Daddy was a Rolling Stone, Momma Developed a (Language) Habit
Imagine pronouncing “language” with a soft-g sound on that second “g”, kind of French-like. It sounds fancy, if you ask me. You could also say both g’s like that, which would sounds pretty funny. My language habits are based around exploring words and deciding which way of pronouncing them I like best. In most cases, people are able to understand what I’m saying. If they can’t then the conversation likely wasn’t worth my time.
In all seriousness – the above wasn’t, if I have to specify – I grew up as part of the working class. Most of my clothing and some of my food was thanks to someone donating it to my family. Perhaps ironically, my language habits were built on learning how to behave politely and avoid giving off the appearance of being uncivilized. I said please and thank you. I closed my mouth when I was not speaking. I ee-nun-see-ay-ted. But, all of that went out the window as soon as I was sent off to school. My friends taught me habits like saying like, like, way too much. Gee mentions the difference between a girl talking to her parents and her boyfriend, and the different languages they used. Gee focuses on the way she defines her subject, how she focuses on contextual identity descriptors with her family and more intimate identity descriptors with her boyfriend. Growing up I noticed the divide in adjectives, tending toward more academic words at home, such as “flagrant”, or “vile” and more vulgar words with friends, like “fucking” or “shitty”. Should I have censored those?
I was always told I talked too much as a kid, so I stopped talking to people when I turned 10. I dropped that angst when I was 15, picked up theater and have been listening to blink-182 on and off ever since. I guess I didn’t drop that angst after all? But I do talk more now, I’m only waiting for someone to tell me to stop so the cycle can repeat and I can find a new band to listen to.
I like “air quotes”. One thing I noticed from Gee’s article is that the words people tend to offset with quotation marks tend to be colloquial, or sarcastic. Gee puts “stuff” in quotes on the first half of page 413, but it is a word that a lot of people seem to use freely. This is most likely a circumstance of time-and-place, where Gee feels he needs to write formally and be aware of his use of colloquialisms. What I think is important to address about this is that we even have a divide between colloquial and formal language. Like, what’s up with that yo? Just cause the words ain’t organized the same as you like, doesn’t mean what someone saying ain’t right. There are some words that people use that are not kept in our dictionaries, or are but are labelled as “colloquial”. Most people seem to know what they mean whether they are in our dictionaries or not. What is it about these words that makes them unfit for an article about vocabulary, or an academic essay, but fit for everyday conversation or (depending on the author) an online blog?
I speak quickly, sometimes. Slowly, other times. I’m sorry, I can be more specific; I speak quickly when I’m excited and slowly when I’m tired. I use big words when I want people to listen and short words when I want them to laugh – unless the situation requests the opposite. If you ask me how I’m doing, I’m always going to lie to you. That one has less to do with language and more to do with ease of communication. You don’t need to know about my bowel movements or relationship status, I’m generally just going to say “good” and hope we talk about something more interesting.
Interesting is one of my favorite words. My media professor thinks “interesting” isn’t an interesting word, as of my first-year lecture. Maybe his opinions have changed? Or, maybe I can change them. I like the word interesting because of the idea of interest: there is a sort of gravity associated with our brains, that draws our attention towards different sorts of spectacle. This is what interest is, the force that makes us look at or think about an object or idea. The word interesting is the word in our vocabulary that expresses the presence of interest. The reason my professor doesn’t like the word is likely because it does not illustrate what makes something interesting, but I like the word for that exact reason.The word is a placeholder, that reminds me to return later and investigate. For me, declaring something as “interesting” is bookmarking it for a later date, when I can explore what great mass that gravity is coming from.
I pronounce a lot of words “wrong”. People get at me for “coy-o-te”: I say “coy”, as in the adjective that the animal is associated with, instead of “kai”, which I believe is one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s weapon of choice. Actually, that’s Raphael, and he uses twin sai, not “kai”. But, even sai-o-te would be cooler than the Greek word for “and”. Google it. I also say “al-most” instead of “all-most”. My favorite part of writing this is that I don’t have to change the spelling of words when I write down how I pronounce them.
Do I pronounce things right? Does anyone? What it comes down to is if people understand. Two people can mumble and grunt at each other and if they both understood that they are romantically interested in each other, then I think they communicated just fine.
One part of language I get hung up on is that everyone feels a need to understand what everyone else is saying. Is it mandatory for someone to learn the language of the country they are in? That just reinforces nationalism and we have two world wars to warn us away from those ideals. If I pronounce words differently or use different words than others would tend to, even people within the same language may not understand what I am saying. I usually can get away with repeating myself or just picking “better words”… just because I don’t use them doesn’t mean I don’t know them.
It’s my identifiable differentiation from the language of others that makes me the most insecure. One major example, when someone read my play “Fishbowls” (it’s on the sidebar, I’m self-advertising) they did not know I wrote it – my name wasn’t on it. But, they approached me shortly afterward and told me they knew I wrote it because the characters both spoke like me. That was the time I was most self-conscious about my language. How can I write well if every time, I write myself?
Language defines what we are saying, but it also allows a glimpse into who is saying it. If you read all the words I wrote down here, I like to think you know me a little more than you did yesterday.
Gee, James Paul. “Teenagers In New Times: A New Literacy Studies Perspective.” Journal of Adolescent & Amp; Adult Literacy, 43.5, (2000) 412–420. Jstor. Web. January 23, 2017.