Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hwæt eart þū?

hen I'm at Upham Manor sitting in the parlor watching TV, it is a truism that the volume of the show that I am watching is only a third of that of the commercials that come on. If don't have the button in hand, I have to ask someone else to make the adjustment.

"Can you louden the volume, please?"

It's a sentence that has been spoken in my family since long before the advent of the button. (What you might call the clicker or the remote.)

Sometimes, if we have guests they'll ask, "What did you say? You want me to do what? What the heck is 'louden'?"

I get more grief for that simple word than almost any other word I use. Now, in researching this post, I went looking to see if this is a regional thing and what exactly its origins were. But frankly, I found precious little apart from the etymology. In fact, what little I did find claimed that this is simply incorrect usage.

I say that's scitte.

The fact is, the use of -en as a suffix is simply a convention of Middle English that enabled the formation of transitive or instransitive verbs from adjectives or from nouns. It comes from the our linguistic roots in the Germanic. I suspect Anglo-Saxon influences here. (29% of our English language comes from Germanic roots.)

We soften water. We hearken to speakers. We fasten things together. We sweeten our coffee. We strengthen supports. Drama is heightened. We moisten stamps. There is certainly no reason we cannot louden the volume of a television. Are you listening?

It's clear to me that we here in New England have a penchant for keeping linguistic constructs in vogue long after such knowledge has passed out of memory from other parts of the English speaking world. I was once told by a professor of English, a man who is from England, that the dialects of New England are closer to Elizabethan English than the dialects spoken in England. You can hear those same roots in the way Bostonians say words like "bath" and "path" with the ah sound rather then the short of used in the word "cat".

Of course, not all of us speak this way anymore. More and more the non-regional pronunciations of television and radio has weakened our dialect with its vanilla, mid-west non-accent. It's sad, but even Bostonians have become Ohio-ized.

But our dialect is not gone. A few weeks ago, I perked up in delight when, while watching the news, a woman on the street was being interviewed by a reporter. The woman used the phrase "will have had boughten" in referring to the future acquisition of a certain municiple resource. Will have had boughten. Man, you just don't get to hear good old fashioned vernacular like that anymore.

More recently, a colleague here at the Lab was recounting a negotiation in which he had been involved. He referred to the benefits that one party "will have broughten" to the proverbial table. It sent chills down my spine.

Language is a beautiful thing. I am one of those freakish people that feel that language must be preserved. It's a gift passed down to us from our ancestors as a sacred trust. Though I may stand out in crowd, I want to keep my manner of speaking. I owe it to posterity.

One last story to illustrate keeping language alive. I was sitting in the common room at Virginia Tech when Professor John Rhor walked in the front door. At that same moment, doctoral student George Assibey-Mensah walked in from the another room. They greeted one another, exchanged a question and a retort or two, made their farewells and went their separate ways. They had done so in a language that sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it. "What language was that?" I asked of the student next to me. He said, "That was Latin."

Latin. Conversational Latin. That is wicked pisser.

So, are you going to bring your dialect with you into the future?

For me, my friend, it's already been broughten.




AsterixChaos said...

This comment is being firmly held.

Anonymous said...

I have no patients.
My neighbors have always said, when referring to turning off anything, TV, lights, whatever electric device it is: "shut it". Not 'shut it off, but just "shut it". It drives me nuts, but I'm used to it now.

Gleno said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donzo said...

Ohio is NOT the source of American-vanilla dialect. Nebraska is. In Ohio, you "warsh" you clothes. The top of your house, is call a "ruuf", instead of a "roof". When you are answering in the negative, you say; "neeww, . . . huht-uhh" instead of just "no". The large piece of furniture you sit on, in your living room, is a "davenport", not a couch or a sofa. Moses saw fire in a burning "bewsh", not a bush. And, it's "O-hy-yah", "O-hi-yo".

Gleno said...

I have never heard any of that from someone in the midwest. The way that I've been able to identify midwesterners is by their non-accent. Give proof.

Donzo said...

Proof? You want a name of an Ohioian who talks that way? My family talks that way!
Johnny Carson was from Nebraska. Call centers used to be located in Nebraska, because the workers had no discernable accent. (Before they all moved to India)
Many of your famous early News Anchors were from the Midwest, but NOT Ohio.
Edward R. Murrow - Greensboro, NC
Walter Cronkite - St. Joseph, MO
Tom Brocaw - Webster, SD
Chet Huntley - Cardwell, MT
David Brinkley - Wilmington, NC
Roger Mudd - Washington DC
John Chancellor - Chicago, IL
Dan Rather - Wharton TX
Peter Jennings - Toronto , Ontario

Web page for American Dialects:

Gleno said...

I see you have done your research.

Well played, Midwesterner, well played.