The Diversity of Dialects and Irritating Jargon


American Dialects : Dialect map of American English

The map above was brought to my attention in (of all academic places: Facebook) in the context of how we judge others based on their speech, more obviously the dialects shown in the map.  While there is no such thing as a grammatically deficient dialect, we do still judge people based on where they appear to be from.  This can be especially troubling for Southerners.  Being in a state that has three distinct dialects that I can attest to and the map does well to show, I do find this interesting and valid.  I have always remarked on what I short distance I had to drive to hear people speaking in a different way.

As interesting as dialects are, jargon has recently been an area that I have been attuned to.  Some people (military and public safety people) are very comfortable with speaking in acronyms, something I have never been quite comfortable with doing.  It is something similar to “text-speak” in that younger people seem to be also confident in by using letters instead of words to communicate.  Mentally I can translate and use text speak or whatever you want to call it, because the phrases are not that important in context.  To say LOL (laugh out loud) is not something I would probably say out loud anyway, I would say “that is funny” or “you are funny”…But the jargon used in Public Safety is the stuff that can save lives or the opposite. To me it is just to important to use shortcuts, so I have trouble with this.  This isn’t even touching the topic of the numbers that correspond with crimes in process that police dispatchers use.

Jargon then along with dialect in something to behold in academia.  I realized yesterday while listening to various panel experts at an academic institution that I was listening to not only what was being said, but how it was being said.  I looked for use of dialects or the opposite for common phrases (jargon) and I never really realized I was doing it until I looked at this map today.  Now I was not trying to judge people by their use of language here, I was trying to improve my own public speaking by positive example.  However I walked away feeling like a horrible academic and one that needed to start changing.  In essence, I was judging myself.

This may come as a surprise, but I do have a mentor in public speaking and one that has never been accused of being a good public speaker; George W. Bush.  Yes, I know.  Now what I always liked about the way he spoke was his use of dialect and the way he said “nucelar instead of nuclear”…did he do this on purpose?  I always thought so.  Even if he didn’t, the use of a humorous mispronunciation of words has always been something I employ.  I have always found academic jargon to be pretentious and unnecessary, so I may use “big words”, but when I do I say them incorrectly or make a face when doing so.  For example, rather than saying, “it is fine with me if you do X”, I may say “I may be amenable to this X”; pronounced A-Mean-Able.  I also refer to cohorts as co-hearts.  Am I doing this to seem more human?  Is it because it amuses me or that I would rather be accused of being someone who does not know how to speak than being accused of being pretentious? It’s hard to say, really. Maybe it is because I am a grammar Nazi and I cannot stand words being misspelled on paper or syntax and grammatical errors being repeated, so I have to give a little with the spoken word.

Ironically, the topic of panel discussions was generational differences, a topic that I spoke about a conference two years ago.  Being a Gen X-er, I found it hard or next to impossible to relate to others that claimed to be in my generation.  Not a one said “like”; not as a preface to a simile, but as in “like I don’t know dude, let’s ask the older man, because he was like THERE and stuff”… Slacker subculture speak here?- possibly.  But this is another topic entirely as is sarcasm and other devices that can be employed in rhetoric.  Funny though, when I write I seem to feel more confident than when I am forced to speak and seem intelligent; translation pretentious. Also I can go back and reread what I write, instead of speaking and then asking others “oh wow, did I just say that out loud? LOL!”

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