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Language Communities

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  • Category: Language

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In Richard Lederer’s article “All American Dialects”, he states the ironic truth that “most of us are aware that large numbers of people in the U.S. speak very differently than we do.” (152) How is it that one language can have so many speech communities? It is because of the way our nation was developed. Our language is a mixture of culture and lifestyle that has diverted our English dialect, so that each region’s speech is unique. How I speak can define who I am, determine what I do, and locate exactly where I’m from in the U.S. This is the value of my, and my language’s speech communities. If one was to travel to Germany they would be constantly hearing German. What they wouldn’t notice is that each city within Germany tends to have their own “version” of the German language. The same concept applies to the English language here in America. Although we all understand the standard English language, our country is broken up into several speech communities; each consisting of a region’s “own version”. Every speech community holds its own terminology, slang, pronunciation, accent, and view of correct grammar.

Edward Finegan, author of “Correct American: State of American” says this uniqueness explains why the English language has maintained its “richness and flexibility”. When I had first moved to Lewis County in Northern New York, I noticed on many occasion people say “them” as opposed to “those”. For example, I would constantly hear someone say “Grab them boots over there.” or “How do them things work?” It was so strange to me because growing up in a variety of different regions and speech communities, I had never heard “them” used in such phrases. It was wrong to me. However, who am I to judge when they most likely disagree with my dialect as well. It is how and where they were raised that made them acquire their use of language. As our country is divided into several regions: North, South, Midwest, and West Coast States, each of these formed from different backgrounds, the dictionary is no longer the sole reference to our vocabulary. What I consider “correct grammar” may be very different from someone’s view of a term a hundred miles south, west, or north of New York.

I have always called the round flat cakes you cook on griddle pancakes, whereas my cousins in Rochester call them flapjacks. Both are correct forms because we share the same idea of a cake made on a griddle, we simply use different terms to describe the noun. It is easy to determine where one is from because of their terminology, accent, and grammar that reflects the region in which they were raised. A word may be slurred, combined with its suffix, or pronounced differently. Or, in some cases, the word may be an entirely separate word itself. These words may only be considered correct in their regions. For example, y’all is a combined word of “you” and “all” used primarily in the south. If I we’re to say ya’ll in New York it would be grammatically incorrect. In Lewis County, where I’m from, we say “yous” in place of “you all”. It is mainly location that determines its correctness. In Edward Finegan’s article, he presents the question of “what’s right or wrong in language, and who decides?” This question is dealing with the debate over what is grammatically correct in the English language.

However, the American dialect is constantly changing, growing, and adapting to new ideas. Finegan says this is something “living languages must do”. For me, I was raised in a military home in which we moved to a new region every couple of years. Coming from Germany, moving to Rochester, and then to Lowville, my dialect is a combination of all three speech communities. It is different than my parents, and will mostly be passed down to my children. As I age and move locations it is opted to change again as well. So it is not that I speak differently or incorrect than the rest of my family, my speech community is merely growing and changing as it is passed generation to generation. Richard Lederer stated in his article, “We are a teeming nations within a nation, a country that is like a world.” (150) He was portraying how our country, with a universal language, can be so diverted by each region’s version of the English language. I agree completely that although we all “sing” the same song of the American language, “we talk in melodies of infinite variety.” (150) The way our country was built was by different American regions doing their own work, for example, the south had plantations, where my ancestors were small town farmers who worked with manufacturing in mills and mines.

Their lifestyle’s consisted of different geography, education, occupation, and social position in which speech is formed. So although we as people carry the same meaning within our speech communities, we indeed can have a dramatically different word for things. Where I live, I would say many of the town residents use “bad language”. Not that we are illiterate, we just have a more “laid back” or, some would say, “lazy” tone that we use when we speak. Many of our words tend to slur together. For example, we say “venson” instead of venison. This could be because many of the “backwoods” residents are hunters and have gotten exhausted with the three syllable word and simply shortened it.

We also say “crick” instead of creek. Although these words sound similar and hold the same meaning, it isn’t “proper”. To me, in a way, it is like living in the south, only we talk “faster”. We say “ya’ll” and “aint” as well because just like the southerners were built on farms and plantations, much of the North Country was built on agriculture. However, this could be a separate dialect from someone only 50 miles away, someone with a different lifestyle. This is the uniqueness of my language; that no one else will have my background story, what my speech community is founded on. So although my speech community’s dialect may be underlined in red on my laptop, it isn’t wrong, just inappropriate compared to the standard English language. It defines who we are and explains what we do.

Works Cited:
Lederer, Richard. “All-American Dialects.” Language Awareness: Readings for College Writers. Paul Eschholz, Alfred Rosa, and Virginia Clark. 11th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013. 149-155. Print. Finegan, Edward. “Correct American: State of American.” PBS. MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, 2005. Web. 24 Aug. 2014.

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