Exposure to language
Dennis R. Preston
preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Thu Dec 12 12:58:13 UTC 2002
I think Beverly is neither a prescriptivist nor a nit-picker (unless
I have completely misjudged her character). She may have actually had
some phonology in mind (the vowel of "cloth"?), not trivial spelling
stuff, which I am sure we all give less than a hoot about, except
when spelling "errors" reflect dialect variants.
I am a Kentuckian (well, Louisvillian) and find "washrag" (actually
"warshrag") very common. On the other hand, "warshcloth" seems quite
good to me too, but I'm taking bets it came later in my linguistic
BUT - I cannot say "dishcloth." It's not English. "Dishrag" is it.
Back to the point. Since this was a "little sister," we may simply be
witnessing the death of "-rag" and the victory of "-cloth." The
mainstream pejorative senses of "rag" could have a lot to do with
this (as the late Harold Allen argued in AS long ago about
participial "drunk" being replaced by "drank," a process which he
claimed was at least in part due to contamination by inebriated sense
PS: Isn't there some Transatlantic word like "flannel" for this? Has
that held its ground?
PPS: Some people on this list have questioned my authority when I
make such pronouncements as "It's not English."
1) I am the President (until January) of the American Dialect Society.
2) If that's not enough, I recently did an acoustic (LPC) analysis of
my vowel system. Every one of my steady state F1-F2 readings lies
exactly on top of the male formant values given in Peterson and
Barney (1952). (OK, I didn't look at any /E/s before nasals, and I
didn't check the glides of diphthongs.)
>OH Please!! I think we all know Deidra meant "washcloths". I hope we have
>more to do with our time than to come in here and check for mistakes in
>spelling and grammar. If we could refrain from being 'know it alls' more
>people would feel comfortable responding to messages on-line, and we would not
>be missing out on their input. Put that in your pip and smoke it (I
>pipe just for you Beverly).
>Deidra makes a good point. I think it's interesting that the phrase "warsh
>rag" was alien to her sister. Especially considering the fact that she lives
>in Kentucky, where it is pretty common.
Dennis R. Preston
Professor of Linguistics
Department of Linguistics & Germanic, Slavic,
Asian & African Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1027
e-mail: preston at msu.edu
phone: (517) 353-9290
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