Thursday, 5 March 2015

Speech Patterns

I have often marvelled at how ineradicalble are the speech patterns we grow up with in our first language.  I used to think it was a matter of intelligence whether a person could pick up the correct speech rhythms in a second or even third language. I have since had reason to change my mind. At one time in my life when I lived in Israel for two years, I used to give private English lessons: one of my students was a highly intelligent German gentleman, aged about 65, who wanted to  eliminate his German accent. Not matter how hard we tried he simply could not pronounce a "w", it always came out as a 'v'.  We gave up and he and his wife enchanted me with their 'Shakespeare evenings' when they would invite friends over and listen to records of English actors reading Shakespeare plays. I've also wondered how it is that some people simply can't read aloud. An example would be young children performing their annual Nativity plays:  some pronounce their lines entirely naturally, others are stilted and with weird intonation. My husband can't read aloud: when he reads me things 'out loud' I have to cringe when he takes a breath in mid-sentence and mispronounces words. But he is an intelligent being. Does this disability stem from bad teaching when he was learning to read?  Surely a teacher explains that a reader must send his eyes ahead of his brain so that his words sound natural? It's not something I embarrass him about: you learn to sweat only the small stuff. Similarly, I love certain accents and dislike others. e.g. I love a Texan and a Bronx accent  but I really dislike certain African voice speaking English to the extent that I switch off my radio. What does anyone think?


  1. I can't read aloud either. I was in the starlings reading group and never made it the blue birds or cardinals. I read 40 to 50 books a year and I still can't read worth crap.

    I have always admired an educated English accent and the way declarative sentences are always stated as a question with plenty of understatement and lots of stiff upper lip.

    I speak Pittsburghese which has recently been voted as one of the worst accents in the US, but is a matter of regional pride here. However I do not use the term "yins" which is a regional cornerstone. Yins means the plural of you and quite often is used as a singular. Anyhow I was at a kickoff meeting for a test project years ago at one of our customers in South Carolina. There was a group of us from Pittsburgh and a group from South Carolina. The conversation went something like this.

    Yins are going to provide the power supply and the cables.

    Yes, but y'all going to provide the power meter and data acquisition.

    OK, and yins are going to provide the vibration monitoring and cables.

    Yes, we want our monitor but y'all are going to provide the accelerometers.

    On and on it went yins / y'all like a ping pong ball.

    1. That sounds absolutely fascinating. I wish I could hear it. You have put me on a mission now to find some Pittsburghese on Youtube or somewhere.

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    3. My comment got smooshed. Try it again:

      Here yinz go:

      A bit overstated but not much. One time my wife and I saw a Pittsbughese tee shirt and one of the words on it was "slippy."

      I asked her what's wrong with slippy.

      It is slippery.


      A couple he left out. Gum band = rubber band.

      Hows = house.

      mows (rhymes with hows) = mouse.

      Rilly = really.

      Worsh = wash. Our national capital is Worshington D. C. named after George Worshington.

      Jaggers = thorns. Why are you bleeding? I got jagged by the jaggerbush up on the edge of the yard.

      Yes and as the guy in the video said a jag-ov (Pittsburghese for jack-off) is a wanker or a tosser.

      I must confess to loving the word tosser (British for one who masturbates, but more general a despicable person). It sounds so refined compared to jag-ov.

      I imagine a conversation in down town Oxford:

      I say, did you see that man run the red traffic signal?

      A bit of a tosser, would you say?

      Yes, we have a bit of an accent in Pittsburgh, but it has been overly amplified by the culture and the modern sensibility for applying false uniqueness to an area. Back in the 50s nobody made a big deal about Heinz ketchup. There is not an ounce of ketchup made in Pittsburgh any longer, Heinz closed their manufacturing here, but you would swear we swim in the stuff.

      One thing I noticed in my business travels, put me down south for a couple of weeks and I started talking like a good ole boy. I picked that up in no time flat.

  2. That sounds fascinating. I wish I could hear it. You have set me on a mission to find some Pittsburghese somewhere on the Net....

    1. Maybe it's a left/right brain sort of a thing. You are clearly on the scientific side, me the arty farty side, although you cross the threshold with your exceptional language skills.

  3. I hate the voice of Barrock Obama and if I hear his voice on the radio Ill turn it off.