I have now lived more than half my life here, in a place far from my linguistic roots. My vocabulary has, obviously, changed. But I found myself shocked to the core at what came out of my mouth during a conversation with a man I saw recently.

He and his wife own a trailer house (that would have written mobile home in a past life) on a lot that I walk by every day. For a while a young couple were living there. They had two small dogs that were loose in the yard, and every time we walked by, they would bark as us; it was all bluster, no actual threat implied, but Miss Molly became nervous about passing.

Then, suddenly, the trailer was empty, but it took Molly a while to realize the dogs were gone, so I still had a bit of a struggle with her.

One day not too long after they had left, when I was coaxing her to pass by, the man pulled up in his truck to pick up mail from the route box, so I asked what had happened to them. He said they (his son and daughter-in-law) decided they wanted to live in town. I said, “Well, when they were living here, my dog was ascairt to pass by…’

Ascairt? Where did that come from?

Perhaps I need to go back to Los Angeles so I can learn to talk again.


Update several hours later: Took the test again because I just couldn't believe the first results. This time some of the questions were different and my answers map showed Stockton, Fresno, and Modesto, all cities in central/northern California. That's a bit closer to home...

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