Date: Wed, 2 Mar 1994 08:38:36 -0600 From: Joan Livingston-Webber 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 defiance. 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