Heard on The Judges: localisms

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 23 06:52:59 UTC 2009

Thank you for the info, Ben. But I feel a draft.

Surely, this has to be one of the most vapid claims in the entire
history  of American sociolinguistics:

"... African Americans are participating in sound changes separate
from those found in 'mainstream' European
American dialects."

How in the world could anyone expect this *not* be the case, given
that it's *been* the case since 1619?!!!

Is the author really suggesting that, behind centuries of slavery and
Jim Crow, no one has heretofore noticed that AAE and AEE are evolving
separately? And then there's the fact that [^] and [a] as in, e.g.
'thur" and "thar" are only trivially distinct WRT to their respective
distinctive features. That is, you have only to listen to, e.g., Andy
Griffith's "What It Was Was Football" - all record titles that I cite
are easily available from iTunes and elsewhere - to hear that
non-"mainstream" European Americans whave never been enslaved or
Jim-Crow-ed have likewise participated in sound changes separate from
those found in "mainstream" European American dialects.

What does it mean, logically, merely to "suggest" that Saint Louis is
not the historical epicenter, as opposed to claiming that it is, as
was done in print by, among others, the black-music critic of the
Boston Globe, when "Hot in Herre" was released?

Do y'all have the slightest idea how much it creeps out us colored
people when something that's happening from coast to coast and from
border to border is singled out and treated as something uniquely
weird and special because the colored people are also participating in

Another grotesque example, having nothing to do with dialectology, is:

"The anti-gay-marriage amendment in California passed because seventy
per cent of black voters voted for it."

It would have passed, had *one hundred* per cent of the colored voted
*against* it. Does any non-black personI know of any reason to suppose
that colored people are any less homophobic than white people are.
Indeed, good Chrishtun colored people are probably *more* homophobic
than their white compatriots, because they wish to believe that the
colored man is a *real* man, not like them white do-funnies! No way!
Ain't no days like that! When you do come across a colored punk like a
RuPaul, it's obvious that the boy been corrupted by association with
them nasty white boys, as any fool could plainly see. If the black man
wadn a real MAN, how else could the colored people have been able to
take The Man's mess for so long without getting run stone crazy,
instead of merely sand crazy?

And then there's what I call the "prophet without honor" syndrome. An
Afrikaner linguist at the 1972 Summer LSA at UNC-Chapel Hill remarked
to me that, were "their" black people the intellectual equivalents of
America's black people, there would be no need for apartheid. The
bouncer at an after-hours joint in Amsterdam refused me entrance,
until my Dutch friends said to him in English, "But he's an American!"
The guy's demeanor underwent a 180-degree shift. For a second, I
thought that he was going to ask for my autograph. Of course, had I
been only "een kleurd," I'd *still* be trying to gain entrance.

Houston is the center of rap and hip-hop in Texas.

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

On Thu, Jan 22, 2009 at 1:36 PM, Benjamin Zimmer
<bgzimmer at babel.ling.upenn.edu> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Heard on The Judges: localisms
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Thu, Jan 22, 2009 at 12:35 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Twenty-year-old black youth from Houston:
>> "Yes, your honor. That's why I come out her (i.e. 'here')."
>> ("Local" in the sense that, AFAIK, this shift of -air, -ear, -ere,
>> etc. to [-^r] is, so far, peculiar to BE and, again, AFAIK, it began
>> in Saint Louis about fifteen years ago and was spread around by such
>> Saint Louis hip-hoppers as Nelly, Li'l John, Chingy, et al. One of my
>> favorite songs has the eye-dialect title, I'm Hurr, I'm Thurr, I'm
>> Errwhurr. I assume that initial err- is influenced by "er(r)," the
>> standard spelling of onomatopoetic [^(r)].)
> At the ADS annual meeting, Cara Shousterman of NYU presented a paper
> on the 'urr' variable, suggesting a historical distribution not
> limited to the St. Louis region (though StL has certainly become the
> culturally salient "home" to the variable in the hiphop era). Here's
> the abstract:
> ---
> http://www.americandialect.org/American-Dialect-Society-2009-Meeting-Abstracts.pdf
> Cara Shousterman (New York University)
> Diachrony and AAE: sound change outside of the mainstream
> This is a diachronic study of what is known as the 'urr' variable,
> whereby in some African American communities front vowels centralize
> when followed by /r/. For example, the words here and hair can merge
> with her, and are spelled in popular
> references as "hurr" or "herre". Results indicate that the 'urr'
> variable is a fairly recent innovation in AAE spoken in DC, Maryland,
> St. Louis, and Memphis. This shows that not only are there regional
> differences in AAE, but also that African Americans are participating
> in sound changes separate from those found in "mainstream" European
> American dialects.
> ---
> Shousterman and some fellow NYUers also presented an LSA paper (which
> I missed) covering more recent developments in the spread of the
> variable to other AAE dialects via Nelly et al.:
> ---
> Renée Blake (New York University), Sonya Fix (New York University),
> Cara Shousterman (New York University): Vowel centralization before
> /r/ in two AAE dialects: A case of regional variation
> ---
> Not sure where Houston fits into this.
> --Ben Zimmer
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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