How slang catches on, survives, and fades:
The schwa is never stressed? Ridiculous, says Geoff Lindsey:
A few years ago I shared six videos about language, so posting seven this time may set a perilous precedent. (I’ve also blogged a bunch of others, before and since, if you want still more audiovisual diversion.)
Below, there are two short, three medium, and two long videos, in that order. See what grabs your fancy.
A wild one to begin: Why Werner Herzog refuses to speak French:
Podcasts have become a bigger part of my media consumption than I expected they would. I’ll stick to linguistic ones here, in keeping with the blog’s theme. New ones keep appearing, leading to dilemmas in time management, but it’s a happy kind of dilemma.
Here, in alphabetical order, are a handful of good language podcasts that entered the scene in 2019–2020. Episode lengths, given in parentheses, are approximate.
I don’t know a family personally that has siblings with identical names. But I know of some anecdotally, and the phenomenon occasionally appears in the news or discussion forums for one reason or another. George Foreman famously has five sons named George (‘so they would always have something in common’). In my culture it’s unusual, but it happens.
Toni Morrison treats this familial anomaly with comedy and flair, albeit with non-biological siblings, in her acclaimed novel Sula (1973). In Medallion, Ohio, in 1921, when Sula is eleven years old, her grandmother Eva – ‘operating on a private scheme of preference and prejudice’ – takes in three boys and disregards their given names:
They came with woollen caps and names given to them by their mothers, or grandmothers, or somebody’s best friend. Eva snatched the caps off their heads and ignored their names. She looked at the first child closely, his wrists, the shape of his head and the temperament that showed in his eyes and said, ‘Well. Look at Dewey. My my mymymy.’ When later that same year she sent for a child who kept falling down off the porch across the street, she said the same thing. Somebody said, ‘But, Miss Eva, you calls the other one Dewey.’
When the third one was brought and Eva said ‘Dewey’ again, everybody thought she had simply run out of names or that her faculties had finally softened.
‘How is anybody going to tell them apart?’ Hannah asked her.
‘What you need to tell them apart for? They’s all deweys.’
It’s as if Dewey had gone beyond the conventional function of a name (if it ever really had it, here) and become the word for a certain category of people. The first Dewey is a dewey, the second is ‘another one’, and by the third even Morrison is lowercasing them on Eva’s behalf.
I’m slowly catching up on the back catalogue of George Pelecanos, who has written about 20 crime fiction novels (and also wrote for The Wire). Recently I read Hell to Pay (2002), which contains several items of linguistic or metalinguistic interest.
The book is one of a handful by Pelecanos that centre on private detectives Derek Strange and Terry Quinn, the first black, the second white, the two ex-cops.
Terry Quinn goes looking for information from sex workers. He bums a cigarette as a way into conversation, but being a non-smoker he has nothing to light it with. Then he encounters Stella, a ‘pale’ girl ‘maybe knocking on the door of seventeen’:
She sat down without invitation. He handed her the cigarette.
‘You got a light?’
‘You need a new rap,’ she said, rooting through her shoulder bag for a match. Finding a book, she struck a flame and put fire to the cigarette. ‘The one you got is lame.’
‘You think so?’
‘You be hittin’ those girls up for a smoke, you don’t ask ’em for a light, you don’t even have a match your own self?’
Quinn took in the girl’s words, the rhythms, the dropping of the g’s, the slang. Like that of most white girls selling it on the street, her speech was an affectation, a strange in-and-out blend of Southern cracker and city black girl.
‘Pretty stupid, huh?’
The English language has no future tense. To refer to the future, we use various strategies with verbs in present tense (some of them auxiliaries):
I will run
I will be running
I shall run
I’m going to run
I am to run next
I’m running tomorrow
I run next Friday
Because we can conceptualise the future and it plays a big role in our lives, we talk about it often. Naturally, then, the ways we talk about it are subject to pressures of economy, resulting in contraction, e.g.:
I will run → I’ll run
I am going to run → I’m gonna/gon’ run
I’m gonna run → I’mna run → I’ma/Imma run
I’ll is acceptable in Standard English; gonna/gon’ and I’mna/I’ma/Imma are not, though you may see them in dialogue or informal writing or use some of them yourself in everyday speech – gonna is especially widespread.
Recently I came across another form: I’m on [verb]. It seems similar to I’ma and I’m gon’, but I don’t know exactly how or when it developed. Here’s the example I saw, in Elmore Leonard’s novel Mr. Paradise: