I don't want to be a brick in a wall. All bricks look the same and they are cemented into place, kept in rigid order. And walls divide. And life is like banging your head...

Word Up

In the pub on Friday with Martyn and Lorenzo and inevitably the 
conversation turned to blogging. We had all read Rosemary's flattering post and were discussing the most appropriate ways to reply. I could think of nothing better than a heartfelt, public thank you. Your words Rosemary, touched me very deeply; You have a friend for life. And to think I met you via "next blog".

We also talked about language. Again this was inspired by Rosemary. The English are very used to Americanisms. We are exposed, some might say subjected, to their language via the media. American programs are routinely popular here. The Simpsons, Lost, ER, Sex in the City etc. Our cinemas are flooded with Hollywood films, often at the expense of lower budget British films and always at the expense of foriegn language films. But, if Rosemary is anything to go by, Americans are less familiar with British English than I had realised. Yes, Americans probably understand by now that we wear trousers, with pants underneath. They should also know by now that a fanny pack is extremely funny to us. But these words are not the problem. I think the problem really lies in our knowledge of the history contained within words; the really subtle differences wrapped up in our everday words and expressions.

But maybe we are just being anti-American. American English is a dialect in the same way as Geordie and Scouse are here. My knowledge of English language should be well above average; I have a first class degree in it after all. But place me in a working men's club in Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle, and my mother tongue will be very foriegn, even to me.

When I was teaching in Rotherham, barely 50 miles away from where I was brought up, the regional dialect was so strong I spent the first six weeks of term saying, "Well done" to every kid's answers because I couldn't understand a word they were saying. One kid arrived to class late and when asked why he replied, "Ah wis lakin." I got him to repeat it for me several times. The other kids also repeated it. I could hear perfectly well what they were all saying, I just hadn't got a clue what it meant when a kid said he was "lakin." Should I call the doctor? Should I be cross. In the end I gave up. It later turned out that "lakin" was the regional dialect word for "playing."

Another word I had never heard before, or not in this context was spice. Americans may feel that our country is rather small. To teach in Rotherham we moved house; Fifty miles is too far for most people  to commute over here. And yet in such a short distance, language was so very different. The accent was broad, or rather brard, Yorkshire, I mean Yarksha. But in Britain we don't need fifty miles to change dialects. In one housing estate the kids all used the word "spice" as opposed to "sweets" ("candy" in America). No other kids used it.

The best example of regional variation however was a local hardware store, a D.I.Y shop we call it in England. The DIY stands for Do It Yourself. One day, somewhere in Yorkshire we drove past a DIY store called DTS: Do't Tha Sen.

Is it any wonder Americans don't always follow every word we say?

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