12 October 2008

Linguistic sins and fossils

I've just learned from Dr C that, on the basis of my throwaway four line post "Just because it made me laugh", a couple of months ago, he read a couple of the Dalziel and Pascoe Mysteries, including Bones and Silence.

I shall obviously have to be more careful what I say ... it never occurred to me that a casual remark could expose international readers to the horrors of Andy Dalziel's (pronounce it "Dee-Ell", by the way) habits and dialect.

Talking of his dialect (Yorkshire, in the north of England – the novels are based in an imaginary riding of "Mid Yorkshire"), Dr C mentions frequent use of “anyroad” where one might use “anyway” and connects it with my own usage. This is an interesting one.

Life and frequent movement have left me with a mostly generic and unplaceable "BBC" accent, but with some odd bits of other stuff thrown in. One source of those "other bits" is my father, who hailed from "the black country" – a part of England well south of Yorkshire, adjacent to "the midlands", and named for its industrial soot. I occasionally hear myself say "spuggies" instead of "sparrows", and know that my paternal grandfather (who died when I was nine years old) is speaking through me. I pronounce "bath" and "path" as "barth" and "parth" in the southern/BBC manner, but "castle" as "kassle" – as it is in the north, midlands and black country.

My father and his family all used "anyroad" in place of "anyway" – a fact for which I cannot easily account. This artefact never entered my spoken language (I say "anyway" when talking) but I do find that "anyroad" is the form which naturally falls off my fingers when writing. Go figure, as my US friends would say.

Talking of US friends, some of the "odd bits of other stuff" in my pronunciation are the result of US education in early years. Most don't matter, but one or two I find annoying in myself: one of them being "aLOOmiNUM" instead of "ALyouMINeeUM". The scientist in me regards standard nomenclature as vital; all the other "ium" elements in the periodic table (beryllium, niobium, uranium, etc) have an "i" and so should aluminium. I am working to change this, but without much success so far; it seems to be deeply rooted.

Other fossils don't matter in themselves but can be socially embarrassing. My mother and brothers were (are) fluent German speakers and, while I am emphatically not, some of their pronunciation habits rubbed off on me. I am currently trying to eradicate my automatic rendition of a Hollywood film star's name (to the hilarity of my students) as "KEERshtn DOOnsht" (I know a half German Kirsten who pronounces her own name that way, which makes the transition more difficult) and replace it with "KERstan DUNNst".

Anyroad (!) that's a long way from my thoughtless betrayal of Dr C into the reading of Reginald Hill's detective novels, for which I hope that he will in time forgive me...

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