Sunday, February 06, 2005

Do you speak American?

My answer to that question is "I try very hard not to". I wince every time my best friend, who is married to an American citizen, says "gotten" and "combo", and I STILL can't help making pathetic superhero jokes about people who wear their pants on the outside. But I'm not impervious - you guys know I use "you guys" all the time, but that's different in my book. Whilst I visualise all the other American expressions as barbaric raiders from the Evil Empire, their well-armed strongholds in Britain innocuously disguised as a chain of coffee bars with large sofas, "you guys" is actually pretty darned (yikes, they've got me!) useful as a second person plural pronoun. I've tried using "youse" from our native vernacular, but down here in the Estuary badlands I just get strange looks and/or death threats for that....

Anyway, apart from being a question that makes me twitch, "Do you speak American?" is also the title of a new book and TV series that explores American dialects. In it (apparently, because it's not yet published in the UK) the highly regarded journalist, Robert MacNeil, describes what he found on his journey round the States, visiting and talking to speakers of the very wide range of dialects that exist in the country for all kinds of social and historical reasons.

First check out the link below to the University of Chicago's student newspaper, which gives a very readable account of a spoken presentation Robert MacNeil gave in the city about his work.

Robert MacNeil defends American English

And once you've got that overview, check this cool stuff out - a transcript of an online discussion between Robert MacNeil and Washington Post readers.

Do you speak American?

And if, on the most optimistic off-chance that any of my students on the Media/Sociology trip to the USA are reading this in a cybercafe somewhere, please tell Tim and Steve that the book and DVD are what I want as my present for letting them take you! Er, that's a serious request!


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