An Interview with Roger Thompson, author of No Word for Wilderness

Roger Thompson is an award-winning nonfiction writer, whose work has appeared in both academic and non-academic journals. He is co-author of Beyond Duty: Life on the Frontline of Iraq, a bestselling Iraq War memoir, and has directed an international environmental research program in Banff, Alberta. He taught at the Virginia Military Academy for fourteen years as a Professor of English and fine arts. Thompson currently serves as Director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stony Brook University. His most recent book is No Word for Wilderness published by Ashland Creek Press.

Ed Battistella: Congratulations on No Word for Wilderness. Tell us a little about your book and about the Abruzzi bears living not far from Rome.

Roger Thompson: Thanks Ed. The book details the surprising lives and current threats to a group of brown bears only 50 miles from Rome. Few people seem to know about these bears, and when I first learned about them myself, I was captivated by their story. Only 50 of the bears now remain, and they are facing surprising threats to their survival.

EB: As a linguist, I was fascinated by the title observation, that there is No Word for Wilderness in Italian. What does that tell us?

RT: It’s not entirely unusual for a language not to have a word for the idea of “wilderness,” but in Italy, I think it’s especially important because it points to some of the challenges for wildlife in the country. When a country has no meaningful word to describe wild places, it is especially difficult to convince a population to rally for conservation. It’s hard to save what you can’t name.

EB: A lot of the book is devoted to the aptly named Bruno. What is Bruno’s story?

RT: Bruno is bear from northern Italy who, in 2006, became probably the most famous bear the world has ever known. He migrated from Italy to Germany just as Germany began to welcome soccer fans for the World Cup, and the result was massive media coverage of Bruno’s exploits. Bruno had a habit of killing domestic animals, and while there is lingering disagreement over the degree of danger Bruno posed, the German government certainly decided that he would not be tolerated. So, what began as a story about the first wild bear in Germany in over 150 years became the story of how a government responded to a wildlife crisis–a crisis some believe the country itself created.

EB: How are the Abruzzi bears different?

RT: Bruno was born of a Slovenian sow and was among the first cubs born of an ambitious rewilding program in the north of Italy. Slovenian brown bears are not entirely unlike the American grizzly, and while the rewilding program that introduced them into the Italian Alps was by many measures a tremendous success, local Italians began to have conflict with the bears. The question began to be reasonably asked whether an introduced bear is as well suited to a region as a native population. The Abruzzo bears, unlike Bruno and his Slovenian ancestors, are entirely native to Italy. They have lived in the Apennines for a millenia, have adapted to that habitat, and are notoriously peaceful. While in the Alps, there have been a few problematic human-bear interactions, in Abruzzo, the bears have never in written record attacked a human. That’s a thousand years of recorded history without a single attack of a a bear on a human. They are an astonishing species of bear.

EB: What is the state of the national parks system in Italy? I had never given it much thought before reading your book.

RT: National Parks issues in Italy are complicated. On the one hand, the country can boast an rapid expansion of the national park system over the last 50 to 100 years, faster than any other country in such a short period of time. On the other hand, the management of the land is a complex mix of national, regional, and local politics. Park Presidents are appointed as political favors, and it’s not unusual to have president appointees who have very little investment in parkland. A park granted to a president may be something akin to a bauble to brag about for an individual. Certainly, some park presidents are impressive people, and the current park president of Abruzzo National Park, which is home to most of the Abruzzo bears, is generally well regarded. Still, the system is deeply flawed, and as a result, conservation initiatives are hard to carry out over long periods of time.

EB: What does this story tell us about the wilderness—development divide? Or about attitudes toward wildlife and land more generally?

RT: To me, it suggests quite simply that the divide can be bridged. If bears and humans can coexist in Italy, they can in other parts of the world–even highly populated parts. It may require us to rethink the idea of the wild, but it still suggests pretty astonishing possibilities for the wild to not only live, but potentially thrive, alongside thoughtful and intentional development.

EB: How did you come to be a nature writer? And, as a university professor, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

RT: I don’t have a good answer to the first part of this question. I read a lot of science writing and nonfiction, and my first piece of published nonfiction was nature writing and won an award, so I figured I might have some talent there. Still, I’m a bit hesitant to group myself with the far more accomplished groups of writers who can probably more rightly be called nature writers. As to advice, it’s pretty simple. You have to write. Then, you have to send your writing out for consideration. Then you have to endure repeated rejection with an open mind–meaning, you may need to change things about your writing. And lastly, if someone wants a career in writing–you’ll note I took the easy way out and found a full time job that allows me to write as part of my job description!–but if you want to be a full time writer, I would recommend starting with nonfiction. Fiction is tough to break into. Nonfiction or professional writing–not nearly as hard. Oh, and let me add what one of my mentors once told me: if you write fast and on deadline, work will come to you. I think this is quite true.

EB: As a writer about nature, do you have some favorite authors?

RT: Hard to beat McPhee and Lopez. I’m a sucker for Sigurd Olson. I admit I’m impatient with a lot of the self-reflective wanderings in the wilderness books, but I do find myself drawn to work that is engaged with the world and wants to make a difference. Sometimes I think that a lot of journalists who write books may have a better ear for audiences than people coming out of MFA programs.

EB: How did you happen to choose Ashland Creek Press to publish No Word for Wilderness?

RT: I had some offers on the book that I didn’t feel as confident about. Ashland Creek appealed to me simply because they seem genuinely invested in the project. I’ve published enough to feel a bit selfish. I really do want to find the right press for my work. I don’t mean that in any sort of holier-than-thou artistic way. I don’t feel protective of my words, and I try hard to listen to editors and their advice. I just mean to say that I don’t have to sell a book in order to make a living, so I like the idea of finding a publisher who actually cares about my project. The folks at Ashland Creek very much did, and they were just great editors.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

RT: It was a real pleasure. Thank you.

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An Interview with Malcolm Terence

Malcolm Terence left his job as a reporter at the Los Angeles Times in the late 1960s and helped found a large hippie commune in the Klamath Mountains. He followed that with logging and reforestation work, setting up–and opposing–timber sales, and fighting wildfires.

Along the way, he married a local schoolteacher and raised a family. He still writes for regional papers, teaches, and cultivates a large garden.

Beginner’s Luck is his first book.

Malcolm Terence will be reading and signing books at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland, June 18th, 2018 at 7 pm. It’s free and open to the public.

Ed Battistella: How did you find your way to the Black Bear Ranch in the 1960s? Tell us a little about your background and journey.

MT: When I came to Siskiyou County in 1968, it was not a friendly place to hippies. I’d left the Los Angeles Times where I’d been a reporter and then as business manager for a band of gifted musicians. I traveled with them to shows and recording dates on both coasts, but drifted away when I met the Diggers, a radical theatrical gang in San Francisco. I confess I thought them a little crazy, but when a few of them wanted to start a new commune in the mountains, I jumped in. That year, 1968, was like that. It was a full day’s drive from San Francisco and the last many miles were just the sketchiest of roads. I arrived midday and maybe 20 minutes later two carloads of deputies came in and arrested me. It seems like yesterday, but 1968 was a half century ago.

EB: Tell us a bit about your book Beginners’ Luck, where you tell the stories of commune and the nearby towns.

MT: When I moved to the mountains I figured that news was something that came out of the city halls, the courthouses and the police stations that I’d worked in Los Angeles, so I stopped writing. Instead I learned about goats, firewood and the reality of living with sixty hippies in the middle of nowhere. There was no internet then and not even many telephones, certainly none at Black Bear. But over the years it became apparent that the stories unfolding around me were as important and as gripping as those that had been on my beat in Los Angeles.

EB: What’s the significance of the title?

MT: Specifically it’s from a time when a Native American friend took me to play cards with his friends near the ceremonial grounds. But more broadly, I came in clueless but got by. I got by with the help of the few locals who found us hapless hippies kind of interesting. That’s been my luck all along. I’m grateful.

EB: How did the community sustain itself over the years?

MT: The folks at the commune gardened, of course, but that was seasonal. Some people qualified for welfare payments, what they call TANF nowadays, and shared them. A few people came from wealthy families and their parents might send them occasional checks. We called that stay-away-from-home money. Since we were snowed in every winter in those days, we’d send out a big truck in the fall once or twice to get the winter’s provisions. Huge amounts of un-milled wheat and potatoes, barrels of oil, big sacks of beans. The Diggers still in the City helped with that.

EB: You’ve also been involved with reforestation work. How did that come about?

MT: Some of the commune expates moved to the river towns and started doing jobs planting small trees in the clear cuts where logging had just happened. People liked it because it was seasonal, which left them time for their homesteads the rest of the year. After one season they organized it as an employee-owned co-op.

EB: You were one of the people who stuck it out. How did the community evolve over time? What changes did you see?

MT: I lasted four years at the commune and left when I felt I’d had enough. I tried San Francisco again for a while and also Santa Cruz, but then I returned to the river. I’d had enough of commune life but the little towns along the river, the mix of Native Americans, rednecks, agency people and other hippies had figured out how to get along. They might have doubts about each other, they might harbor reservations, but they made it work, especially when everybody was needed for things like firefighting or opposing the Forest Service policy of herbicide use in the forest.

EB: Do you think that some of these environmental collaborations served as the basis for later cooperative efforts with watershed projects?

MT: It lay the foundations for work later by restoration non-profits and for productive collaboration with the neighboring tribes. Even the Forest Service has signed on. I call that a miracle, given where we started, and salute all our brilliant allies. I’ve been especially impressed by the caliber of our children, both the ones who returned to urban settings and the ones who stayed or who went to college and then came back. They are so much smarter and so much more politically astute than their parent’s generation, my generation. They work with the Tribe, with the Forest Service, with environmental groups and with a couple of powerful restoration non-profits. Early on we elders saw the benefits of getting along with the non-hippie neighbors, but our kids are really good at it. I’m proud of them and awed.

EB:Are there similarities between America today and our country 50 years ago when the commune started?

MT: Some things seem different. People smoke pot openly and men have beards and long hair, but those shifts are kind of superficial. On a deeper level, the country is still drastically divided in culture and politics. There is a crazy war that goes on and on without clear benefits. There are still deep divisions over issues of gender, class, race and much more. There is more poverty and more concentration of great wealth. The government talks democracy, but practices secrecy, corruption and authoritarianism. Is Trump worse than Nixon? We may have been utopians, but we didn’t leave a very perfect world for our kids. Still, if we hadn’t done the work we did, culturally and politically, it would be even worse. I remain an optimist.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Good luck with your book.

MT: I hope you find it interesting.

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Snow Speech: The Evolving and Combatting Dialects of Ski and Snowboard Culture, a guest post by Brian Wood

Brian Wood is an English major and skiing addict studying at SOU. His two great loves are prose and powder.

Anyone who has found themselves on a ski lift listening to their neighbor describe how they[1] “sent it off a gnar cornie, pulled a triple-cork, just missed the death cookies, and stomped the landing with steeze” probably understands that skiers and snowboarders possess a unique lingo largely unintelligible to outsiders. As in many sports, technical terms and esoteric descriptions pepper the speech of snow sports enthusiasts, transforming their casual banter into a language sometimes barely recognizable as English. However, the linguistics of skiing and snowboarding differ from the majority of sports dialects in two key points.

First, while most American sports’ lingos consist primarily of English terms coined to more precisely describe sport-specific actions, skiing/snowboarding speech embodies an amalgamation of English, Norwegian, and German terminology. To master ski/snowboard jargon—and indeed, to comprehend almost any conversation on or about a ski slope—one must understand expressions derived from all three of these languages, as well as some French, Russian, and Finish additions. Second, the language of skiing and snowboarding departs from more uniform sports’ vernaculars in the cultural rift splitting the dialect. The counter-culture, punk- and gangster-influenced lingo of snowboarders—and recently, some young freestyle skiers—exists in overt rebellion to the ordered, establishmentarian speech characteristic of skiing. This ongoing cultural power-struggle, in addition to the dialect’s diverse linguistic roots, gives the lingo of skiing and snowboarding a depth, nuance, and complexity unparalleled by more single-faceted sports.

Just as the sport of skiing traces its earliest roots to stone paintings in Norway, Herbert R. Liedke recognizes in his paper “The Evolution of the Ski-Lingo in America” that, “Norwegian has contributed the fundamental ski terms to the American ski language” (Liedke 116). Likewise, in his essay “The Language of Skiers,” Horst Jarka affirms, “The first [skiing] terms to be found in dictionaries are, like the word ski itself, of Scandinavian origin: Christiania (long since Anglicized to Christie, -y), ski joring, skiöjoring, slalom, and telemark” (Jarka 202). Despite Norway’s responsibility for the existence of skiing lingo, however, American English speakers initially resisted the adaptation of Norwegian terms into their skiing lexicon.

Throughout the 1800s, Americans preferred to clumsily lump skis in with the English ‘snowshoes’ rather than accept the more precise Norwegian term (Liedke 117). Additionally, some American skiers, such as those in California’s Sierras in the 1860s and ‘70s, invented their own terms for the sport. Sierra skiers devised “such picturesque word creations for skis as: flip-flops, or wooden-wings or, simpler, snow-gliders and wooden sticks” (Liedke 117). These coinages, while commendable in their ingenuity, failed to make a lasting impact on ski lingo. Even after skiing’s popularity exploded going into the nineteenth century, spurring a burst of corporate attempts to articulate the sport to potential customers, the search for English ski terminology still yielded unsatisfying results. Exclusively English ski lingo proved clumsy and inefficient at best, misleading at worst: “an awkward and unskilled mode of describing skiing” (Liedke 117).

By the early 1900s, American skiers and ski marketers had begun to recognize the need to blend English ski expressions with the more accurate and elegant alternatives offered by European languages. Motivated by linguistic necessity, the excellence of German skiers and ski technology, and a growing number of ‘jet set’ American families with a taste for extravagant European ski vacations, English ski vocabulary began to give way to an influx of European—particularly German—terminology. Jarka asserts, “the German element in the language of skiers soon outweighed that of any other foreign language…used not only by American theoreticians and instructors but also by ski fans who want to show how much they are ‘in the know’ on the art of skiing.” He lists a variety of German words incorporated into English ski vocabulary, including ‘fallinie,’ ‘vorläufer,’ ‘girlande,’ ‘riesenslalom,’ ‘schneepflug,’ and ‘treppenschritt,’ which evolved into the English adaptations ‘fall line,’ ‘forerunner,’ ‘garland,’ ‘giant slalom,’ ‘snowplow,’ and ‘stair step’ (Jarka 202-203). These terms, Jarka explains, are literal translations of the German, or loan translations, as he refers to them. Other German words, such as ‘mogul’—a term for bumps caused by heavy skiing on a particular slope—interlaced with English ski lingo without any change at all.

With the adoption of extensive German terminology into skiers’ jargon, the skiing lingo began to develop into a unique mode of speech, a language distinct from Norwegian, German, and English. In addition to loan translation and verbatim usage of German, Norwegian, or French words, the sport produced words exclusive to the world of skiing. Jarka references ‘skiable,’ ‘skimanship,’ and ‘skithievery’ as examples of skiing lingo’s departure from any single language, and points out, “skiers have added new meanings to words like bathtub, bunny, doughnut, eggbeater, snowplow, T-bar, and tow, and coined new terms like dope slope and slope fashions” (Jarka 204). Additionally, Liedke demonstrates skiing lingo’s burgeoning unintelligibility to non-skiers of any language or nation, quoting a ski reporter from the New York Times as proclaiming, “Such expressions as ‘geländesprungs, schusses, slalom, tailwagging and langlaufing’ are heard and you realize that, in addition to learning how to ski, you must learn to speak a strange language” (Liedke 120). As both Jarka and Liedke recognized, the language of skiing had outgrown the constraints of a single place or national identity, evolving into an entity tied exclusively to the experience, the mountain, and the exhilaration of hurtling downhill over snow.

Mirroring the journey of ski lingo into linguistic distinction and legitimacy, skiing also developed a unique culture: one stepped in affluence, prestige, and exclusivity. In stark difference from the sport’s Norwegian genesis as a practical and universally-accessible means of transportation, skiing in the 1900s on catered almost entirely to the upper classes, and the language of skiing expressed this elitism. The practical impossibility of skiing on a budget, coupled with the insidious classism prevalent in ‘ski biz’ advertising, cultivated a strong “snob appeal of…skier’s language” (Jarka 203). Skier speech became a privileged dialect, a syntactical assertion of wealth and cultural capital, and skiers utilized the complexity and multi-lingual nature of their lingo as a barrier to outsiders of lower class or economic means.

Even for those accepted into the prestigious inner circle of skiing lingo, slope speech tended toward a strong focus on order, adapting driving and traffic terminology to stifle freedom of expression or recklessness in skiing. While many of these terms inevitably stemmed from necessity as the skyrocketing popularity of skiing led to increasingly crowded slopes, some phrases—such as the epithets utilized to chastise and demonize reckless or aggressive skiers—demonstrated a clear dedication to structure, principle, and restraint on the mountain. Jarka demonstrates the antipathy faced by skiers who resisted the order imposed on their sport, listing various punitive labels imposed on high-speed skiers: ‘schussboomers,’ ‘hot rod skiers,’ and ‘trail hogs’ (Jarka 204). Additionally, he references an article which, in its title, posits the question “Can Schussboomers be stopped?” As do the derogatory terms of most cultures and languages, these labels for reckless skiers demonstrate the values of skiing lingo through the language’s choice of opponent. By vilifying those (usually younger) skiers eager to push the boundaries of the sport, the skiing language of the 1900s embodied a foundation of support for social and linguistic establishment—a support that grew so pervasive as to invite almost inevitable rebellion.

The revolution against skiing’s establishment culture emerged with the introduction of snowboarding: a sport which, while not significantly different from skiing in a technical sense (skiers slide down snow on two planks, snowboarders on one), embodied skiing’s collective cultural Id. While skiing society supported social values of order structured to maintain the status que, snowboarding championed individual expression, unapologetic pursuit of adrenaline, and strong counter-culture ideologies. In her article “What Is So Punk About Snowboarding?,” Rebecca Heino asserts, “snowboarding is aligned closely with surfing culture…Both blend the creativity of movement with the beauty of nature and the thrill of vertigo, a flirting with danger” (Heino 182). Heino continues, “Snowboarding represented a resistance to materialism and separation of mind and body, while embracing a wholistic view of nature that was similar to Zen and Buddhism” (Heino 183). This stark conflict in worldviews gave snowboarding the fuel to instigate a linguistic revolution.

In order to differentiate from mainstream ski culture, snowboarding lingo drew inspiration from other counter-culture movements. Heino explains, “Instead of the snowboarders aligning themselves with the dominant ski culture, they presented their cultural roots in surfing, skateboarding, and the ‘gangsta’” (Heino 178), and this cultural rift led “Snowboarders [to clash] with skiers in style of dress and body presentation, equipment, and language” (Heino 178). Perhaps the most fundamental linguistic divergence of snowboard culture from ski culture arises in the description of the sport itself. As Heino addresses, snowboarders did not ‘ski,’ but rather adopted the surfing term ‘shred’ into a mountain context (Heino 180). Heino elaborates, “Snowboarding appropriated other words from skateboarding and surfing such as goofy footed (riding with your right foot in front) and sick (excellent, as in ‘That was sick air’)” (Heino 181), resulting in a snowboarding lingo far more easily recognizable to the youth counter-culture of surf and skate groups than even the most linguistically well-versed mainstream skier.

In addition to surf and skate vocabulary, snowboarding also derived strong linguistic influence from gangster culture. As Holly Thorpe observes in her article “Embodied Boarders: Snowboarding, Status, and Style,” “The snowboarding media blatantly appropriate this gangster lingo, writing text in colloquial language and terminology that only gangsters and snowboarders understand” (Thorpe 189). Thorpe offers an example in Transworld Snowboarding, a popular snowboarding magazine and website which “writes to ‘all you fresh-ass mofos out there’” (Thorpe 189).

The incorporation of gangster lingo into the snowboarding lexicon differs from that of surf and skate culture, however, in that gangster terminology offers virtually no practical use in describing the act of snowboarding. Instead, snowboarders draw an exclusively stylistic and ideological connection between their sport and gangster culture, appropriating gangster terms to synonymize the snowboarding lifestyle with aggression, rebelliousness, and masculinity, despite the lack of physical or technological similarity. As Kristin L. Anderson affirms in her piece “Snowboarding: The Construction of Gender in an Emerging Sport,” snowboarding’s gangster speech is both a cultural statement and an intimidation tactic. Anderson argues, “Because the physical practice of snowboarding does not require obvious strength, violence, and aggression, snowboarders must use other factors, such as language, fashion, and ‘attitude,’ in creating a masculine identity…Like the African American men who create a ‘cool pose’ masculinity” (Anderson 69). Therefore, what skiing lingo accomplishes covertly through the underlying themes of prestige, exclusivity, and class distinction associated with the sport’s European technical terms, snowboarding language achieves more bluntly, and in the opposite direction, though gangster lingo. Both skiing and snowboarding adopt specific linguistic and dialectic terms to send a cultural message; snowboarding, true to form, simply refuses to apologize for doing so.

Despite a foundation of antipathy, however, skiing and snowboarding dialects have increasingly begun to merge as snowboarding gains cultural acceptance and joins the ‘mainstream’—a phenomenon highlighted by snowboarding’s presence in the Olympics, and one which has inspired some counter-culture devotees to strap into the once-maligned skis. Heino quotes the Transworld Snowboarding’s managing editor as admitting, “Skiing is punk again. The opposite of what convention is” (Heino 185). Consequently, terms once exclusive to one lingo or the other are being shared: skiers can now ‘shred the pow’; snowboarders can race ‘slalom’ and ride ‘moguls.’ The two once-distinct languages are gradually merging into one. Whatever the future of ski and snowboard speech, however, these lingos have achieved remarkable complexity, originality, and cultural relevance for two dialects founded around skidding down snow on planks, and they show no signs of slowing down.

Works Cited

Anderson, Kristin L. “Snowboarding: The Construction of Gender in an Emerging Sport.” Sage Journal of Sport and Social Issues, vol. 23, no. 1, 1999, pp. 55-79. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0193723599231005

Heino, Rebecca. “What is So Punk about Snowboarding?” Sage Journal of Sport and Social Issues, vol. 24, no. 2, 2000, pp. 176-191, doi.org/10.1177/0193723500242005. Accessed 19 Feb. 2018.

Jarka, Horst. “The Language of Skiers.” American Speech, vol. 38, no. 3, 1963, pp. 202–208. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/454100. Accessed 18 Feb. 2018.

Liedke, Herbert R. “The Evolution of the Ski-Lingo in America.” Monatshefte Für Deutschen Unterricht, vol. 35, no. 3/4, 1943, pp. 116–124. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30169965. Accessed 19 Feb. 2018

Thorpe, Holly. “Embodied Boarders: Snowboarding, Status, and Style.” Waikato Journal of Education, vol. 10, 2004, pp. 181-201. http://www.wje.org.nz/index.php/WJE/article/view/339. Accessed 19 Feb. 2018

  1. I use the singular ‘they’ intentionally in this essay in an attempt to avoid gendered speech.

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An Interview with Becky Robinson of Hometown Reads

Hometown Reads! helping them connect with readers in their hometown through what we call the Read Local movement. Founded in 2016, the organize authors by local community.

Hometown Reads is sponsored by Weaving Influence, a full-service digital marketing agency founded by Becky Robinson.

Ed Battistella: What is Hometown Reads?

Becky Robinson: Hometown Reads is a collaborative community dedicated to serving local authors across the country, by helping them connect with readers in their hometown through what we call the Read Local movement. We provide a free online digital bookshelf, where authors can showcase their books for increased discoverability.

EB: How long has Hometown Reads been doing this?

BR: Hometown Reads launched its first city, Toledo, Ohio in 2016. We celebrated our two year anniversary as a company in March of 2018.

EB: What is the benefit to authors?

BR: Hometown Reads allows authors a free platform to showcase their works amongst others in their hometown for exposure locally (and even globally).

We promote our authors across social media and have created tweets for authors to cross-promote each other and their locations. Each location has a city-specific Facebook group and author-Ambassadors to help grow the Read Local movement in their hometown, as well as share best practices for book marketing.

EB: Are there services for readers who are not authors?

BR: Our site is designed so that readers can search and find both books from their hometown, paired with the hope that they can develop online or in-person connections with their favorite hometown authors. Readers are also able to search by location, genre, and featured books.

EB: How do you pick the towns?

BR: Some of the locations we showcase were suggested by authors, local bookstores, or publishers. Other hometown locations were added when we notice an influx of authors signing up in a particular area. We are always looking for new locations and are open to suggestions.

EB: Are libraries and bookstores involved? How so?

BR: We encourage libraries and bookstores to sign up as Read Local Champions. These community organizations are supporters of the #ReadLocal movement in their hometown. We showcase them on our website and encourage them to implement “Read Local” shelves to support awareness of the local authors in their hometown.

EB: Who sponsors Hometown Reads?

BR: Hometown Reads is sponsored by my core company, Weaving Influence. Weaving Influence, based in Lambertville, Michigan, partners with authors and thought leaders to grow their online influence and market their books. It has grown into a team of more than 30 skilled professionals, offering full-service traditional publicity services and website development, in addition to our social media work and book launch promotion. We currently serve more than 40 clients and have launched more than 100 books since our start in 2012, with more planned for this year. While we primarily serve authors and thought leaders, we also work with corporations, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations.

EB: What are your plans for the future?

BR: We want to continue increasing the number of locations we represent to gain more attention of readers. We plan on launching a new homepage and book page designs in 2018 to make the site more attractive to readers. We want to continue exploring meaningful relationships with Read Local champions, facilitating involvement from our Ambassadors, and finding new, innovative ways to support our local authors.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

BR: Thanks for your support of Hometown Reads in Ashland!

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The Evolution and Importance of Angloromani, a guest post by Sarah Sissum

Sarah Sissum is a member of the Honors College at Southern Oregon University, where she studies English and History.

Angloromani is one of the numerous Para-Romani languages existing in traveler communities today. Characterized by its usage of Romani terms, the language reveals many elements of Romani culture and history. The exclusivity of this community, though, has made studies of the language a challenge. Romani linguists such as Ian Hancock have synthesized the relationship between English and Romani. Much of what is currently known comes from studies of Angloromani’s phonology and grammar. Most importantly, these linguists stress the necessity of the Romani language in the preservation of their culture. This essay will look at the history of Angloromani, its composition, and the cultural ties between the Romani people and their language.

The first step in understanding Angloromani is being able to trace the Romani people to their point of origin. The Romani people, often referred to by the misnomer gypsy, are believed to have migrated from India sometime around 1000 A.D. (Fraser 18). This inference comes from the presence of similar words in both Romani and several Indian languages, such as the word pani, which means ‘water’ in over fifty Indian languages and in Romani (Hancock 9). In the same way that linguists have been able to establish an Indian origin for the Romani, they have also been able to use their language to infer the most likely route of these peoples into Europe. Hancock traces the movements of his people after their diaspora:

The presence of many words adopted from Persian (for example, baxt ‘luck’) and some Kurdish (vurdon ‘waggon’) show that the migration must have passed through Iran; Armenian and Greek words (such as kočak ‘button’ and zumi ‘soup’) show passage through what is now Turkey; Slavic and Romanian words (dosta ‘enough’ and raxuni ‘smock’) indicate a presence in the Balkans (Hancock 9).

After their arrival in the Balkan States, the Romani gradually spread to Western Europe beginning around the 1430s (Fraser 85). Almost immediately, these travelers were met with scorn and accusations of espionage, as seen in an account by German chronicler Aventinus (Johann Thurmaier) in the Bavarian Chronicle during 1439 (85-86). This marked the steady deterioration of public attitudes toward the Romani during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (86). These sentiments would set in place a tradition of prejudice towards the Romani that exists to this day.

Like any society, Romani culture has played a significant role in the formation and spread of their language. Since their initial diaspora from India, Romani travelers have tended to be an exclusive group. Non-Roma’s, known in Angloromani as ‘gåja’s,’ have traditionally not been admitted into traveler communities. Byzantine Greeks referred to the Roma as ‘Tsingani,’ which roughly translates to the ‘don’t touch’ people (Hancock 1). As a result, those limited few who have had contact with the Romani, such as George Borrow, a 19th century English novelist who wrote multiple pieces describing Romani vernacular, have been highly prized for their insight into traveler culture. Even those outsiders who have gained acceptance, though, are seldom exposed to Romani in its entirety.

In addition to the obstacle posed by limited contact with travelers, a lack of literature has made it even more of a challenge to study Romani culture and language. Romani has existed as a language written by Romanies since the early 1900s (Hancock 139). Consequentially, roughly nine hundred years of Romani culture has passed solely though an oral tradition. The most prolific studies of Rom culture have occurred sparsely throughout history, and have been recorded by non-travelers. The first known work on Romani culture was written by Andrew Borde and published in England in 1547 (Fraser 10). His Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge contained evidence of ‘Egipt speche,’ which showed borrowings from both Romanian and Greek (10,12). Borde’s work, which claimed that the Romani tongue was Egyptian, attempted to identify Romani as a unitary language. The next text on Romani, Études sur les Tchinghianés by Alexandre Paspati, would not be published until the 1850s, and would examine the presence of Rom travelers in Turkey. Following works on the Romani would place them in Wales and Sweden, with evidence of their movement through Norway, Finland, Russia, th Balkans, Germany, France, and Poland (13). If these texts demonstrated anything, it was that Romani was not a unitary language, and that it had undergone numerous changes by the time it had left India and migrated to Great Britain in the sixteenth century.

The genesis of Angloromani has been debated for nearly fifty years. At the beginning of the 1970s, linguists Donald Kenrick and Ian Hancock offered two very different explanations for the origins of Romani English (the preferred term of Kenrick for Angloromani). Kenrick argued that Romani gradually developed over the 500-year period that the Rom had been in contact with the British (Bakker 15). As a result, their language became progressively more and more anglicized, until it was predominantly English with a Romani lexicon. Evidence from older sources indicate that the language of British Rom travelers possessed more Romani features in its early days compared to where it is at today. Kenrick estimates that the last users of Romani morphology died at the beginning of the nineteenth century, leaving behind only their lexicon for later generations (15-16).

Hancock, however, refutes Kenrick’s theory of gradual transformation with his charge that Angloromani is a creole. His proposal places the origin of Angloromani in the 16th century – immediately after the Romanies’ arrival in England (Bakker 16). Hancock posits that Angloromani formed as a sort of pidgin between the Romani speakers and the Cant speakers (16). Rather than melting into the dominant language, Hancock’s Angloromani separates the travelers from the mainstream culture (Matras, et. al, 4). This variation of Para-Romani establishes a tie between the minority groups of England and the Rom (4-5). The transmitting of Angloromani over generations has, thus, led to the creolization of the tongue (4). Above all, Hancock’s theory gives credence to the British Romani as a self-sustained culture with a language that is not a bastardization of English.

Other theories concerning Anglo-Romani origins tend to fall into either camp. Judith Okely of Oxford University expands Hancock’s creole hypothesis to cover most Para-Romani languages, particularly in instances where different Romani groups are in contact with one another (Matras, et. al, 5). Peter Bakker of the Aarhus University in Denmark, on the other hand, argues in favor of Kenrick’s proposal. His initial argument is that Welsh Romani rapidly converted into Angloromani out of a desire of the people to preserve their traveler heritage. After this point, though, Bakker contends that Angloromani gradually lost its Romani characteristics and became more and more English-heavy (Bakker 28-29). These are only a few of the numerous theories concerning Angloromani – some focusing on the speech as a type of mixed-language, vocabulary retention, or a sort of code for travelers.

Regardless of its origin, Angloromani possesses characteristics from both English and Romani. The language is predominately English with occasional usage of Romani words. Early Angloromani first saw the usage of the indefinite article a, as seen in “av a kušku ýhav,” meaning “be a good boy” (Matras, et. al, 10, 13). By the 1830’s, Angloromani had adopted English function words including prepositions, interrogatives, and possessive pronouns (13). Though Angloromani initially retained much of its original Romani structure, it eventually gave way to a more English structure. This consistent usage of English grammar is referred to as the “new dialect,” while Romani grammar is considered to be the “old dialect” (13).

Angloromani’s phonology largely sets it apart from standard English. While it tends to reflect English phonology in most ways, its variations are often unpredictable and inconsistent. Words may have multiple spelling variations, depending on who is speaking. Take, for example, the Romani word for ‘dog’: džukel. Angloromani has seven recorded forms of the word in its language. These forms include: jakkel, jokkel, jonkul, juggal, juk, jukkel, and yakkal (Matras 99-101) The word for prison in Angloromani has thirteen recorded forms (101). While variations in vocabulary and pronunciation are by no means uncommon within a language, Angloromani exhibits extensive varieties with few discernible patterns. Yaron Matras posits that this variation “is in line with observations on language decline and the relaxation of normative control on the realisation of lexical items and their structural components” (100). This, along with the widespread distribution of traveler communities, has led to a loss of key defining characteristics in Para-Romani languages.

Angloromani phonology contains relatively frequent usage of lenition and fortition. The Angloromani word for ‘blood,’ rati, is often pronounced as radi, with the /t/ morphing into its voiced counterpart, /d/ (Matras 100). Fortition is even more widespread in Angloromani. Iv, the word for ‘snow,’ turns into eef in Angloromani speech. Linguists note that the Angloromani /v/ tends to be quite unstable in speech, taking on either /f/ or /b/ (100). This usage pattern is difficult to track, though, and varies among users. ‘Snow’ in Angloromani, therefore, can either sound like eef or gib (100). Another notable characteristic of Angloromani phonology is the addition of the /h/ at the start of words beginning with vowels. An example of this would be the pronunciation of ‘Irish’ as Hirish (101). This also occurs in Romani terms, as seen when ‘iv’ is pronounced as heef (101). Rather than trying to determine when the /h/ should be pronounced, as in history, or when it should not be pronounced, like honest, the Romani tendency is to always pronounce the /h/. The Rom’s hypercorrection indicates a degree of insecurity attributed to low levels of education and a lack of exposure to institutionalized English (100-101). As such, the Romani are less likely to acquire instruction on standardized forms of English pronunciation.

The last aspect of Angloromani grammar that this essay will focus on is word formation. Angloromani retains a particular suffix –(m)engr- that functions as a common nominalizer. Matras presents five functions of the suffix: instrumental, productive-objective, agentive, descriptive, and associative-figurative (Matras 104). The instrumental usage of –(m)engr- is seen in the word dikkamengri, which means ‘mirror’ in Angloromani. It derives from the word dik, meaning ‘to see,’ and demonstrates how a word can depict an activity coming from its word stem (104). Productive-objective usage creates an object from a depicted activity. For example, chinnamegra, or ‘letter,’ comes from the root word čin, which means to ‘write/carve’ (104). –(M)engr- is usually agentive in cases of professions/occupations born of a certain activity (104). A berramengra is a ‘sailor,’ and comes from the Angloromani word for sailing, which is bero (104). The associative-figurative form of the suffix occurs when there is a direct link between the created word and the term that it references. Kannegras are ‘hares,’ and are known for their large kans, or ‘ears’ (104). The last form of –(m)engr- involves the application of multiple descriptors to the referent. The word balval, meaning ‘wind,’ and phagger, meaning ‘break,’ come together to form windmill, “bavvalpoggermengri” (104).

Perhaps even more pertinent to understanding Angloromani is understanding its usage patterns. Speakers of Angloromani tend to employ the language circumstantially. It often functions as a sort of code for the Romani (Matras 134). Using the language can signal to another person that they are recognized as being part of the “in-group” (134). Angloromani also has a highly emotive quality. In a conversation between Matras and a Romani friend of his, the two discuss the friend’s impending move from a trailer into a house. When Matras asks his friend if they signed the contract for the house, the friend responds that no, they had not signed for the house because they got trashed. In Romani, this word mean ‘to fear.’ The friend’s usage of Romani in this instance is indicative of a much larger fear of moving away from the Romani culture, as the transition from a trailer to a house is often seen as a loss of culture in Romani tradition (135). Even pesky children have been known to employ Angloromani when trying to appease angry parents, knowing the emotional ties associated with Rom culture (136). As Angloromani has virtually no logistic function outside of the traveler community, its usage is an active call to Romani heritage.

Estimating the distribution of Angloromani speakers in the world today is tricky. As of 2007, there were an estimated forty thousand to sixty thousand travelers in Great Britain. This number is made unreliable, though, by its likely inclusion of Irish travelers and Scottish travelers (Matras, et. al, 17). In the select known Romani populations in the United Kingdom, it appears that Angloromani is in decline (18). This does not come as a surprise when one considers contemporary attitudes towards the Rom. To “gyp” an individual is to swindle them out of money. Media coverage of the Romani is rare and seldom positive. In BBC reports of a drug bust from 2011, linguistic analysts were brought in to explain the meaning of certain Romani words in relation to drug paraphernalia (Tarver). The association of Romani with drug crimes perpetuates the stereotype that travelers are untrustworthy by nature. As stated by Ian Hancock, “if Romanies are not held in high esteem, than our language cannot possibly be” (Hancock 140). The future of Angloromani, based on its current state, does not appear promising.

As a language in decline, Angloromani warrants attention in academic settings. The tie between English-speaking Romanies and their ancestral tongue is imperative in their sense of cultural security. The late Matéo Maximoff stated in a 1994 interview that “Wer kein Romanes mehr spricht, its ken Rom mehr” (“whoever no longer speaks Romani, is no longer a Romani”) (Hancock 139). While language is not the sole basis of Romani culture (victims of anti-traveler legislation have often been forced to give up their dialect), extinction of Angloromani contributes to the loss of a vast and elusive history. Recent studies, though, have demonstrated the possibility of preserving Angloromani by legitimizing it in academic spheres. Through a conscious effort, Angloromani may yet survive.

Works Cited

Bakker, Peter. “The Genesis of Anglo-Romani.” Scholarship and the Gypsy Struggle: Commitment in Romani studies, ed. by Thomas Acton, University of Hertfordshire Press, 2000, pp. 14-31.

Fraser, Angus. The Gypsies, Blackwell Publishers, 1992.

Hancock, Ian. We are the Romani people, University of Hertfordshire Press, 2002.

Matras, Yaron. Romani in Britain: The Afterlife of a Language, Edinburgh University Press, 2010.

Matras, Yaron, et. al. “Angloromani: A Different Kind of Language?” Anthropological Linguistics, vol. 49, no. 2, 2007, pp. 142-184.

Tarver, Nick. “Gypsy dialect in the spotlight after Kent court case.” BBC News, 16 September 2011.

Posted in Language | Comments Off on The Evolution and Importance of Angloromani, a guest post by Sarah Sissum

An Overview of the Historical and Sociolinguistic Aspects of South African English, a guest post by Orianna Alter

Orianna Alter, a junior at Southern Oregon University, is interested in languages and mathematics. She is of South African descent.

South Africa, termed the “Rainbow Nation,” boasts a rich variety of climate zones, cultures, and ethnicities. Further diversity is reflected in the eleven official languages of this country, which include “Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu” (Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996). This paper focuses on one of the more widely used languages, English, and will explore both its historical development and subsequent impact in South African society. It will also review some of the linguistic features unique to South African English.[1]

THE SPREAD OF ENGLISH IN SOUTH AFRICA AND ITS IMPACT

In order to understand English in South Africa, it is necessary to understand the history of its development in the country. English was first introduced to South Africa in 1795 with the arrival of the British in the Cape Colony. Later, as additional groups of British and European settlers immigrated to the country, the language became more established, and in the year 1910 English and Dutch were both designated as official languages (Van Rooy 509-510).  Legacies of Colonial English describes South African English as an “extraterritorial language,” defining this term as a language “that has been transported from its original geographical home to another area” (363). Although both Afrikaans (from Dutch) and English can be defined as extraterritorial languages, it is interesting to note the differences in growth the languages have taken, especially in the years after apartheid South Africa. While the use of Afrikaans has dwindled in public sectors, English has grown considerably in influence.  In the paper “South African English: Oppressor or Liberator?” Silva explains this change:

Afrikaans became known as “the language of the oppressor”: apartheid was enforced in Afrikaans, as it was the language of the bureaucracy and the police force. In contrast, English was chosen as language of communication by the ANC and the other liberation organizations during the ‘freedom struggle’, and has “typically been seen as the language of liberation and black unity” (para. 19).

The ANC mentioned in the above quote refers to the African National Congress, a political movement first founded in 1912 to protect the freedoms of Black Africans. The ANC party first came into power when Nelson Mandela was elected in 1994 and has retained this position since that time (“A Brief History of the African National Congress”). The ANC’s decision to use English as their language of communication has played a vital role in the way English is perceived in South Africa. In the article “English in South Africa at the millennium: challenges and prospects,” English and linguistics professor Nkonko Kamwangamalu explains the subsequent use of English in South African society:

English has a special status in South Africa. This is evident from the language practices in the higher domains such as the media, the legislature, education, the army, and correctional services…The hegemony of English is also evident from the language practices for political events, such as the inauguration in 1994 of Nelson Mandela…the annual openings of Parliament…and various official announcements or press releases (161).

The widespread use of English in government and other public sectors has contributed to the popularity of the language, and has influenced the rise of the language as the lingua franca. Another motivating factor for adopting English as a common medium is chiefly economic, as The Oxford Handbook of World Englishes explains: “English also increased in its value as the African population urbanized and became part of the industrial economy which was dominated heavily by the English language (De Klerk 2006:11), leaving behind the agricultural economy that was dominated by Afrikaans” (513).  In today’s society, South Africans who are not fluent in English will not enjoy the same access to jobs and economic growth as other English speakers (Van Rooy 514). In addition, English is recognized as “the dominant language of academia in South Africa” (Report on African Languages 23). As a result, students who wish to pursue higher education must have a command of the English language to succeed in their studies. Therefore, although South Africa boasts a variety of official languages, the reality is that English has become a necessity for many Africans if they wish to understand the affairs of government, participate in society, attend university, and have access to better jobs and business opportunities.

LINGUISTIC CHARACTERISTICS OF SOUTH AFRICAN ENGLISH

As to be expected with a language in constant contact with other languages, many terms in South African English have been borrowed from Afrikaans and other African languages, and these words and phrases have become incorporated into mainstream speech. The Oxford Handbook of World Englishes notes that in earlier years, most borrowings came from Afrikaans, but later, once apartheid fell, there was an increase in borrowings from African languages (as qtd in Van Rooy 517). Legacies of Colonial English lists some of the borrowed Afrikaans terms including: “bakkie ‘pickup truck’…braai ‘barbecue’…stoep ‘verandah’…ja ‘yes’…sies ‘expression of disgust’” (382). Other words incorporated from Khoe and Bantu include “dagga /dɐxɐ/ ‘cannabis’…gogga / xoxɐ/ ‘bug, creepy-crawly’…muti ‘herbal medicine’” (382).

In addition to the rich variety of borrowed words and phrases, South African English also boasts a range of accents and pronunciations, all which differ depending on native language and regional dialects. Silva explains: “In SAE, pronunciation and intonation (and often vocabulary, and sometimes even grammar) differ markedly from one ethnic community to another (largely a result of the Group Areas act during the apartheid era, which separated communities into different residential areas, and segregated school-children into ethnically-based schools)” (para 16).  It is difficult to point to a standard South African Accent, as so many varieties exist, and research must compare White South African English (WSAE), Black South African English (BSAE), and other varieties including Coloured SAE and Indian SAE. In addition, these broad categories may contain subcategories to explore, along with changes that occur regionally and among genders, age groups, and socioeconomic classes.[2]   

Legacies of Colonial English identifies a “South African chain shift” in which the “short front vowels” such as in the words “trap” and “dress” have been raised and the vowel in the word “kit” is assigned a new value so that it no longer rhymes with “it” (374-375). Interestingly, further research has shown that the pronunciation of the vowel in “trap” may be undergoing a reverse shift in the opposite direction, a trend led by young females (Van Rooy 519).[3]

An additional feature of South African English that sets it apart from other English varieties is the use of “now”. Van Rooy explains: “The adverb now is used to indicate near future rather than immediacy in White SAfE (Bowerman 2004b), and even occurs in the reduplicated form now-now, where the immediacy is watered down further” (524). Lass concludes that the repeated now-now form has been modeled after similarities in the Afrikaans language (380). Another unique feature modeled after Afrikaans is the use of “must.” Whereas in other varieties of English, “must” is often used to denote some form of obligation, in South African English it has lost the feeling of command and has become more like a recommendation (Lass 381).

THE FUTURE OF ENGLISH IN SOUTH AFRICA

Although English has gained dominance in South Africa, there exists controversy over its use due to the wide range of ethnic and language backgrounds in the country. Some anticipate that the spread of English will endanger other less prominent languages and identities, including Afrikaans (Kamwangamalu 162). The History of the English Language reviews two of the most prevalent attitudes towards the spread of English in Africa, explaining one view it states: “The first advocates a change of balance between English and African languages in favor of the latter, a policy shift that would move African languages from the margins to the center of African life” (429). This view favors the rise of African languages to preserve the cultural and ethnic customs and identities of Africans in an attempt to prevent English from taking over valued cultural and language differences. However, others feel that English can be in effect “Africanized” and made to conform to the culture and society of the people that use it, as the following excerpt illustrates: “The second school of thought is the one that seeks to come to terms with English as part of the post-colonial African reality, appropriate it, reconfigure it materially to acquire an African identity and transform it to create a counter-(i.e., anti-imperialist) discourse” (Mazrui 429). This viewpoint seems to be more suitable for South African society, as creating equal language opportunities in a variety of public sectors, for example universities, requires more money and resources (Silva, para 24).

As changes in government and policy continue to unfold in South Africa, it will be interesting to see the implications for future English development. Since apartheid fell, the African National Congress has taken control politically. However, with the rise of new political parties, there may be shifts in attitude that affect the use of English in government and other areas, and we may see a rise in popularity of African languages. Moreover, as more racial integration takes place, South African English will surely continue to evolve, reflecting the increasing diversity of the country.

Bibliography

“A Brief History of the African National Congress.” African National Congress South Africa’s
National Liberation Movement, www.anc.org.za/content/brief-history-anc. Accessed 13 Mar. 2018.

Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996. Chapter 1 Founding Provisions. https://www.gov.za/documents/constitution/chapter-1-founding-provisions. Accessed 16 March 2018

Kamwangamalu, Nkonko M. “English in South Africa at the millennium: challenges and prospects.” World Englishes, vol. 21, no. 1, 2002, pp. 161-63, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.glacier.sou.edu/doi/10.1111/1467-971X.00238/epdf. Accessed 18 Feb. 2018.

Lass, Roger. “South African English.” Legacies of colonial English: studies in transported dialects. Edited by Raymond Hickey, Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 363-384.

Mazrui, Alamin M. “English in Africa.”The History of the English Language. Edited by Haruko Momma and Michael Matto, Wiley-Blackwell, 2008, pp 423-430.

“Report on the Use of African Languages as Mediums of Instruction in Higher Education.” Published by the Department of Higher Education and Training, pp 23.

http://www.justice.gov.za/commissions/FeesHET/docs/2015-Report-UseOfAfricanLanguages-MediumsOfInstruction.pdf Accessed 16 Mar. 2018

Silva, Penny. “South African English: Oppressor or Liberator?” The major varieties of English: papers from MAVEN 97, Växjö 20-22 November 1997. https://www.ru.ac.za/media/rhodesuniversity/content/dsae/documents/articles/Silva_article.pdf  Accessed 18 Feb. 2018

Van Rooy, Bertus. “English in South Africa.” The Oxford Handbook of World Englishes. Edited by Markku Filppula, Juhani Klemola, Devyani Sharma, Oxford University Press, 2017, pp.508-526.
                                                                                                                

  1. Abbreviated as SAE

  2. Observed from examining research in The Oxford Handbook of World Englishes

  3. See chart on page 7

Posted in Ideas and Opinions, Language | Comments Off on An Overview of the Historical and Sociolinguistic Aspects of South African English, a guest post by Orianna Alter

An Interview with Lynne Murphy, author of THE PRODIGAL TONGUE


Lynne Murphy is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sussex. She grew up in New York state, she studied Linguistics at the Universities of Massachusetts and Illinois, and has taught in South Africa and Texas. Since 2000, she has lived in Brighton, England, where she now has an English husband and English daughter. She blogs as Lynneguist at the award-winning blog Separated by a Common Language and in 2016 she was a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar.

Murphy is the author of several books, including Lexical meaning (Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics, 2010) and Semantic relations and the lexicon (Cambridge University Press, 2003). Her most recent book, released this spring in the US and UK, is The Prodigal Tongue: the love-hate relationship between American and British English.

Publishers Weekly calls The Prodigal Tongue “thoughtful, funny, and approachable” with a “commitment to inquiry.”

You can follow lynneguist on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lynneguist

Ed Battistella: I’m really enjoying The Prodigal Tongue. You’ve coined the term Amerilexicosis. What is that?

Lynne Murphy: Thanks, Ed! I’ve coined a number of words relating to the British media’s treatment of American English, because a lot of that treatment seems to be pathological in nature. Amerilexicosis is the most extreme form of the disease, marked by paranoia and “delusions of America”. You see that when British people blame Americans for the now-popular British pronunciation of controversy as conTROVersy or when they think “It’s a big ask” is an import from US business culture. In reality the pronunciation is 100% British and big ask is an Australianism, but that hasn’t stopped some English people from pointing at them and saying “Look! The Americans are taking over our language and ruining it!”

EB: Do the British have a linguistic superiority complex? Or does the US have a bit of an inferiority complex, language-wise?

LM: They both can be true—and they feed each other. There’s a tendency for British (especially English) people to view standard British English as “the real thing” and to see the parts of American English that differ as “mistakes” or “non-standard”. But Americans don’t tend to see the British differences as mistakes, and they often assume that if it’s said in England, it must be proper. Americans often admire British English, and that helps stoke the British feeling that their English is the best one.

A big part of what I’m trying to communicate through The Prodigal Tongue is that the assumptions underlying those attitudes are often just wrong. The English spoken in Britain is no older than the English spoken in America, in that they both started with the same people on a certain island. The differences we see in Britain and the US aren’t there because a new English sprouted up in the colonies, but because the language forked and developed in different ways in different places. The English now spoken in England is not “original English”. It’s just “sedentary English”.

EB: Does language mean different things emotionally to the average Brit versus the average American?

LM: We probably have to be careful here when talking about “the average Brit”—since not all Britons are English and the English have a different relationship to the language than the Scots or Welsh do. The thing that’s hard for Americans to really understand is how much accent matters in Britain and how much accent is intertwined with social class—and even what social class means in the British context. I mean, Americans have accents and they belong to socioeconomic classes, of course. And we know some accents are discriminated against in America. But most Americans just do not have the kind of accent–class sensitivity that comes naturally in England, where the highest-status accent has its own name: Received Pronunciation. It even has a nickname: RP.

Americans seem to get more exercised about grammatical things and punctuation and the like. Perhaps not the average American, but those who have reason to think about language. When I get a new follower on Twitter and I see they’ve written “Team Oxford Comma” in their bio, I can be pretty sure it’s an American. The style guides, like the Chicago Manual of Style or Associated Press Stylebook, are huge in comparison to their modern UK counterparts. National Grammar Day is an American invention—and so forth. In some places where Americans use hard-and-fast rules about grammar, British writers and editors are more willing to say “see what sounds right in the context”.

Which is to say, Americans are more willing to be told what to do grammar-wise (and to then tell others what to do). That sounds kind of subservient to the rules, which you might not think of as an American characteristic. But it is! And I think it comes from a really democratic urge. If the rules of grammar are written down, they can be the same for everybody and everybody can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and learn those rules. The British way relies on having an “ear” for the language—something that you’re not taught and that not everyone can be expected to do well. I talk about this a lot in the book—that for Americans, English is a tool that anyone can learn to use well (if they try hard enough). In England, though everybody uses English, there is a sense that not everyone is expected to be able to really master it—it’s not so clearly seen as a teachable skill. Though I think this difference goes way back to the start of the United States, it’s probably been strengthened by the fact that most Americans have not-so-long-ago ancestors who had to learn English as a second language.

EB: As an American living and working in England do you find people commenting on your speech? What do they say?

LM: When you’re an American in England, Americanness becomes your main identifying characteristic and personality trait. I’m not “that red-headed woman” or “that professor from the university”, I’m “that American woman”. These days, I tend to get comments like “Your accent is rather soft”—because I often hit my t’s in words like butter and my vowels have moved in the direction of the people around me. (I’ll never be mistaken for English in England—though I’ve had people in the States think I’m British.) But a big part of the reason those vowels have moved is because I was mocked for my Great Lakes vowels when I first moved here. So, when I say box in England, it’s a bit more like “bawks” now, rather than my native “bahks”.

People do tend to assume that anything unfamiliar that comes out of my mouth must be an Americanism—so often I have to explain, “no, that’s just a Lynneism”.

EB: A lot of the differences you discuss are very subtle and go beyond the usual biscuit-and-cookies sort of thing. Can you give us a couple of examples of the complexity of linguistic differences?

LM: Well, even the biscuit-cookie thing is complex, because the British now use the word cookie, but they don’t use it like Americans do. Many Brits make a distinction between biscuits (which are the cookies they’re used to eating—they’re always crunchy) and cookies, which are the big soft, round ones you can buy in the mall, plus Oreos and anything with chocolate chips—that is, the specific recipes that have been imported from the US. When I make cookies out of my Betty Crocker cookbook, my English friends don’t recognize them as cookies. They compliment me on my “little cakes”. Their meaning of cookie just doesn’t extend as far as the American one does.

I have a lot of food examples in the book, I could talk about them for days. But to try to give you something different, there’s middle class—which in American has the feeling of ‘normal, just like everybody else’, whereas in Britain middle class often connotes something more like ‘well off’ and even ‘pretentious’.

And then there are the differences in how we use polite words. The way Americans use excuse me before cutting in front of someone can sound really pushy in England, because there it’s usually used after the sin, not before it. The English use please twice as much as Americans do, because they mostly use it when making very small requests. Adding please to little requests in American can make the speaker sound impatient or like they’re pleading. So in ordering in a restaurant, for example, Americans tend not to use it. They say things like I’d like the salad where Brits often order in a way that sounds (to an American ear) like asking permission: Can I have a salad, please? In new work that I’m doing with my colleague Rachele De Felice, we’re looking at thanking and we’re finding that Americans thank a lot more than British folk do. We’re wondering if that sometimes does the work that Brits would do with please. To give one example, if you put a plate of cookies in front of me and said “Would you like one?” I might Americanly say “Yes, thanks.” But the Brit would almost certainly say “Yes, please.”

EB: You also have a terrific blog, Separated by a Common Tongue. Did the book emerge from the blog?

LM: I’d say the blog gave me the opportunity to write the book. I started the blog as a hobby, to satisfy my lexicographical desire to write down the words and meanings I was learning in England. As the blog became more popular, I started talking about the subject in a lot of public venues. I gave a talk called How America Saved the English Language to a lot of English audiences. It provided the outline of the first six chapters of the book.

When I started writing the blog, my professional research was more about how vocabulary is organized in the mind. I was researching things like how children learn which words are opposites. This is to say, I was not a sociolinguist or a language historian. But as I wrote the blog, I wanted to learn more about the hows and whys behind the differences, and so I learned a lot about it. And then I had enough for a book that really looks at the issues, rather than just listing differences.

EB: Are there some Briticisms that play better in the US than others? And vice versa?

LM: Depends on what you mean by ‘play better’. Americans are acquiring Briticisms all the time and not always knowing it. For instance, people who disappear go missing now. That was an import from Britain about 20 years ago, but I don’t think most Americans knew it was British at the time. It just slipped in. Similarly Americans now take gap years, they vet candidates, they’re gutted when those candidates don’t win, and I just today read a Facebook status from an American friend having a lie-in. Do Americans know these came over from Britain? I’d say most don’t. So they play well with American English. (I have to recommend Ben Yagoda’s blog Not One-Off Britishisms here. He is keeping track of Briticisms that are sneaking into US journalism.)

But if by “play better” you mean that Americans enjoy these words as Briticisms, my sense is that Americans love British words that sound a bit silly to them. I’ve been watching The Good Place and there are a number of points where British English is gently mocked as silly and incomprehensible. My colleague Justyna Robinson and I are currently doing some research into how British English is stereotyped in American culture and I’ll be including some Good Place material in that!

In the UK direction, there are the Americanisms that aren’t noticed and just slide in and get used, then there are the ones that are noticed and they usually have someone complaining about them until they’ve been around long enough that they just feel like English. I love it when British people complain about the American use of reach out and they say “Why do we need this Americanism? Why can’t we just stay with contact?” And I get to reply “Well, why would you want that Americanism?” because the verb to contact came over from the US in the 1930s. (Incidentally, I hate reach out too. But I’m not going to pass up the opportunity to make that point about contact!)

I have a project in development where I look at how British people continue phrases like “As the Americans say…” or “This is what the Americans call…”. These crop up a lot in British media and politics, and they’re often expressions with roots in metaphor. Whether they’re actually things that Americans say is another matter. Sometimes they’re not, but they reveal a bit about what the British sense of “Americanness” is. So it might be said that colorful American metaphors go down well.

EB: I imagine that some difference between British and American are dialect sensitive —and that some differences pertain to some British speech but not others. Is that the case?

LM: Absolutely. It’s pretty much impossible to compare accents on an international scale because two accents in Britain might have less in common with each other than they have with one accent from the US. And it’s important for Americans to note that Brits will get very annoyed if you’re heard talking about someone having a “British accent”, especially since most Americans use it synonymously with “English accent”, ignoring that there are other countries in Britain. (I’ll pause to note here that English people conflate “English” and “British” a lot too, but that they tend to notice that conflation more when Americans do it!)

At the level of spelling, it’s easy to make the international comparisons. For vocabulary and grammar, you have to be a little careful.

EB: Can you enlighten us on the pronunciation of “h”?

LM: You mean the name of the letter? The usual in Britain, like in the US, is to call it “aitch”. But in the UK, it’s increasingly called “haitch”, which is a fairly common pronunciation in Ireland and may have some class connotations in England — that is, haitch is often heard as a bit down-market. Some might say it that way because they are hypercorrecting—they want not to be dropping their h’s, since h-dropping has been a marker of lower-class speech since the 1800s. So they add an extra h just to be sure. (The British did the same with herb—starting to pronounce its h in the 19th century.) But haitch also might stem from the sense that almost all the other letters have names that start with their sound. So why shouldn’t H? All I know is: my 10-year-old says haitch a lot, but she also sometimes catches herself doing it and corrects to “aitch”. I think it must be a matter of discussion in her school.

EB: Are you working on another book?

LM: At the moment, I’m trying to get some smaller projects into press. But I do tend to have book-sized ideas, and I’ve got two book proposals burbling in my head. The problem now is choosing between them.

Cover of the UK edition

EB: Thanks for talking with us. I love The Prodigal Tongue. But I notice that the UK and US editions have different covers. What’s up with that?

LM: It has two different publishers, so they get to have their own way with it, and publishers have firm ideas about what will work in their markets cover-wise. I think they know what they’re doing, because both my husband and I have had books with different covers in the US and UK, and our American friends tell us that the US covers are better, and our British friends tell us the UK covers are better.

I insisted that the subtitle differ by country: that American should come first in America and British in Britain. It was a nice idea, but it’s made talking about the book a bit more difficult when I’m speaking with international audiences!

It’s been great talking with you, Ed. Thanks!

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An Interview with Ariel Zatarain Tumbaga, author of YAQUI INDIGENEITY: EPISTEMOLOGY, DIASPORA, AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF YOEME IDENTITY

Photograph of Dr. Tumbaga by Bella Jeanne Photography

Born in Sonora, Mexico, Ariel Zatarain Tumbaga is a scholar of Mexican and Chicana/o Indigenous literature and culture. He has a PhD in Hispanic Languages and Literatures from the University of California Los Angeles. His book Yaqui Indigeneity: Epistemology, Diaspora, and the Construction of Yoeme Identity was published by the University of Arizona Press in March of 2018.

Ed Battistella: Congratulations on your book. Can you tell our readers a bit about it? What fascinates you about Yoeme Identity and the trope of the Yaqui warrior?

Ariel Zatarain Tumbaga: Thank you Ed. Yaqui Indigeneity: Epistemology, Diaspora, and the Construction of Yoeme Identity is a study of the representation of the Yoeme (or Yaqui) indigenous nation in Mexican and Chicana/o (Mexican American) literatures. In it, I study Native depictions with an emphasis on Yaqui history and culture. Until now, there has not been a book length study on this community’s representation in literature, despite their historical and political importance in Mexico, and their presence in the United States. Yaqui Indigeneity is also unique in that it looks to Yoeme history, cosmology, and traditional ceremonies (oral tradition known as etehoi and dance) as a basis for its literary analysis. Finally, it identifies a group of authors that I call Chicana/o-Yaqui writers, who are the sons and daughters of the Yoeme diaspora, often a direct result of Mexican Wars of Extermination perpetrated by federal and Sonoran state authorities. Yaqui Indigeneity works to retrieve an indigenous voice to nonindigenous portrayals of the Yoeme community.

What I found fascinating about the Yaqui warrior trope is the polysemy with which it has existed since the 1500s. Like other scholars, I was taken aback by the varying ways a Native nation’s assertion of its territorial tenure became, one the one hand, a subject of admiration by would-be conquerors, and on the other hand, justification for the dehumanization and violence colonial Spaniards, as well as 19th and 20th Mexican regimes, used in land grabbing efforts. Even today, Sonoran Mexicans will brag about the fierceness of their indigenous “ancestors,” while simultaneously considering it offensive to be called an indio. While the Yoeme people have a war history, that history is seldom told by them or from their perspectives.

EB: How did you first get interested in Yaqui culture?

AZT: This book has been a long time in the making, beginning with early childhood stories about invincible indigenous warriors and later with the Mexican and Chicana/o literatures I studied as a graduate student. My mother, a Mexican woman of Mayo descent, still tells popular and personal stories of Yaqui (Yoeme) and Mayo (Yoreme) history and people. She likes to remind people about the Mexican Revolution Era Mayo general Yocupicio who became governor of Sonora. As a child, she accompanied her Yoreme language-speaking grandmother in Mayo celebrations, like Santísima Trinidad in Júpare, San Juan in Navojoa, and Easter celebrations. She likes to tell us about the time when my tío Mario received a whipping from a sacred fariseo performer for disrespectfully mocking him during Holy Week. One of her favorite stories was about the defiant Yaqui warriors who drew a line on the ground to delineate their territory before impending Spanish invaders. The former story, based on the 1533 first Yaqui encounter with Spanish Conquistadors, is legendary and historical, but also serves as the beginning of the Yaqui warrior myth.

When I began studying Yoeme literary representations, I studied Yoeme culture out of necessity. In many instances, Yoeme defense of their territory is described as both political and religious. Therefore, I reasoned that studying their community’s presence in literature purely from a Western literary perspective would result in a superficial study of the Yaqui warrior myth.

EB: How has that construction of indigeneity evolved in literary works?

AZT: Indigeneity has had a long life in nonindigenous literature. Colonial literatures in Latin America were highly ethnographic, as if the power to rename indigenous people gave conquerors and colonial authorities a sense of power over them. For example, though they referred to themselves as Yoemem, they were nonetheless called Yaquis by Spanish priests and soldiers; the latter has persisted in public discourse. Literary and academic indigeneity has since been largely an exercise in denying Native people participation in their own representation. Nineteenth century representations were Romanticist depictions in which Native contemporaries represented peculiar national pasts differentiating Latin America from Europe and the United States. By the early twentieth century, literary depictions had become unapologetically anthropological works that, while well-meaning, often presented indigeneity as more Other than contemporary. Chicana/o literature had made progress in its representation of indigeneity, considering that Mexican Americans were racially and culturally part indigenous. At times, Chicana/o writers have focused heavily on pre-Columbian empires, which proposed Native American history and mythology to be as significant as Greco-Roman cultures. Though, a pre-Columbian focus has at times had the effect of obscuring the experiences of contemporary Native Peoples in Mexico and the United States. Indigeneity will keep changing in accordance with varying nonindigenous ideologies and political ebbs and flows, until we recognize and support self-identifying Native authors. Chapter five of Yaqui Indigeneity studies the question of Mexican American authors who are also of Native descent.

EB: You talk about the Yaqui as a transborder culture. Can you elaborate on that a bit?

AZT: The Yoeme people’s homeland is in southern Sonora, which is home to a coveted water source and fertile lands. This territory, and their much admired labor, made the Yoemem the targets of violent land grabbing efforts that resulted in waves of refugee migrations, as well as forced deportations, within Mexico, as well as into the United States. The result is the federally recognized Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Arizona. Arizona Yaquis participate in ceremonial traditions in the United States and across the border in Sonora. The diaspora resulting from the Wars of Extermination, of course, spread beyond Arizona, which forced many Yaquis to lose touch with their religion and culture, but not their history. In my final chapter, I offer my analysis of Chicana/o-Yaqui writers who use their writing as a form of cultural reclamation. These are writers of Yaqui descent who in some cases recovered some of their heritage through the process of researching their family histories. Seminal Chicano playwright Luis Valdez controversially represented the sacred deer dance in his play Mummified Deer as part of his artistic portrayal of Yaqui history and diaspora from Sonora, Mexico, into California. The late Yaqui-Chicano writer Miguel Méndez’s “Tata Casehua” reimagines heartbreaking instances of genocide against Yaqui resistance fighters and their families. Alma Luz Villanueva and Alfredo Véa Jr.’s works reveal creative adaptations of an impressive knowledge of Yoeme history and culture. And in the historical novel The City of Palaces premier noir novelist Michael Nava steps outside his genre to reimagine an award winning reinterpretation of the Mexican Revolution in part through Yaqui politics and religion. This body of work depicts individual and collective Native cultural-political experiences, and their historical significances, in Mexico and the U.S. So, the Yoeme people, culture, and the literature in which they appear are a transborder phenomenon.

EB: There was a lot of historical research involved in this book. Can you describe that process?

AZT: There are some studies on Yaqui history by authors like Evelyn Hu-Dehart and Edward H. Spicer, but not enough to satisfy a book length study like Yaqui Indigeneity. Luckily, the historical and geographical ubiquity of the Yoeme nation in Colonial, post-Independence, Revolution Era, and contemporary politics, has compelled historians to recognize them in their studies. Nonetheless, I relied on anthropological studies or anthropologically inspired biographies that informed my studies. For my chapter on the Mexican Revolution, Rosalio Moisés’s The Tall Candle: The Personal Chronicle of a Yaqui Indian, by archaeologists Jane Holden Curry and William Curry, provided me with real instances of Native survival, family disintegration, and diaspora into the United States. Jane Holden Kelley’s Yaqui Women: Contemporary Life Histories, which follows the lives of four Yaqui soldaderas, women who participated in the Revolution, was an invaluable source for its historical significance and its affirmation of Yaqui rituals during the Mexican Revolution. David Delgado Shorter’s We Will Dance Our Truth: Yaqui History in Yoeme Performances validated many of my conclusions regarding the importance of Yoeme religion, storytelling, and dance traditions. So, it was a real enlightening process of putting together relevant historical context from a multidisciplinary array of sources.

EB: What was the most surprising this you found in your research?

AZT: I was astonished not only by the Yoeme community’s hundreds of years of persistence, but also by their presence. As a collective, they staved off Spanish conquerors, thrived during colonial rule, rebelled after the War of Independence, fought in the Mexican Revolution, and recently publicly fought against the state appropriation of their water source. Individually, they participated in the California Gold Rush, served as military generals, were seminal Chicana/o activists, and, in the case of Alfredo Véa Jr. and Michael Nava, have been lawyers and award winning novelists. But I suspect that we might find it surprising partly because of how little people know about the Yoemem despite it all.

EB: Based on your research, how is your view of the Yaqui culture different from earlier work on the topic?

AZT: Well, Yaqui Indigeneity certainly follows in the footsteps of Spicer, HuDehart, and the work of Larry Evers and Yoeme scholar Felipe S. Molina. As I point out throughout my study, despite the complexity of many Mexican and Chicana/o works, their depictions of Yaqui culture has often been limited to a superficial understanding of deer dancers and warrior legends. Yoeme means “the people,” people who have been denied a public voice. And as such, their communities have given and sacrificed extraordinarily. I think that the more we learn about Native communities’ history and culture, the clearer their dehumanization, be it in the form of literature, regional legends and myths, military weaponry, or sports mascots.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

AZT: On the contrary, it was my pleasure.

You can order YAQUI INDIGENEITY EPISTEMOLOGY, DIASPORA, AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF YOEME IDENTITY using the promotion code below.

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Australian English, a guest post by Dillon Garrison

Dillon just completed his bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in English at Southern Oregon University. He works as a freelance copywriter and editor.

Australian English has been perceived in a variety of ways over its relatively short history. With its distinctive accent and penal colony beginnings, Australian English has often been looked down upon in popular mythologies, being seen as “slovenly,” “poorly articulated,” and “nasal.” Yet beginning in the 1980s, the popularity of the Crocodile Dundee movies and television personality Steve Irwin led many to associate Australians and their unique dialect of “Strine” with friendliness, a more relaxed lifestyle, and exotic natural environments. Throughout its evolution separating from British English dialects, Australian English has developed largely through its speakers’ rebellion against British class consciousness and their interaction with the Australian landmass and its original Aboriginal occupants.

Australian English first emerged from the establishment of the British penal colony of New South Wales in 1788. The colonists and convicts who formed the colony came from all over the British Isles, and had to smooth out their regional dialect differences in order to communicate with each other in a process known as “leveling down.” The children of these early colonists were the first speakers of what could be considered the Australian English dialect. By the 1820s a distinct dialect had emerged, and in 1827, Scottish naval surgeon Peter Cunningham released Two Years in New South Wales, documenting the unique accent and vocabulary of the native-born colonists. Cunningham characterized the young colonists as differing from their parents through a heavy London influence. By the 1840s, some English visitors to Australia claimed that Australians were speaking “the purest English on earth:” English with the dialect variations taken out. The discovery of gold in the 1850s brought new waves of (non-convict) migrants to Australia, and new influences upon the language.

Cockney English, the dialect traditionally spoken by working-class Londoners (particularly of the East End), became a big influence on the new Australian dialect, as many of the new arrivals came from London’s slums and prisons. According to Anthony Burgess, ”Australian English may be thought of as a kind of fossilised Cockney of the Dickensian era.” Just why Cockney had such an influence compared to other English dialects is a matter of debate, considering the majority of convicts were from the north of England, as well as Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.

Two more forms grew of Australian grew out of that original dialect. Linguists, beginning with A.G. Mitchell and Arthur Delbridge in 1965, classify three main varieties of Australian speech: Broad, Cultivated, and General Australian (These “varieties” are not distinct but rather are rough markers along a dialect continuum). Starting in the 1880s and well into the 1950s, the elocution movement swept through Australian in response to the newly-developed Received Pronunciation in Britain. Socially-aspirational Australian speakers modified their vowels and diphthongs in order to more closely resemble RP. This form came to be known as Cultivated Australian, and is historically associated with higher social status and levels of education. Some Australian speakers went the opposite way, and in the early twentieth century, a new form now known as Broad Australian emerged, which emphasized the nasality, flatness of intonation, and elision of syllables present in the Australian dialect. While Cultivated Australian expressed a longing and nostalgia for Britain and an upper-class consciousness, Broad Australian expressed Australian nationalism, the working class, and egalitarianism in opposition to the British fixation with class. Meanwhile, the original Australian dialect continued as the most common and became what is now known as General Australian. General Australian is prominent in urban areas and is the standard language for Australian broadcasting.

At the time of colonization, Australia was home to 700-800 Indigenous language varieties across the continent, which can be grouped into over 250 distinct languages (with some estimates as high as 363) and around 28 language families, spoken across a population of around one million people. Many language varieties were spoken by small populations of 40-50 people, with the largest populations speaking a single language numbering around 3-4000 people. The process of colonization proved to be devastating to the traditional Aboriginal languages of Australia; of the 250 distinct languages spoken in 1788, only around 15 are now learned by children as a first language. Another 100 have only small numbers of speakers remaining, and most have no fluent speakers left at all. Australia has experienced the greatest and most rapid loss of languages over the last century of anywhere in the world, with some estimates predicting if current trends continue, there may be no speakers of Indigenous languages at all by 2050.

Most of the vocabulary assimilated into Australian English from Aboriginal languages came from the language spoken in the Port Jackson (now Sydney) area, known variously as the Port Jackson, Sydney, Dharuk, Dharug, or Eora language. The majority of Aboriginal words were used for place names (such as the capital Canberra, which means ‘meeting place’ in Ngunnawal), the unique flora, fauna, and landscape features of the continent, and some slang terms. The first words to come from Dharuk include the names of now internationally-known animals, such as dingo, wallaby, wombat, and koala. The first and most famous borrowing, kangaroo, has long been a matter of debate in terms of its origin. Unlike the others, it did not originate from the Dharuk language, but was encountered by the crew of Captain James Cook during contact with the Guugu Yimidhirr people in 1770, when Cook’s ship the Endeavor was beached for repairs near modern north Queensland. One famous theory claims that an Endeavor crew member pointed at the animal, and an Aboriginal replied something like “kangaroo,” which translated not as the animal’s name but as something like “I don’t understand what you’re asking.” Whatever the term originally meant, the name stuck. In addition to the animal, the word has become a symbol for Australia, used to refer to members of Australia’s international rugby team, to Australian soldiers during both world wars, and in the creation of a wide range of compounds (i.e. ‘kangaroo bar’).

Other popular borrowings include the slang term bung, originally from the Dharuk language via Sydney pidgin English, meaning dead, useless, or broken; cooee, a shout used to attract attention or find missing people; hard yakka, meaning hard work, derived from yakka in the Jagera language; billabong, meaning “dead river” and now the name of a global surf clothing brand; and boomerang, whose exact origins are unknown but refers to an Aboriginal hunting tool which has also become a popular toy and symbol of Australia. Many names for the local fish and birds are also borrowings (and many are onomatopoeic, imitative of the birds’ calls), such as currawong, while others were adapted from English names for similar birds (i.e. magpie). In the same way many American borrowings from Indian languages became localized in use or obsolete, the use of Aboriginal terms in Australian English had long been dwindling; however, the usage of Aboriginal terms has been slowly rising since the 1980s. In 2016, the Australian National Dictionary listed around 500 words in common usage from 100 different Aboriginal languages, up from 400 words from 80 languages in 2008, and 250 words from 60 languages in 1988.

Separate from the Aboriginal languages is Australian Aboriginal English (AAE), a dialect of Australian English used by a large section of the Indigenous Australian population, which has a number of varieties that have developed in different parts of Australia. AAE does not make use of auxiliary verbs such as “to be” and “to have,” and the masculine pronouns he and him may also be used for females and inanimate objects, particularly in northern Australia. Several slang words used by young Australian Aboriginal English speakers have begun to spread to Australian English speakers, such as deadly to mean “excellent” or “good” (in the same way wicked is used) and dardy, meaning “cool.”

American English has also been a big influence on Australian English, particularly since World War II and the expanded international influence of American media, entertainment, and pop culture. Some North American borrowings, such as bushranger, phoney, and squatter, have been so thoroughly integrated they are thought to be of Australian origin. Australians overall seem to be less concerned with the impact of adapting American terminology upon national cohesion. However, studies have shown Australian borrowings from American English to be selective and often readapted for other purposes.

In addition to borrowings from indigenous languages and American English, Australian English has coined a large number of its own words, some of which descend from older British dialects, and in particular, working-class and prison slang. Some of the most popular and important of these have to do with fairness and hard work. A battler is a person who works hard to make a decent living in difficult circumstances, while its opposite is the derogatory bludger, a person who expects another person to do all the work. Related to these terms in dinkum or fair dinkum, which originally meant “work” or “a fair share or work,” evolved to mean “above board” or “true,” and is now used to mean “true” or “is that true?” (among other things depending on context and inflection). The term fair go also arose as an Australian principle, referring to the lack of formal class distinctions in Australia and the importance of fair play and equality of opportunity.

One of the most famous phrases associated with the Australian dialect is “shrimp on the barbie,” thanks to a series of Australian tourism commercials in the 1980s and a 1990 movie of the same name (with “barbie” in this case referring to barbecue). Such diminutives are a core feature of the Australian dialect. With over 5000 recorded, Australians use more abbreviations and diminutives than any other English speakers. Common uses include: arvo (afternoon), footy (football), sunnies (sunglasses), rego (registration), servo (service station), brekkie (breakfast), cuppa (cup of tea) and sanga (sandwich). Brand names are not exempt, such as Maccas for McDonald’s, Blunnies (Blundstone boots), Subie (Subaru) and Suzy (Suzuki), nor are new technologies: lappy (laptop), webby (webcam), remi (remote control) and mobes (mobile phone). Unsurprisingly, the now internationally-popular term selfie originated in Australia.

While such hypocoristics exist in many dialects of English, they are particularly frequent in Australian English and considered one of its major differentiators, with one estimate finding that these forms make up 4% of the Australian lexis. In an elicitation study, Kidd, Kemp, and Quinn (2011) asked 115 speakers of Australian English to generate as many hypocoristic forms as they could in 10 minutes, and reported more than 1,500 different forms. Diminutives are no modern degradation, but rather a long tradition with examples going back to the 1800s. Use is common even in formal contexts such as by politicians and journalists, and some hypocoristic forms are now more common than their standard forms, such as uni for university and Salvos for Salvation Army. This pervasive use of diminutives has generally been interpreted to reflect core Australian cultural ideals of informality and egalitarianism, as they sound more informal and relaxed, and usage is reinforced as a marker of in-group identity and a shared cultural history.

Australian is a non-rhotic (r-less) variety of English, meaning the /ɹ/ sound does not appear at the end of a syllable or immediately before a consonant. As with most dialects of English, it is distinguished primarily by its vowel phonology. The Australian English vowels /ɪ/, /e/ and /eː/ are noticeably closer, pronounced with a higher tongue position, than their Received Pronunciation equivalents. Like General American, General Australian has completed the weak vowel merger, which is the loss of contrast between /ə/ (schwa) and unstressed /ɪ/, that occurs in certain dialects of English. Most speakers of Australian English replace the unstressed weak /ɪ/ with schwa, although where there is a following /k/, as in paddock or nomadic, some speakers maintain the contrast, while some who have the merger use [ɪ] as the merged vowel. While relatively homogenous, there is some regional variation with phonology, including the celery-salary merger in Victoria (where the words celery and salary sound the same), and differences in the distribution of the trap-bath split. In the trap-bath split, the lengthened vowel in words such as bath, laugh, grass, and chance, which in RP is pronounced as a broad A or long A [ɑː], is pronounced more near the front of the mouth ([ɐː] or[aː]). Australian English has also diverged from Cockney since the settling of Australia in the use of a glottal stop where a /t/ would be found, in th-fronting, and in h-dropping. In terms of intonation, the variable that has been most extensively investigated is the “Australian questioning intonation,” or AQI (also known generally as high rising intonation, high rising terminal, or rising intonation), where declarative clauses end with a rising intonation. The AQI began to appear in the 1970s, and there is general agreement among linguists that the function of AQI is to seek verification of the listener’s comprehension. As with American English, but unlike British English, collective nouns are almost always singular in construction. However, Australian spelling is closer to British than American spelling. As with British spelling, the u is retained in words such as colour, honour, labour and favour.

Evolving from a mix of transplanted local English dialects, then interacting with indigenous Aboriginal and migrant languages, American English, and other global varieties of English, Australian English has emerged as a unique dialect expressing Australian national identity values. While it shares much of its phonology and grammar with the other major varieties of “settler English,” Australian English manifests uniquely egalitarian and anti-authoritarian leanings based in its underclass past, a pervasive relaxed informality, a wry understated humor, a desire for fairness, and a set of distinctive vocabulary drawn from the island’s original Aboriginal inhabitants.

Bibliography

Baker, Sidney J. The Australian language; an examination of the English language and English speech as used in Australia, from convict days to the present, with special reference to the growth of indigenous idiom and its use by Australian writers. Sydney: Currawong Publishing Co., 1966. Print.

Bragg, Melvyn. The Adventure of English: the Biography of a Language. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2011. Print.

Kidd, E., Kemp, N. & Quinn, S. (2011). “Did you have a choccie bickie this arvo? A quantitative look at Australian hypocoristics.” Language Sciences, vol 33, no. 3, pp. 359-368. DOI: 10.1016/j.langsci.2010.11.006

Koch, H., & Nordlinger, R. (Eds.). (2014). The Languages and Linguistics of Australia : A Comprehensive Guide. De Gruyter, Inc., 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/sou/detail.action?docID=1075528.

Kortmann, B., & Lunkenheimer, K. (Eds.). (2012). The Mouton World Atlas of Variation in English. De Gruyter, Inc., 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/sou/detail.action?docID=894066.

Moore, Bruce. “The English of Australia | Oxford Dictionaries.” Oxford Dictionaries | English, Oxford Dictionaries, en.oxforddictionaries.com/explore/varieties-of-english/the-english-of-australia.

Ramson, W.S. Australian English. Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1966. Print.

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An Interview with Kory Stamper, author of WORD BY WORD

Kory Stamper grew up in Colorado and graduated from Smith College with a degree in medieval studies. She is a lexicographer who was on staff at Merriam-Webster from 1998 to 2018.

Her debut book Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries was relased in hardcover in 2017 and is now available in paperback.

Writing in the New Yorker, Adrienne Raphel called Word By Word “Both memoir and exposé, an insider’s tour of the inner circles of the mysterious fortress that is Merriam-Webster,” adding that “Stamper leads us through her own lexicographical bildungsroman, exploring how she fell in love with words and showing us how the dictionary works, and how it interacts with the world that it strives to reflect.”

Kory Stamper has written and appeared in the “Ask the Editor” video series at Merriam-Webster, and she has been a contributor to The Washington Post, The Guardian, and The New York Times.

You can find her blog at harmlessdrudgery.com and follow her on Twitter.

Ed Battistella: I really enjoyed Word By Word, especially the stories of the individual words and description of the process of lexicography itself. It had not occurred to me that there was an extensive training. What was that training like?

Kory Stamper: You know that scene at the beginning of Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” where Alice and her cat Dinah follow the White Rabbit into a hole in a tree trunk, and as Alice says “Curiosity can lead to trouble,” she falls down the rabbithole into Wonderland? And as she tumbles down, she waves goodbye up at Dinah? That’s what training is like mentally, only fewer cats are involved.

Essentially, the training you get as a lexicographer is designed to make you unlearn everything you have learned about English. You re-learn grammar, you re-learn what meaning is, you even learn how to read differently. It can be very disorienting, but if you’re the right kind of nerd, also really exciting. You come into this work thinking of language as a fixed, almost inviolate thing, and you quickly discover that it’s a living, moving entity with its own will and history and direction. That’s both freeing and terrifying.

EB: Do you remember the first word you got to define? How did that feel?

KS: By the time I was actually put to work on a dictionary, I had written so many practice definitions that I don’t remember what the first word I defined was. I do remember that “body English” was in one of those early batches of real defining, and I was pretty pleased with the definition that I had come up with (which currently reads “bodily motions made in a usually unconscious effort to influence the progress of a propelled object (as a ball)”).

EB: What’s the toughest word you’ve worked on?

KS: “God.” Absolutely, without a doubt. I had to revise the entry for the Unabridged Dictionary, and one of the first things I discovered was that the word “god” was used pretty vaguely in print, which doesn’t give the lexicographer much to work on. So much of the written evidence was stuff like “humanity’s conception of God is inadequate,” which tells me exactly bubkes about what the word “God” means in that sentence.

Lexicographers talk a lot about the difference between lexical defining and real defining. Real defining is the attempt to explain the essential nature of a thing—what is truth, what is beauty. Lexical defining is the attempt to explain what the word which signifies a thing means in particular contexts—what does “beauty” mean in the sentence, “That car’s a real beauty.” We do lexical defining and not real defining. But a word like “god” makes that tightrope even thinner and harder to navigate. Can I say that the word “god” means “a being,” or should I use “a deity”? What about “a spirit”? Can I use the word “omnipotent” in the definition which is meant to cover the Abrahamic religious uses of “god,” or should I fudge it because I have just run across a theological debate about whether or not the Abrahamic God is actually omnipotent? Should I capitalize the word?

In the end, it took me four months of nonstop work to revise the entry, and while I feel like I did as good as job as anyone who is tasked with defining “god” could do, I’m nonetheless sure that there’s something unintentional in that entry that has condemned me to an unpleasant afterlife destination. Occupational hazard!

EB: I was fascinated to many of the backstories of particular bits of lexicography, like the interesting discovery about irregardless. Can you explain that one for our readers?

KS: I came into this job knowing, on a molecular level and like everyone else, that “irregardless” wasn’t a word. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that this nonword was entered into dictionaries! As I researched more about how it ended up in our dictionaries, I found that when it first showed up in writing, it was unremarkable—only later was it tarred and feathered as “uneducated” or “illiterate.” That happened during a point in American history when we were giving more lexical weight to the types of English spoken by affluent city dwellers, and we were condemning the types of English spoken by rural communities. “Irregardless” was one of the words that was caught in the crossfire, though there is evidence of its use among highly educated speakers.

I actually came to have a deep respect for “irregardless”: here’s a word that everyone despises, that everyone says is illogical or ugly or not a word, that has, in spite of everything, hung out on the periphery of English for more than 200 years. It’s a word that no one will cop to using, but which still has enough written historical and current use to merit entry into a dictionary. I don’t use it myself, but I no longer look askance at people who do.

EB: What’s on your radar now, word-wise?

KS: I just wrote a piece on the squishiness of the meaning and use of “intersectionality,” which isn’t a new word but feels new to many people. Today I wondered if “Novichok” was a trademark and if you’d use it as a bare noun (“poisoned with Novichok”) or as an attributive noun (“poisoned with Novichok nerve agent”). And I’ve started noticing the use of “blockchain for” more recently: “blockchain for legal references,” “blockchain for science,” “blockchain for social good.”

EB: How has your work as a lexicographer affected you as a writer? Do you think about using words in novel ways when you write?

KS: Absolutely. This work makes you aware of how flexible and fluid language is, and as a lexicographer, you live inside the language in a different way. You get to see and enter into the vocabularic nooks and crannies of English in a way that most people don’t. I’m sure there are plenty of lexicographers who can maintain a professional distance from the material, but I’m not one of them. So I found, while I was writing Word by Word, that I kept unearthing these little lexical treasures, and I couldn’t help but present them to the reader like a sugared-up toddler on a walk: lookit this! Lookit this! Handing the reader weird rocks and twigs and hollering at them “Isn’t this wonderful and amazing?”

EB: Do you have any advice for young people trying to break in to lexicography?

KS: The field is, honestly, shrinking. We used to have a letter that we’d give to prospective lexicographers that essentially said that getting a job writing dictionaries was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Now I think it’s a matter of being ahead of the right place and the right time, of really thinking about and pressing into what dictionaries could be instead of what they are. For example, Dictionary.com just added a few emoji to their online dictionary, which I think is brilliant. Emoji can be used lexically, just like words; they have register and different connotations depending on context and even which device you’re using; and people are likely to run across them online, in social media, in texts, on Slack—basically, in the new type of public-private writing that has emerged as more of our lives are lived online. Emoji is one new place that the language has gone that traditional lexicographers have pooh-poohed as faddish or nonlexical. Maybe emoji will fade away—but there are plenty of language trends that the traditional lexicographers of the 1700s and 1800s thought would flourish or fade away that haven’t.

EB: I know that from time to time lexicographers are called upon to answer reader mail. What’s the oddest bit of mail you’ve gotten?

KS: My favorite bit of weirdness was a poem or freestyle that had nothing to do with words, but was instead about a character named Mr. Baby Burper and his adventures. I don’t remember the whole email, but it definitely had flow: “I’m Mr. Baby Burper, I burp all the babies in the eternity in harmony with all the ladies, I just pat my hand on my leg and say burpady burpady burpady.” It went on from there. It was the most amazing email I had ever read, and it definitely won me some tchotchkes from Marketing back when we had a National Poetry Month celebration.

EB: I’ve also really enjoyed the Merriam-Webster “Ask the Editor” videos, which I sometimes play for my students to show them that I’m not making things up. How did that idea come about?

KS: Our former Director of Marketing came up with the idea. We already had other formats in which we could share discoveries about words, but they were all written, and she thought that sharing that information via video would be great. I believe that she initially put out a call to all the editors, asking if anyone would be interested, and she got exactly zero replies: you’re asking a bunch of introverts to talk on camera? In the end, she asked three of us that she knew had done publicity for the company, or had outside public speaking experience.

Early on, we were just encouraged to share whatever we thought was noteworthy or winsome about the language. Each of us came up with topics that seemed intriguing, or that answered questions that we each had gotten a number of times. The things that people responded to floored us. Who knew that my pasty face and knowledge of 18th-century grammatical movements would launch a resurgence in the use of the plural “octopodes”? I sure didn’t.

EB: Are you working on another book?

KS: I am! I’m writing a nonfiction book about the historical quest to define color. It touches on art and war and secret identities and dictionaries, and in the process of writing and researching it, I’ve turned back into that sugared-up toddler: lookit! Lookit! This is amazing!

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

KS: Thanks so much for asking!

Posted in Interviews, Language | Comments Off on An Interview with Kory Stamper, author of WORD BY WORD