Dialects interfere with understanding

Tom Zurinskas truespel at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 27 02:06:42 UTC 2008

It is said below that “Dialects really do interfere with understanding.”  Having recently visited England, I can attest to that.  Everyone we met was terrific, but some speech was actually intelligible.  However, this goes for some dialects in S. florida as well.

PBS Airdate: March 18, 1997
The following is taken from below

PETER THOMAS: One good example of language change occurring in less than a generation can be seen in Philadelphia. Here, a team of linguists has carried out fieldwork over the last twenty years to see at what rate English words change, and why.
WILLIAM LABOV: When I first came into this field, I was interested in finding out how language was changing, as it was used in everyday life, …In Philadelphia we chose as a community where almost all the vowels were changing, and I came here to try to find out, if I could, why language was changing. The nineteenth-century theories about it would argue that it was either the people at the bottom of the heap who were changing it because of laziness and ignorance, or the people at the top, because they had such prestige. But we'd found out that the opposite was true, that the sound changes were in the hands of the people who were the most important local people. … In every neighborhood, you need to know the people who are the central figures so that you can understand how society works and who influences who.
WILLIAM LABOV: In the history of English, the vowels have always been the ones that move, and the consonants have stayed put. And over the course of time, small changes add up into great changes.
WILLIAM LABOV: We're taking the word "bad" to "bed," the word "out" to "a-out," to "a-out." You notice that "go" moves to "gao" to "gao." You notice that "two" goes from "two" to "teo." In the meantime, "sight" and "fight" are becoming "sa-ight" and "fa-ight" or "soight" and "foight." There are other changes that are just beginning to appear, where "a" as in "maid" and "pain" becomes "maid" and "pain," so that "snake" and "sneak" then sound the same. So, we have a rotation of the whole vowel system which is happening in different ways in different cities in the United States, and in England, too.
WILLIAM LABOV: Whatever the forces that are producing this change, they must be very powerful, because they really do interfere with understanding. Our current research is dealing with cross-dialectical comprehension, and we've taken three cities, Chicago, Birmingham, and Philadelphia, which are becoming more and more different. And we find, indeed, that people do not understand the sounds in the dialects of other cities, and even within the city, the older people don't understand the younger people when it comes to using those sounds. So, that's the process which several hundred or several thousand years ago led to the gradual differentiation of languages and the loss of intelligibility. I'm not saying it's going to happen in the United States, because there are other factors at work there, too. But, we can trace that day-to-day change which ultimately leads to two different languages.

Tom Zurinskas, USA - CT20, TN3, NJ33, FL5+
See truespel.com - and the 4 truespel books plus "Occasional Poems" at authorhouse.com.

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