Sunday, November 4, 2007

galivanting and dropped "t"s

At the assisted living facility where I work, I am constantly bouncing between two very different linguistic worlds: the dining room world of old fashioned Yankee blue bloods with their very proper charm, and the kitchen world of Italian immigrant English, a blustery, warm dialect. I love it. Yesterday I overheard Harriet, a strong willed old Jewish matron, who grew up in Bridgeport where her Dad owned a shop, say to another woman, "Oh, I suppose they'll be galivanting all over the shoreline," referring to a field trip being offered.

Galivanting strikes me, in its sound associations, as a kind of baroque and utterly superfluous galloping about for pleasure.

In the kitchen, I heard Alicia say "I hadda pick him up after work! Can you believe that?" Another dropping of t's is the pronunciation of "nothing" as "nu'in'." But I think they only use that exaggerated pronunciation to express contempt, as in, "That dumb kid don't know nuttin." I heard that my first day at work, as Lena put her cell phone back under the counter after talking to a friend or boyfriend.

I listen to speech forms like some people listen to symphonies, and I smile with delight to myself when a particularly rare or colorful word flits through my ear-scape.

Speaking of which, I saw a political impersonator on Kieth Olberman a couple of days ago named Jim Morris. Oh my god, this guy was a genius: he took on the speech and manner of John McCain, George Bush, Bill Richardson, Al Gore, and John Edwards within the space of about 4 minutes. It was incredible, how a single person can be so well and fully captured in speech.

While it is true, as some commentators point out, that the US is not racially or ethnically defined, I have to say in response that belonging to the American linguistic community is nonetheless decisive. One can look at a person who is racially or sartorially exotic, but as soon as they open their mouths and utter fluent American, one is convinced that they are "really" American. No matter that they may be equally fluent in some other language, like my friend Mariem, whose Dad is Tunisian. I love hearing her jump back and forth between "known" and "alien" within the space of a sentence.

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