Dewd, like, fer sher.

12 Sep

Don’t be alarmed – I haven’t actually started talking like a SoCal native. I just couldn’t think of a clever title, so I used a few words that I hear around me all the time. There’s also a very particular intonation pattern common among young people here, but I don’t think I could reproduce it in writing. At any rate, it all still feels rather foreign to me.

My Japanese History professor, on the other hand, has a somewhat amusing accent that I’ve yet to place with certainty. Something about her speech suggests “Eastern academic elite” to me (she did teach at Cornell for some time, according to her bio), put the most remarkable feature of her accent is a distinctly Midland quirk (I believe), which is r-insertion in words like “wash.” The other day in class, she said “George WaRshington” about 10 times. I’m surprised no one was snickering. If I had to guess right now, I’d say she was from the Pittsburgh area, or at least somewhere in Pennsylvania, but I can’t say for sure. Maybe I should just ask her.

Everyone has their own dialectal quirks. Despite my normally prescriptive-level grammar, I recently realised that I commonly make an egregious grammatical error when speaking: using the past tense form instead of the past participle following a modal verb and “have.” For example, I frequently say, “I should’ve went” or “I could’ve saw it” (where the correct forms would be “I should’ve gone” and “I could’ve seen it”, which come just as naturally).

Having not looked into this at all, I can only speculate as to the cause of it. I assume that it’s relatively common among Americans, but I’d be surprised if I learned it was a regional thing. The other thing to note is that the error can only be heard with irregular verbs, since the past tense and past participle are identical in regular verbs (“I walked”, “I have walked.”) Therefore, I can hypothesize that the error is the result of a false intuition. In other words, people hearing “I should’ve walked” might assume that “walked” is the regular past tense form of the verb rather than the past participle, and so they would incorrectly apply the same rule when saying “I should’ve went.”

Of course, nobody says “I have went” (at least not to my knowledge), which suggests that the modal plays a big role in causing the error. I don’t think most people even interpret these modal constructions as containing the word “have” at all – people commonly misspell them as “could of,” “should of”, etc., which makes little sense grammatically, but might explain why people don’t always use the past participle. Besides, in typical fast speech, the constructions come out as “coulda” and “shoulda”, which bare little resemblance to “could have” or “should have.”

There’s probably been research into this already… but if not, I could write a paper on it right now and make money. 🙂

Continuing with the language theme, I had my first Italian quiz this week – I’m still waiting on the results, but I think I did fine, except for a careless error or two. I’m mainly worried that the class is progressing too quickly, and that consequently I won’t retain as much as I could. I would do a lot of studying on my own, but unfortunately don’t really have the time. Nonetheless, I’m doing very well in Italian…it actually seems like I’m retaining more than I think, because it already feels very intuitive to speak the language. I think the existing “French circuiting” in my brain is helping a lot, although sometimes it causes problems, like when my professor asked me if I had studied for the quiz:

“Hai studiato molto?”


That got a chuckle.

One of the major differences between Italian and the western Romance languages (French, Spanish, Portuguese, etc.) is the formation of plurals. In Italian, the final vowel of the singular noun changes to form the plural, whereas in French and Spanish (like English), you just add an -s; thus “un giorno” becomes “due giorni”, whereas “un jour” -> “deux jours” and “un día” -> “dos días”. This is one of the key intuitions that I’ll have to develop, although it’s a very straightforward system so it shouldn’t take long to become second nature.

Some of the trouble is caused by words with irregular stress patterns. In most Italian words, stress falls on the penultimate syllable, but there are plenty of exceptions, which have to be memorised (although for some reason I tend to have good intuition about these as well). These irregular stresses also sometimes affect plural formation, which is somewhat of a nuisance. Not to mention the plethora of indefinite and definite articles.

French, in these respects, is much simpler. Stress is always on the ultimate syllable (and relatively flexible in speech), and where Italian has “i”, “gli”, and “le”, French has only “les.” Not to mention that Italian has formal forms of both “tu” and “voi”, while French kills two birds with one stone and uses “vous” as the catch-all formal form.

I recently mentioned the Vietnamese Francophone author whose book we’re currently reading in my French class; during her visit to USC, I was able to get her autograph. C’était gentil:

It seems like there are a lot more interesting special events and activities this semester (or at least a lot more that I know about), which is cool. Last week, I attended a barbecue sponsored by the Canadian International Association, essentially a group for Canadian students. While I felt odd being an American imposter, it turned out that a lot of the people who showed up weren’t really 100% Canadian. I was wearing my Quebec T-shirt, of course.

Oddly enough, I was amazed at how many people there I already knew (not all of whom were actually Canadian). My old roommate showed up, a linguistics grad student from Vermont whom I had just met a couple hours earlier, as well as two girls from the small game-themed TO writing class I took two years ago. Really bizarre. And for some reason, I felt more at ease with the Canadians than I normally do with Californians in similar situations… Much of the fun consisted in just listening to their accents. Sore-ee, lol.

In other news, I also attempted to watch for celebrities outside the Shrine for the first time, during the Creative Arts Emmys last weekend. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get too close… the best we could do was across the street from the entrance point, but often our line of sight was obscured by lanes of giant limos. (You can see my photos from the event in my “Life in Hell-A” album.)

While there were a number of people at the Creative Arts Emmys I would have recognized (and was specifically looking for), unfortunately the vast majority of people there were behind-the-scenes folks or otherwise unrecognizable. It was looking for needles in a haystack. I probably would’ve had better luck had I shown up a little bit earlier, but alas. I’ll have a chance to see the *big* stars at the ‘regular’ Emmys this weekend… unless I decide to go to the linguistics BBQ instead. Too many options!

That’s not to suggest that life in LA is peachy keen. Despite my time here, I still can’t help but feel out of place, like an outsider. Maybe it’s because the culture here is very image-oriented, and back home no one really cares about what you’re wearing or anything like that… and if there is a “fashion” in New Hampshire, then it’s very different from here (and 75% of the girls don’t look the same). Maybe I shouldn’t feel self-conscious, but I definitely feel more comfortable in the culture back home.

My nostalgic sentiments are best represented by the 3′ x 5′ New England flag that I recently bought and hung up in my room:

Note the good ol’ little Quebec flag keeping it company. And my roommate has a 3′ x 5′ Canadian flag on the adjacent wall.


2 Responses to “Dewd, like, fer sher.”

  1. Wayne 20 January 2008 at 23:55 #

    Your roommate’s patriotism is appreciated, but you may want to tell him that his Canadian flag has incorrect dimensions. The proper ratio is 1:2 (width to length), so a 3-foot-wide flag should be 6 feet long. It’s common to see 3x5s for sale in the US, because that’s a ratio factories (many in Taiwan, but also in the US) are set up for. But it means Canadian flags look a little more boxy or square than they should. They also typically use a darker red (Old Glory red). I kinda prefer that color, but both are telltale signs the flag probably didn’t come from Canada.

  2. Daphne 28 January 2009 at 17:47 #

    You are so funny! I stumbled on your blog after finding a photo on google maps in Concord. I was drawn to your wide interests, including your New England dialects study and the fact the you are from the Bristol. We moved to New Hampton 1 1/2 years ago and I find myself spending more and more time discovering all sorts of things on the WWW. Anyway, just thought I’d say “hi” and let you know that someone out there is reading.
    Take care and I hope you enjoy your amazing travels. You’re very blessed.

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