Sunday, September 28, 2014

How I am Learning a New Language

Actually it would sound more like How-I’mah LARN-nin a-newLANG-widge. It is in fact English but the one that comes out of the mouths of folks living in the Deep South or, as another friend calls it, ‘Merica. And please note that I am not talking down to the manner in which they speak, I am merely pointing out how very different it sounds to me since I grew up in the greater Toronto area of Ontario in Canada.

I met my friend who lives in Alabama and has roots in Louisiana, as well, on the Internet playing an online game and it evolved into online chat sessions that soon also included quite extensive long distance conversations with her. I quickly realized something I never really thought of before as to how chat room sessions leave out a very important part of the message and that is the flair of the local culture of the person on the other side of the somewhat sterilized verbal banter you do in those windows. Simply stated, most everyone sounds the same to you as the way you speak.

But nothing could be further from the truth as the first telephone conversation made so clear because it was not at all clear to me. It wasn’t because of any electronic interference or line noise because in today’s world that is pretty much non-existent. You can actually hear the pregnant pauses in a telephone conversation which are sometimes just the precursor to a dead connection, so I have found out. Unlimited long distance plans coupled with redial make that not much of problem.

The lack of clarity (as I now realize) had more to do with the fact that it was much later in the day and anyone can be drowsy or very relaxed that their local dialect becomes even stronger and so the difference between my dialect and hers becomes even greater. So there we were me talking in what she described as “it was like I was back in school in English class again with that perfect English the teacher wanted us to use”. (I am not even gonna attempt the drawl at this point). And I pretty much didn’t understand much of anything that she was saying but I am thankful we persevered.

So I now have a much greater appreciation for something I kept hearing growing up in a largely Italian district of Toronto with me not being of that descent (my parents both arrived in Canada at a very young age from their native Poland in very separate ways). The comment was that northern and southern Italians really have a tough time understanding each other because the dialects are so different and that can even be said of others in the next valley or region. Not any different than Canada to Alabama as sure as this dumb boot found out. (Yah I know I’m not a dumb boot or dumb azz but I sure felt like one for a while).

And from it I learned some “local” words that quite frankly were not ones that I had ever heard before and specifically: gollybills and poot. I thought min pin was another but that was just me and not really a southern phrase which I will explain a little later. Gollybills is a term that is really more of an Old South term that you would start a sentence with way back in the day sort of like “Gollybills, it sure is hot enough out thar today to fry an egg on the old tin roof”. It could be a little like gee whiz, shucks or even shoot.

Now the definition of poot was one that still makes me laugh so hard that I snort at the end of it to catch my breath. (I can’t ever remember doing that before but maybe that is just more southern stuff rubbing off on me). I thought she was saying toot (like toot your horn) because we were talking about a term that a gal in the south might use in reference to expelling excessive bodily gas in a polite and controlled manner. So try to follow this one as she starts to explain it:


The reason for the question mark is no matter how she tried to simplify it the drawl still masked the “P” sound (for me) until she used something like “PAAAY as in Peter” (and no she does not sound like that really. I just use this for exaggeration). I honestly had never heard of the word until I googled it and found some descriptions in the urban dictionary via google and confirmed that this was indeed the word she meant.

I think the explanation approach she used is something that is truly much more American in nature, that when one of them has trouble speaking to someone else who does not speak their version of English (‘Merican), they talk both louder and slower as if that is going to correct the communication problem. I first saw that in action in a ski trip to Italy, back in the day, and just kind of scratched my head on that one. I did speak a little Italian (due to my neighbourhood and one year of study) and so I sort of acted like a bad interpreter and I got big smiles from the local folks for trying my best to talk them in their language.

I mistakenly misunderstood min pin as a southern phrase but it is, in fact, a term for the breed of dog that she owns and so lovingly cares for—aka miniature pinscher. I got introduced to a very insightful website on dogs via googling “miniature pinscher”.

If it truly has rules, boundaries, limitations, a true pack leader and a daily pack walk, it will be a wonderful family companion.

I plan to read through that website in greater detail to understand my friend’s other dialect and that is related to canine obedience training which she is now pursuing as a career. And so I think I will try to write a few stories relating to dog behaviour and training because it is clear to me that bad dog behaviour is pretty much the result of a bad owner and not a bad dog.

The best thing about learning a new language is it is a lot of fun and most definitely leads to a clearer understanding between two people which is a pretty good thing if you like to talk as much as I do.

And the drawl will rub off on you much like when I went to the local grocery store and greeted my favourite cashier on check out with “how-y’all-doin-taday” and she looks at me with a smile and says “You’ve been talking to your friend in Alabama haven’t you?”. And I smile back and just say “Yes, mam” and we both kind of laugh and wish each other a genuine “Have a nice day” or “You too”.

It all really just contributes to making the world a little better place and we can all use a lot more of that, for sure.

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