Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Whole Nother Perspective

Nother.  I honestly have no idea to spell this “word.”  Is it nuther?  Or would it be nother, as its origins would suggest.  Maybe knother with a silent k?  For the longest time, I regarded this word with contempt, annoyed at what I considered an unnecessary mutation of our perfect English.  Wow.  How arrogant and pretentious was I?

I have long been one of those people who quietly laughs on the inside at pre-American Revolutionary movies in which the American colonists speak with perfectly formed American dialects, albeit minus such fine words as nother, a’int, or y’all.  The colonists were first, second, or third generation European immigrants, generally residing in homogenous clusters in which accent mixing rarely happened.  A significant portion of the population was English born or raised and surely sounded no different than their evil  Red Coated counterparts.

Hopefully the Brits discovered camouflage. 
Well, at some point during the last 236 years our languages diverged.  We don’t drive lorries, take trips to the loo, or snog our loved ones.  We eat our biscuits with gravy and not tea.  Our chips come in bags instead of accompanied by deep fried cod.  Frankly, I think those Brits sound crazy.

While living in London in 2003, I had the opportunity to make friends with some of our stage crew.  Every now and again, they would rip off a sentence sounding mostly of gibberish, full of dropped consonants and unimaginable slang; we would have to remind our English compatriots to speak English and not British, otherwise there was no way to understand them.

All of our languages evolve as culture grows and changes.  As much as we look at our younger generations with mild amusement for introducing text-speak into conversation, filling our ears with such gems as “tots,” “loled,” or “brb,” they are providing us with a window to the future of American English.  As our world continually shrinks thanks to technological innovation, our cherished language will open its doors to even more intrusion from outside sources.  

I remember the ebonics craze from a few years ago when the Oakland School Board decided to teach Standard American English by using African American Vernacular English (commonly referred to as ebonics) to bridge the gap between the dialect used at home and the one regarded by educational institutions as correct.  The technique is no different than using English to help a high school student learn German, French, Latin, Spanish, etc.  We have to create a bridge between the established knowledge and that which we wish to teach.

Now, let me provide a whole nother example.  My own distaste for improper language usage has evolved as well into something more than tolerance (which frequent readers know is a term I dislike).  Using terms such as nother, tumped, a’int, y’all, fixin to, or contained in text speech, or any other slang based terminology, does not reflect on the speaker’s intelligence.  These words are merely familiar to the person’s experience.  They use these words because they encounter them frequently.

My time in London didn’t grow my vocabulary, but it did alter the way I pronounced a few words - sorry and strawberry being the most notable.  Sorry altered from s-are-ree to s-or-ree and strawberry somehow became - straw-brerry.  I only spent four months immersed in British English and remained surrounded by Americans speaking American English, yet it still impacts my speaking skills nearly a decade later.  Imagine only hearing one slang dialect for the first five or six years of your life.  Does slang usage reflect upon intelligence?  I think not.

Funny enough, in writing this, I discovered that Merriam-Webster includes nother as a word in its lexicon (although spell-check doesn’t seem to agree).  This year, the dictionary standard expanded its catalogue to include other commonly used terms - man cave, sexting, mashup, bucket list, and underwater (referring to mortgages).  

Our language constantly evolves.  Usually we evolve right along with it, not ever realizing we have done so.  So, the next time you hear someone use a word you have never heard, before jumping in to correct them, consider adding it to your own list of favorites.  You may find yourself evolving ahead of the curve.