Manzanillo Sun article

A Living Language

2012 Freda Rumford May 2012

By Freda Rumford from the May 2012 Edition

I often used to wonder why teachers in school would refer to English as a “living” language. Latin and ancient Greek are “dead” languages as are those of many older North American Indians and other ancient cultures. Where the language was extinct or the tribe now vanished, their history also often disappeared leaving a puzzle for modern day historians to mull over and fill in the blanks.

Many times the historical clues were left in the form of pictures in caves or strange encryptions on scrolls. In the case of most of the North American Indians, both language and history was lost apart from the “talking stones” as the story tellers didn’t have the words to use. In Europe, stories told by the wandering poet or troubadour were most often embellished to create a story worthy and interesting to listen to by the court or around the commoner’s fire of the village attached to the Dukedom. Then, as they were eventually written down by monkish scribes reflecting the church doctrines, and became mostly quite untrustworthy as a true history but really more of a fable.

Many stories now accepted as correct simply could not have happened in the manner that has been passed down for generations. Sir Lancelot could not have run off with Guinevere, it was against all of his and her principles and that of Courtly Love and Chivalry as practiced during that time. But it makes for a good story. This is exactly what is happening today in the form of tabloid “news”, in order to sell something it has to be sensationalised.

However, English words are spelt and pronounced a certain way and everyone speaking the language uses the same format don’t they? Of course, over decades the language constantly changed and grew. Words infiltrated the English language from various parts of the world according to popularity, technology and medicinal updates. Words passed from one nationality to another, sometimes to nowadays elders exasperation after hearing “okay” or “like” included in every other sentence or words used in a completely new connotation.

The same effect is felt in most other languages as the computer is more widely used and the often seemingly strange becomes universal and normal. But why are there so many different pronunciations? In the England of olden days for example, traveling was difficult for all but nobles,their courtiers and troops. Farmers and villagers stayed in their own environment and the sounding of the word was gradually changed to become a local dialect. Merchants going from town to town in markets or from castle to castle gradually introduced other inflections that started to become regional.

In England, the Lancashire accent is different to Northumberland and both different to that of Shropshire or Cornwall. Within those counties the various town pronunciations remained the same but generally the overall dialect became similar. In most countries, it seems North & South are quite different as are East and West. Canada is unique in that there isn’t a North versus South only an East versus West and it isn’t that different really.

When the Pilgrim Fathers landed in the New World, they brought with them their own accents from the eastern midlands of England, which over time joined with those from different lands and thus developed a different form of English. Not only that but different words are used for the same thing, such as; “lift” and “elevator”, “trunk” and “boot” or “tonic water” for “coke” as used by New Englanders. Same words were applied in a different manner such as a ‘City’ in England has to have a cathedral, in Canada and the United States a ‘Town’ of any reasonable size is a “City”. As a matter of fact some towns are named ‘city’.

The real difference, however, comes now in the pronunciation and this is where life can become hilarious and sometimes quite misleading. This is something with which I here confess I am currently having a great deal of fun. The different pronunciation of ordinary words by either English or American person becomes quite hilarious and leads to much further amusement and discussion about the correct way to say something. Going to the dictionary to find the true method of sounding our various and differing phonetics is not always the answer as it then depends on the origin of said dictionary.

The Englishman says “Staht” the American “Start”. In the former country of the Puritan they lose the final ‘r’ and replace it with an ‘ah’. So the word ‘sure’ becomes ‘suah’ but not pronounced as a diphthong but as two separate syllables. And the mid-westerner always places an ‘r’ in the word ‘wash’: He actually warshes his blue jeans instead of washing them and getting them really clean. The Englishman says “Bahth” the American “Bath”. The Englishman says “Rashun” (ration)and some Americans “Raishun”. In the latter case the dictionary vows that both are correct. Huh?

Then of course in comes the regional accents to really queer up the pitch!! The sayings of regions that mean absolutely nothing if translated and leave the uninformed listener totally clueless as to what has been said or meant.

How interesting this has become to me. I am sure that I will be having fun with it for years to come. To really have a good time all anyone has to do is to remember where the word “quiz” came from.


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