Date: Wed, 2 Mar 1994 08:38:36 -0600
From: Joan Livingston-Webber webber[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]CWIS.UNOMAHA.EDU
Subject: One Horror Story
In 11th grade (1963-64), in Johnstown, PA., my English
class was required in unison oral drill, to practice
the correct forms of two shibboleths: the first was
"which" and "witch" (which I think no one ever figured
out) and "mirror" (with two exaggerated
syllabes with instructions to make our jaws jut out twice).
This was honors English and that was why we were introduced
to these niceties of pronunciation. Oh yeah--we were
also forbidden to say "I don't think." We had to say "I
think no one ..." as I did above. We also were to use
"so" for negative comparisons as in "He is not so big as
his brother." (As ... as was marked incorrect or
corrected orally in class.) I find I still make some
of the distinctions I was taught in that class in formal
writing and speaking--except when I'm in the mood for
active rebellion. Funny how that can still feel like
When my sister left home, my father told her he didn't
care how she talked as long as she didn't say "stil" mill.
He assumed none of us would take "younz guys" out of town.
Outside of those experiences, I didn't know I had a dialect till
I went to school in Ohio and found out just how badly stigmatized
my accent was. It took me a long time to hear it and then I
went to work on myself with a vengeance. My Intro to Linguistics
course (in 1978) was truly one of the most liberating educational
experiences of my life--no kidding. Occasionally I get one
of me in class and I know just how to teach her. I had one last
semester who'd been educated in Texas. The neon "AHA's!" began
flashing in her eyes almost from the beginning. When she made
an appointment and "confessed" to me her self-prescriptive
attitudes and her desire to change, it was like encountering my
younger self. Without this prescriptivism, there would not be
liberatory linguistics. "Sin greatly that grace may abound"
(or something like that) said M. Luther.
Joan Livingston-Webber webber[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]unomaha.edu
"What gets better is the precision with which we vex each other."