Today, my cloak of impartial observer-hood has been slipping. (It’s a slippery thing to begin with, thinly woven and somewhat stretched with much use, and any attempt to pin it down merely damages the tissue further.)

This is a fairly common difficulty when reading a description of one dialect of English, written by a writer of another dialect. Particularly if the writer is from England. The writer comments on a form characteristic of the dialect under observation, and I think, but that’s just normal. Like using altogether to mean ‘very’ or ‘extremely’, or reduplication (repetition) of an adjective X to mean ‘very X’: a strange strange sight for ‘a very strange sight’.

It’s also hard not to laugh when the writer glosses gas as ‘petrol’, in case the reader missed it.

It goes back to the oldest problem in dialect studies: to what are we supposed to compare the dialect in question? I ran into difficulties with this during my MSc in Edinburgh last year, where we studied the phonology of 3 varieties of English–Australian, ‘Standard’ (England) English, and ‘General American’–none of which was particularly familiar. I suspect ‘General American’ might be more familiar to someone who doesn’t live on the East coast (of the US).

To be fair, I’m pretty egalitarian with it comes to dialects not from the Eastern US. A perfectly flat Mid-Western accent will always make me break out in giggles. So did the very English announcers when we changed planes in Heathrow airport when we arrived in the UK for the first time. Although that may have been because we were extremely punchy after a night with no sleep.

Sunshine and shadow near the Backs, Cambridge

Sunshine and shadow near The Backs, Cambridge

And now, for your viewing pleasure, I present the best thing I’ve come across in my research today: A Linguistic History of Things Other than Food that People Have Put into Their Mouths. (Mostly safe for work; it’s largely about things like chewing gum, and anyway, the print is very small. Once you get past the title, that is.) Really, I couldn’t not click on it, and then share it with you. It appears to be a short magazine article, so a quick and easy read to bone up for your next cocktail party. For the record, I was not searching for anything remotely related to this topic*. But I regret nothing.

* If anyone knows of linguistic studies on Maine dialects, on the other hand, I would love to hear about them. No? Just checking. 

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