"Be good, do good, live long in peace." --DJ 

To Be Understood in the USA, You Must Kill the Words as You Pronounce Them

In the early 1950s, Puerto Rico had just become an official "Commonwealth" of the U.S.A. and we, as children, learned English as a supplemental way to enrich our horizons. Inasmuch as it was mandatory in public schools, we didn't "need" to learn it, but when we did, we learned the "classic" verbiage. We read "Dick and Jane" ad learned to pronounce the words properly in case we ever needed to come to the States.

"Run, Spot, run." —said Jane
"Run fast, Spot." —said Dick
Well, we came to the States and nobody spoke like that. Everyone spoke... idioms, slang, dialects, lingo, mumbo-jumbo... etc.

Today we kill the words in the English language... which is nothing new. We kill the words differently than our ancestors did. Shakespeare spins within his grave.

Adulterating words is considerably at variance with the ways they are spelled and often even more so with the ways we think we are saying them. We may believe we say "later" but in fact we say "lader. " We may think we say "ladies," but it's more probably "laties" or even, in the middle of a busy sentence, "lays." Handbag comes out as "hambag. " We think we say "butter," but it's really "budder" or "buddah" or even "bu'r. " We see wash, but say "worsh. " We think we say "granted," but really say "grannid." No one says "looked." It's "lookt." "I'll just get her" becomes "aldges gedder. "

Mmm, looks expensive...How much is it going to cost me?

We tend to slur those things most familiar to us, particularly place-names. Australians will tell you they come from "Stralia," while Torontoans will tell you they come from "Tronna." In Iowa it's "Iwa" and in Ohio it's "Hia." People from Milwaukee say they're from "Mwawkee." In Louisville it's "Loovul," in Newark it's "Nerk," and in Indianapolis it's "Naplus." People in Philadelphia don't come from there; they come from "Fuhluffia."

Pa' que tú lo sepas, when bits are nicked off the front end of words it's called aphesis, when off the back it's called apocope, and when from the middle it's syncope. Got that?

The British, who are noted for their clipped diction, are particularly good at lopping syllables off words as if with a sword, turning immediately into "meejutly," necessary into "nessree," library into "libree."

Laboratory? "Labtree."

Puerto Ricans, for the most part, as members of a rich and ancient Spanish culture like to think our diction is more precise. To be sure, we do give full value to each syllable in words like necessary, immediate, dignatory, lavatory, and (very nearly) laboratory. On the other hand, we more freely admit a dead schwa into -ile words such as fragile, hostile, and mobile (though not, perversely, into infantile and mercantile) where the British are, by contrast, scrupulously phonetic. And both of us, I would submit, are equally prone to slur phrases --- though not necessarily the same ones.

 Where the British will say howjado for "how do you do," Puerto Ricans will say: "Jau doo yu doo?" An American will say jeetjet for "Did you eat yet?"

This tendency to compress and mangle words was first formally noted, as I noted before, in a 1949 New Yorker article by one John Davenport who gave it the happy name of Slurvian. In American English, Slurvian perhaps reaches its pinnacle in Baltimore, a city whose citizens have long had a particular gift for chewing up the most important vowels, consonants, and even syllables of most words and converting them into a kind of verbal compost, to put it in the most charitable terms possible.

How much do you need to know?

?In Baltimore (pronounced Balamer), an eagle is an "iggle," a tiger is a "tagger," water is "wooder," a power mower is a "paramour," a store is a "stewer," clothes are clays, orange juice is "amjoos," a bureau is a "beero," and the Orals are of course the local baseball team. Whole glossaries have been composed to help outsiders interpret these and the many hundreds of other terms that in Baltimore pass for English. Baltimoreans may be masters at this particular art, but it is one practiced to a greater or lesser degree by people everywhere.

All of this is by way of coming around to the somewhat paradoxical observation that we speak with remarkable laxness and imprecision and yet manage to express ourselves with wondrous subtlety --- and simply breathtaking speed. In normal conversation we speak at a rate of about 300 syllables a minute. To do this we force air up through the larynx --- or supralaryngeal vocal tract, to be technical about it --- and, by variously pursing our lips and flapping our tongue around in our mouth rather in the manner of a freshly landed fish, we shape each passing puff of air into a series of loosely differentiated plosives, fricatives, gutturals, and other minor atmospheric disturbances.

How much British is Our English?

These emerge as a more or less continuous blur of sound. People don't talk like this, theytalklikethis. Syllables, words, sentences run together like a watercolor left in the rain. To understand what anyone is saying to us we must separate these noises into words and the words into sentences so that we might in our turn issue a stream of mixed sounds in response. If what we say is suitably apt and amusing, the listener will show his delight by emitting a series of uncontrolled high-pitched noises, accompanied by sharp intakes of breath of the sort normally associated with a seizure or heart failure. And by these means we converse. Talking, when you think about it, is a very strange business indeed.

And yet we achieve the process effortlessly. We absorb and interpret spoken sounds more or less instantaneously. If I say to "Which do you like better, peas or carrots?" it will take you on average less than a fifth of a second --- the length of an eye blink --- to interpret the question, consider the relative merits of the two vegetables, and formulate a reply. We repeat this process hundreds of times a day, generally with such speed that often we have our answer ready before the person has even finished the question. As listeners we can distinguish between the most subtle gradations of emphasis.

Most people, if they are reasonably attentive, can clearly detect the difference between that's tough and that stuff, between I love you and isle of view, and between gray day and Grade A even though the phonics could hardly be more similar.

My regarded opinion on linguistics rests on the premise that there's nothing more beautiful than romantic poetry or prose recited in the Classic Castillian Spanish while holding a long stem rose between one's teeth... in the style of Casiodoro Reina from way back then, befor the hill got dusty. Unfortunately, there's not too many of us who can even differentiate a false cognate from a preterite conjugation. Hence our need to meticulously study that linguistic tangled web we weave... The ENGLISH LANGUAGE!.

English is the most widely used language in the history of our planet. One in every seven humans can speak it. More than half of the world's books and three quarters of international mail is in English. Of all the languages, it has the largest vocabulary - perhaps as many as TWO MILLION words. Nonetheless, let's face it - English is a wild, crazy and unpredictable language. That's bad... er, I mean, good... that is to say... e.g. great... really... Awh, never mind.

What about words like "rough","tough", "though" and "through" (or is it threw?)? They all end the same way but are pronounced differently just to antagonize us Puerto Ricans and other denizens of the Foreign Kingdom. Oh, there's also "now", "know" and "how" and "low" and "bow" and "bou"... ad libitum, ad libitum, to all eternity... per saecula saeculorum. AAAARGH!

How much English is British?

¡Oye... What about English muffins? They weren't invented in England nor French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. Quicksand works slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth beeth? One goose, two geese. So one moose, two meese? One index, two indices? Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend, that you comb through the annals of history but not a single annal? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

¡Oye...sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on parkways? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? If you wrote a letter, perhaps you bote your tongue?

Who's the boss? Whose rules finally rule?

¡Mira... How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike? How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell another? Have you noticed that we talk about certain things only when they are absent? Have you ever seen a horseful carriage or a strapful gown? Met a sung hero or experienced requited love? Have you ever run into someone who was dis-combobulated, grunted, ruly or peccable? And where are all those people who ARE spring chickens or who would ACTUALLY hurt a fly?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling out and in which an alarm clock goes off by going on. English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, isn't a race at all).

That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it! ¡AY CARAMBA!



“Live in such a way that no one blames the rest of us 
nor finds fault with our work.” —(2 Corinthians 6:3)  

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