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]

"What gets better is the precision with which we vex each other."

-Clifford Geertz