Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Today you get thought hot off my brain, as long as I can remember what it was I was going to say! Some may know I have a Masters in Linguistics, or that I was ABD (All but dissertation) on the road to a PhD in Linguistics. My field was sociolinguistocs which usually got short shrift in formal linguistics because of the reign of Noam Chomsky, with whom I disagree almost entirely. Chomsky viewed what actually came out of the mouths of speakers as insignificant compared the the black box of language in the brain. Besides the fact that brain research has shown that language is not a black box (read Oliver Saks) unless you consider the brain as a whole as the black box, you know as well as I do that people from different places speak the same language differently. Most commonly this is in pronunciation. I have learned how to spot a Kiwi (New Zealander) in 25 words or less. There are certain phrases that Aussies quote as telling signs, but I hear it in the change of different vowels. "Definite" come out as "difinit"

I've been collecting Australianisms since I got here and add new ones every week. Last week I heard "the duck's guts" meaning "everything" or maybe "kit and caboodle". Now I didn't stop and quiz the speaker about whether this was something his mother said and where she was from, but this was new to me. To Americans, "to take a squiz" or "hit for six" may be as mysterious, but they are now as part of my vocabulary as "the whole nine yards".

What prompted today's post was reading Meg Swanson, who is practically a god to us knitters, write about the enormity of Elizabeth Zimmerman's contribution to knitting. I should give up on "enormity" whose dictionary meaning (Mirriam-Webster) is "
an outrageous, improper, vicious, or immoral act" but is almost universally used today as "a huge amount". I can see people needing a noun to use from "enormous" but "enormity" ain't it. But I might as well forget it as I have forgot my battle over less vs. fewer. In linguistics classes, especially grammar and meaning forums, you would frequently be given sentences that you could signify as ungrammatical, and in papers read in conferences votes could be taken about whether sentences were grammatical or not (and what about that black box, Noam?). I have to restrain myself from correcting people or even grilling them on where a phrase came from (dialectology, very not-black-box). Written language is even worse and it's not just non=native speakers who mangle it. Yesterday I got an email from the Library's own book store apologozing for getting a "sir name" wrong.

I've got a lot of phrases from my mother, but I've lived in Australia long enough that I can't even tell now whether I'm using American or Aussie terms for things. I remember my first problem with "haberdashery" which in the US means men's clothing but here means what Yanks would call "notions", those extra bits and pieces for sewing, like tape measures and needles. Americans rarely lose their accents here, but my vocabulary is a dog's breakfast at the moment.

I am also crushed to find out that the only day President Obama will be in Canberra will be the day after my knee surgery. I was ready to stand outside the US embassy and wave a flag but I won't be able to now. I'll be physically close since the hospital is just a mile away but not good enough. Rats.

Another friend is now fighting cancer, and I have been told I better get used to this as I get older. There are a few people my age or older who are disgustingy healthy but for the most part nearly every one I know of my age has some medical condition that they are battling. I know our genetics is not wired for us to live this long, so naturally things start to fail with age. Medical science can keep us alive longer (see BFLB's blog) but the cost in dollars and angst and pain is not insignificant.

Apologies that the Weather Pixie seems to have disappeared again. I haven't removed the link in hopes that the site revives as has happened before.

1 comment:

Jan said...

I presume you know the definition of a New Zealander? Someone who has sex between five and seven. Which leads into fewer and less. I find myself wincing when I hear such sayings as "less kilometres." That was on the ABC, but still I've also heard them refer to the capital of New Zealand as Auckland. That's on a par with "sirname."

Hope all goes well with the surgery. DIL's mum had both done at once as both were in very bad condition. She's fine now and wishes she had had surgery much earlier.