Sunday, August 23, 2020

Pronunciation and other language fads

There is no "single" American pronunciation,  There are many, and they are being, or once were, studied.  About 60 years ago I took a course from a young woman who was working on a particular American dialect.  She was part of a scientific organization that did that sort of thing.  I can't recall how many dialects we had at the time or whether there have been many new ones since then, but as part of the course we were required to learn the code for designating the different sounds.  By the time we finished the course we could have  done the grunt work for one of these scientists recording and describing American dialects.  I can't refer to a text book for details since it has long since disappeared.  I don't even know if such a field continues to exist.  But with a little time and a good dictionary I think I could still recapture the code and how to use it -- though I can't think of an reason why I would want to at this point.

I recall another class, this one in Chaucer.  We were informed that Chaucer's poetry was for a long time thought poor and irregular because his critics had lost the sense of pronouncing fourteenth century end vowels. Even if we pronounced his poetry properly, I thought to myself, one would still need to learn the meaning (which has changed dramatically from his time to ours) of his words, and so reading his poetry was a time-consuming matter which I scarcely took beyond three or four of his far from uplifting tales -- whatever was required to pass the course.

And it isn't just the pronunciation and meaning of words historians and literary scholars have to contend with.  There are word fads and taste.

From one generation to the next what is "cool" or tastefully "in" changes.  We don't in most cases talk exactly the way our parents did.

And if some widely considered "great" poets and novelists of past ages had more of an historic sense and could have appreciated how short would be the time that their writings would be  faddishly "in," perhaps they wouldn't have drunk themselves to early graves in search of such fame.

Lawrence, entertaining dark thoughts in sequestered San Jacinto

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