The American Renaissance

Baja Canada del Sur: Comedy and Comment in the Age of Occupation

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Location: Little Rock, Arkansas

found done in needlepoint on Mel's Front Porch: I Pledge Alligence to the Constitution of the United States of America. And to the Republic for which it guarantees, One Nation, Undeniable, with Liberty, Truth, and Justice for All.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

You say tomato

...and I say tomahto -- phonetics can be fun! Something that has interested me all my life is dialects; we have some truly amazing ones in our fair land. Not just the southern drawls of my own younger years, but the almost staccato speech of the northeast cities. New York City alone has a multitude of accents -- understandable given the diversity and backgrounds of it's citizens.

Then there are the broad tones of the Midwest, the slight lilt of the Upper Plains, the Spanish-tinged voices in the desert Southwest, and the clear conversation of the West Coast, familiar to most of us from the large entertainment industry in Southern California.

And each of these have their own sub-dialects, not to mention the rural areas. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is also wonderful that all across the land, the distinctive speech of African Americans can be heard. I remember the brouhaha over the concept of Ebonics, and it just made me put my head in my hands and sigh. It amazes me that latent racism allows someone to look down upon a black woman "holding forth", when this may be one of our strongest and most effective dialects between the shining seas. I find it striking, as a lesbian from the Deep South, that many anglo gays, especially men, have adopted and embraced quite a few of the expressions and mannerisms of the African American community. To put it another way, nobody reads someone's beads like a Sistah.

I recently heard of a trend in the South, of people seeking to modify their accents, going so far as to enroll in classes to "lose their Southern accent" and I must say I was mildly horrified. That almost seems to me to be an attempt to forget where one came from, which I find sad. Certainly I believe one should be educated, and able to write a correctly spelled and punctuated sentence, but that needn't be at the expense of parting with one's earliest education -- language. That's melting the pot a bit too far for my tastes. I've lived in several different parts of the country, and have picked up some of the local lingua from all of them -- but nothing tickles me more than having someone turn around and say, "You're from Arkansas, aren't you?"

It's all a part of communicating in America. But I fear, in our political dialog, we've allowed some unfortunate rhetoric and catch-phrases to creep in, and skew the semantics.

For example: Global warming -- the buzz-word that encompasses the wide concept of environmental change. It's been an uphill battle, and it's still being fought, to get the multinational monied interests, and the politicians they own, to even acknowledge the concept, but at last common sense is coming in vogue. Even W has had to grudgingly admit there's a problem.

Sorry,
George,
but yes,
we have no bananas.

I think we need to rachet this up a notch; "global warming" sounds somewhat passive. I suggest we start calling it global HEATING. Because that's what we are doing to the planet.

Then there is the military rhetoric, with so many examples of Newspeak Orwell's Ministry of Truth couldn't keep up. I particularly abhor "defense spending." Goes hand in hand with this idea of "preemptive" actions. Sum that thought up in "offensive spending", and you get quite a bit closer to the truth these days.

To bring it all together, doesn't matter if you say it with a cultured sniff, a drawl, a twang, or street-smart smack, the truth will always set you free.

Stay the course? Tomato, tomahto, potato, potahto, let's call the whole thing off.

5 Comments:

Blogger enigma4ever said...

Great post...you had me laughing and you made me smile...and also made me go HMMMMM...and it is about Truth...and how we talk, and what we say it does matter...how we communicate with each other and take care of each other...it matters...alot..

Thank you....namaste...

11:05 PM  
Blogger meldonna said...

I realized as an afterthought that offensive spending actually has a double meaning; certainly I'm personally offended how my tax dollars are being spent!

I'm no pointy-headed intellectual; never been to university, got no fancy degrees to put on my wall. But if I have one true academic love beyond human history, it's human communication. Few things make me happier than a good conversation, and learning from one another...

Always have loved the things that make ya go Hmmmm...

And always like someone making me go hmmmm, too. The best teacher you've ever had is the one that learns from you as well.

I'll keep throwing my essays that (hopefully) get folks thinking, and you keep doing exactly what makes you special, too, e. Mamas, teachers, and students -- no village I've ever been in wasn't brimming with all three. We all swap around roles, too.

Got to keep the laughs in there, as well; merriment is the lubrication that makes the village work smoothly. Love gives it harmony.

mahalo, mi amiga.

12:34 AM  
Blogger spadoman said...

Some say Spadoman, Some say Spahdoman...

A few thoughts, the first part of your essay is right on. I also found it very interesting as I have seen this all across America, the different dialects.

But did you ever notice that the local news always have people who speak without the drawl in Texas?, and it's their market!

I'm from Chicago, but left there over 30 years ago. I lost the Chicago Italian street talk, but if I encounter someone from Chicago and we establish that we're both from there, it all comes back in a nanosecond right down to the hand language gestures and the slang.

I knew your piece was going to go to politics. I would have been disappointed if it didn't. I like "offensive spending". I wouldn't have a hard time with taxes if we got to choose where our money goes so it doesn't offend us.

Another good one Mel. Keep up the great work.

4:09 AM  
Blogger dada said...

Well, another jewel from mel. Very nicely done. I shared this with my wife--originally from Louisiana-- though you "cain't" tell it because through harrassment from her fellow students in an American school in Germany, she purposely lost her accent. A small part of her heritage sacrificed to speak English like everyone else, sadly, yes. But I also recognized in her a determination with the strength to see a course chosen through to its completion.

She now regrets having given that part of herself away, which explains why she "Three cheered!" you yesterday, Mel.

It also is made clear from your comment to enigma that when we got as far as Portland last month, we should have gone a little further. There's nothing more I enjoy than good conversation. I'm most always left aghast at the hidden person beneath the veneer of one who had been a stranger just moments earlier.

Of course, if the talk takes place over a good microbrew on the the porch of a small brewpub in a pleasant group of friends--or strangers--all the better.

Sitting next to a couple of total strangers on the porch of Bill's Brewpub in Cannon Beach, overhearing the woman say "New Mexico" was all it took to uncover a great conversation. When in the heat of discovery, I suddenly flashed her the Eske's Brewpub shirt I was wearing from Taos, we learned we had a common acquaintance--Eske himself! It only got better from there. But you have to speak up. Strangers are like a cold can of beer on a hot day. You have to pop the lid to enjoy the contents.

Oh shit, now everyone thinks all I do is guzzle beer. Well, not really. And certainly, I try to avoid beer from cans at all costs, but not strangers.

I can imagine some of the great conversations we missed by not driving a little further north Mel.

6:33 AM  
Blogger meldonna said...

Hey spads! Now I have a clue I've been pronouncing your name wrong...thanks for your thumbs up.

And you're right, I do tend to get back to the political thing (almost annoyingly so, at times). I guess the best way to explain is I once heard the expression "all politics is local" and took it to heart. Certainly what's going on in DC these days affects us all.

I was amused you noticed that lack of local accent on local news in Texas -- I can report that being true in Arkansas as well, from the videotapes my mom sends me from time to time (she likes to tape things like the Beatles Anthology, or a special report, and doesn't bother to edit out the commercials or the news reports). Local news anchors often come from other regions of the country; but I love the local 'yokels', as Daddy always called 'em, who make their own commercials. Ain't no hi-faluting going on there!

Dada, I read your Walls essay -- a very nice piece of work. You and the Missus would always be welcome at Chez Mel! But thank god you didn't drop in on me unannounced; I seem to have more stuffs than room, so it is a bit cluttered...and makes it hard to sweep and mop. To put it in a nutshell, the Old Hippie is alive and well in Seattle.

And please tell your wife not to fret...I guar-ron-tee when she gets mad, that old accent is alive and well, too. You cain't tell me differnt.

Okay?

11:43 PM  

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