language

Recently, while listening to an Audible book that was read by the author, from Australia, I began to wonder about his accent, or rather how accents were developed. He had a traditional Australian accent, but I knew from history that Australia was originally part of England, in fact it was their prison island. So, why didn’t the Australians speak with an English accent? I suppose that they did, originally, but after years of living far away from their homeland, the language evolved. Languages tend to do that, even today. people come up with new slang words, and say words in funny ways, then after a while it just sounds better to them the new way. Some people, like the prisoners, might not want to sound anything like the country they came from. For that reason, or for any reason that you would work at gaining or losing as accent, the person tries not to sound like they did with their old accent, working toward their new accent, until it feels natural. Then, the children learn to speak by listening to their parents, and a new accent is born.

As a child, I moved from my birthplace in Superior, Wisconsin, where my Uncle Bill’s family lived, to Casper, Wyoming, where my mom’s family lived. As the years went by, unbeknownst to us, my sister, Cheryl and I began to lose our accent. I didn’t even know we had an accent. Of course, when the change was pointed out to us, that we had an accent, we were shocked. We thought our Wisconsin cousins had an accent. Of course, we both did. Theirs was a Midwestern accent, and ours was a Western accent. It’s really strange to consider that the United States has basically four, and maybe five different accents. Somehow, I didn’t think of my own accent as being an accent, until my cousin mentioned it. I think we all recognize a Southern accent, but some of the others are a little bit more subtle, except maybe the Eastern accent. When about sounds like aboot, and Boston sounds like Baston, it isn’t something that is easily missed. It stands out as much as the Southern y’all that we are all so fond of.

Language is ever evolving. We have created new words for things we didn’t have before, or slang words for things we have always had. We have made up words just to be funny, and somehow they new words stuck, and even got added to the dictionary at some point. Words that were unacceptable grammar in times past, suddenly are acceptable. The way we talk compared to the way of just one or two generations ago, can be enough different that if we saw them side by side, we would almost never know that the two dialects started out as one.

April Fools Day…a day of shenanigans. As children, we made up simple tricks, that didn’t fool our parents, and might not have even fooled our siblings. I remember telling my sisters that there was a spider in their hair, or some such silliness. That worked for a short time, but then you have to get creative. Things like switching the salt and sugar became common jokes to us. Eventually, we learned to taste a little bit, before we used it liberally on our food…yuck!!

As we get older, we have to get far more creative with our shenanigans, because lets face it, adults aren’t going to go for the spider in your hair gag. They know what day it is too. April Fools Day pranks have to be carefully planned out, and they have to be such that they do no harm, because that would not be what it is all about. Of course, there could always be the unplanned, unforeseen problem with reversing the prank, that could backfire, but hopefully the people you prank are good sports about things, who know that it could have happened to them too.

It would seem that some of the best pranks these days are tech pranks. There are a variety of ways to “mess with” someone’s computer, making them think that it has gone crazy. A simple placement of tape over the mouse sensor will make the computer appear frozen. You can change the language on the computer too, but as I found out from personal experience, this can be difficult to reverse, if you change it to a language you can’t read…yikes!! I think my personal favorite is to flip the screen, so that everything is upside down. And that one is simple to reverse, so no harm…no foul. Of course, there are many low tech ways to “mess with” a computer too, like covering it and everything else in the office in newspaper, or filling the room with balloons, so that the only way in is to pop them. I think office pranks are a natural way to expand your prank playing game into new vistas. Plus, they are really fun when the people you prank are just stunned. Happy April Fools Day everyone!! The day to prank or be pranked. Let the fun begin.

As the second anniversary of my mom’s passing drew near, my family and I have been talking more and more about the woman who was our mother. Mom was many things, as most mothers are, but one of the parts of my mom that never ceased to amaze me, was her ability to maintain a certain level of innocence, or at least what we thought was innocence. As I look back now, she was a wise woman, who managed to keep her world…quite pure and innocent. I’m not talking about her personal life, but rather our family life. There were certain lines we all knew not to cross. My sisters and I would never have cussed in front of our parents…if we wanted to live, that is, but somehow we knew that our boyfriends and husbands would be required to live up to that standard too…and they did. It was out of respect for her, my dad, and their home. That was something I always though amazing. I don’t think I even remember having to tell a boyfriend twice, not even the ones who weren’t the keeper I ended up with. It was as if they thought mom might pass out if they were to talk in an inappropriate manner. I don’t know…maybe she would have. I never dared to find out, and I’m not sorry that Mom was that way, because my sisters and I were raised to speak decently, and we have never regretted that.

Another way that my mom always seemed so innocent was in her sense of humor. Mom never cared if she looked silly, if it could make her arguing children laugh. When you have five daughters, complete with all the drama that can be associated with it, you either get silly, or you go crazy. Well, mom was an expert at making her girls either straighten up, or laugh, usually in a very unique way. I remember Mom clearing the living room floor so that two of us could “fight it out” and once we had a good hold of each other’s hair, and were both basically pinned to the floor, the room broke out in laughter, because lets face it, it was pretty hilarious. I remember Mom making some crazy faces that we couldn’t help but laugh at, and even if we knew that Mom was mad, it was sometimes hard not to laugh about her face, but we knew that it was in our best interest not to.

Life with our mom was never dull, but then again, Mom would probably tell you the same thing about life with her girls. If there was some crazy antic that we could come up with…we did. I remember ruining my brand new penny loafers because I felt the need to go trudging through the mud and the construction site at the new Kmart building. The shoes cleaned up ok, but they were now of a size to fit my younger sister, Caryl. My sister, Alena was a whiz at concocting formulas. Of course, using the “shampoo” she created was out of the question, because it would probably burn your hair off. As far as terrorizing my sisters…that would have to be, yours truly. I was born with strong fingernails…well daggers actually, and I did not hesitate to use them. Sometimes I wonder how I survived childhood, because if anyone drove our mom crazy, it was me. I’m sure that my wedding day was cause for celebration on many levels. Just thinking about what I put my mom through…well, I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry. I think that is how Mom had to have felt. It really was get silly, or go crazy in our house.

The Indian tribes in the United States had a spoken language, but in the early years they had no real need for a written language, other than hieroglyphics. At some point, a young Cherokee man named Sequoyah noticed something about the men in Andrew Jackson’s platoon, while he and some other Cherokee men were volunteering in the fight against the British in the War of 1812. In dealing with the Anglo soldiers and settlers, Sequoyah became intrigued by their “talking leaves” or printed books. Sequoyah realized that somehow the “talking leaves” recorded human speech. In a brilliant leap of logic, Sequoyah comprehended the basic nature of symbolic representation of sounds and in 1809 he began working on a similar system for the Cherokee language. Little did Sequoyah know that his work would change things, and in fact, change life for the Cherokee people. Still, it was not without it’s downside. Sequoyah was ridiculed and misunderstood by most of the Cherokee. Nevertheless, he made slow progress until he came up with the idea of representing each syllable in the language with a separate written character. Finally, he perfected his syllabary of 86 characters, a system that could be mastered in less than week. After obtaining the official endorsement of the Cherokee leadership, Sequoyah’s invention was soon adopted throughout the Cherokee nation.

Finally, it was time for the next step. The General Council of the Cherokee Nation decided to purchase a printing press. Their goal was to produce a newspaper in the Cherokee language. When the Cherokee-language printing press arrived on this day, February 21, 1828, the lead type was based on Sequoyah’s syllabary. Within months, the first Indian language newspaper in history appeared in New Echota, Georgia. It was called the Cherokee Phoenix. The Cherokee tribe was one of what the Americans called the “five civilized tribes” and they were native to the American Southeast. The Cherokee had long ago decided to embrace the United States’ program of “civilizing” Indians in the years after the Revolutionary War. In the minds of Americans, Sequoyah’s syllabary showed the Cherokee desire to fit into their dominant Anglo world. The Cherokee used their new press to print a bilingual version of the republican constitution. They also took many other steps to assimilate Anglo culture and practice while still preserving some aspects of their traditional language and beliefs. The press worked well, but would have been useless had it not been for the extraordinary work of Sequoyah.

Sequoyah was born about 1770 in Tuskegee, Cherokee Nation, near present day Knoxville, Tennessee. He died August 1843 at about 72 or 73, in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, Mexico. His name in English is George Gist or George Guess, which I find to be…well, crazy. Why was it necessary to butcher his name. Sequoyah was a Cherokee silversmith by trade, but his biggest claim to fame was the creation of written Cherokee. In 1821, when he completed his independent creation of a Cherokee syllabary, he successfully made reading and writing in Cherokee possible. This was one of the very few times in recorded history that a member of a pre-literate people created an original, effective writing system. After seeing its worth, the people of the Cherokee Nation rapidly began to use his syllabary and officially adopted it in 1825. Their literacy rate quickly surpassed that of surrounding European-American settlers. In recognition of his service, the Cherokee Nation voted Sequoyah an annual allowance in 1841. He died two years later on a trip to San Fernando, seeking Cherokee to return to Oklahoma with him. The giant California redwood tree, Sequoia, was named after him.

Noah WebsterI don’t think that we spend very much time considering the importance of words in our lives, and yet, they are a vital part of our lives. Whether we speak the words, sign the words, write the words, or type the words, words are a vital part of communication. We are isolated without them, and we are indeed, isolated when we don’t understand them or know their meaning. When the United States was first formed…a melting pot of people from different countries…all with different languages. Communication under those circumstances if difficult at best, and often impossible. People tend to stick to their own family and friends from their country, so they can talk to each other. Eventually, through trial and error, people began to learn the chosen language of the United States…English.

Still, there are many words, and if you don’t know their meaning, or don’t know how to spell them, communication again becomes stalled, and isolation sets in. I think that might have been what Noah Webster had in mind, when he decided to publish his American Dictionary of the English Language. Noah Webster was a Yale educated attorney who had a huge interest language and education. He decided that people needed a way to learn to speak better, to know the meanings of words, and to know how to spell them, so on this day in 1818, he published his first dictionary. His dictionary was unique in that it was one of the first lexicons to include distinctly American words. Over the years, it has had to be changed, simply because as new things are invented, there have to be words invented to describe them. That makes the dictionary an ever changing book that would need to be updated often.

Noah’s dictionary took more that two decades to complete, and in it were 10,000 “Americanisms”…words that websters-american-dictionary1were unique to America. The dictionary standardized English spelling, a process that started as early as 1473, when printer William Caxton published the first book printed in English. The fact that dictionaries were printed so quickly and dictionaries were updated so often, resulted in increasingly standardized spellings by the mid 1800s. Coincidentally, Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was published almost exactly 63 years earlier, on April 15, 1755. Nevertheless, Webster’s dictionary quickly became the standard, and without it, the English language would not be the amazing language it is today. I never really gave much thought to language or words in general, until I began writing on a regular basis, and discovered my love of words.

Carl & Albertine SchumacherMy great grandparents, Carl and Albertine Schumacher immigrated to the United States from Germany, before they even knew each other. When they arrived, they, like most immigrants, could not speak English very well. It made communication difficult in those early years. Eventually, they learned enough English to get by, but the family still spoke German in the home. German continued to be the home language for many years. In fact, it would take a teacher at the school where their two oldest children, Anna and Albert attended, who made fun of their language, to change their home life forever. When the children came home upset about the thoughtlessness of the teacher, my great grandmother, said, “That’s it!! From now on, this family will speak only English in this house!” She did it to protect her children from further ridicule, but looking back on that time now, I think it is a bit sad that the German language that had been a part of their heritage for generation and generations, was now lost forever. I know that my great grandparents probably always remembered the language, but for their children much of it was lost, and for their children, it was completely lost.

When I was in school, I fell in love with the German language, and took it in school for four years. It was so interesting to me to speak the German language, but the biggest problem was that I had no one to speak it with at home. I can see how speaking one language in the home and another at school could have become a problem for my grandmother and great uncle. It would be hard for them to learn English when German was spoken in the home. I know that the opposite made it very hard for me. The only time I got to speak German was the hour I had class each day. It would be especially confusing for younger children. Nevertheless, I think it could be done, and would have been beneficial for all of the children.Carl and Albertines kids - Copy

Over the years, I have been an advocate for English being our countries official language, and I still feel that way, but I also think it is great when people can speak more than one language. In my opinion, it is rude to speak another language in the company of people who cannot speak it back, because they invariably get the feeling that you are talking about them, and perhaps you are. Even if you aren’t, they will always believe you were. That is why I think it is important to consider those around you when choosing to speak a language that is not the common one to the area you are in. Of course, when you are not in a conversation with those around you, like in a grocery store, it’s a different thing. I think people should pass their heritage, culture, and language down to children and grandchildren, because it will never be something they regret giving them, but it is also important to embrace their new home when they immigrate, because that is where you will live, work, and socialize from then on.

Lindsay and MichelleKids are always doing goofy little things, and my niece Michelle is no exception. When I asked my niece, Lindsay, who is Michelle’s cousin/best friend/partner in crime, to give me a little dirt on Michelle for her birthday story, little did I know what I would hear. When I think of Michelle, I automatically think of Lindsay too, because they were practically inseparable as kids, and while they live a good distance away from each other now, that distance has not changed their friendship at all. As little kids, they decided to make up a special language for themselves. In the end they made up several…and they both knew exactly what the other one was saying. I suppose that it might be because their languages were logical to a degree. Lindsay explained one language this way. My name is spelled Caryn, so in their language it would be Caong Arong Yon Nong. Now that’s a pretty long version of a name that isn’t really that long, but that would be the name anyway. The girls understood each other completely, and their favorite thing to do was to go to Walmart and walk around talking to each other in their secret language…just to see the people around them looking at them like they were crazy. They enjoyed that so much that they spoke that language for two years.

No matter how inventive these girls were, the one thing they couldn’t imagine was enjoying a Bologna sandwich. Their grandma, my mom fed her kids and grandkids a lot of Bologna sandwiches through the years, and whenever she fed them to Michelle and Lindsay, they would take the Bologna off and throw it in the bushes in the back yard, and eat the sandwich with mayonnaise, mustard, and pickles, and they decided that they kind of liked it…and they thought Mom’s taste in sandwiches was bad. I’m sorry, but I beg to differ. Mayonnaise, mustard, and pickles…I don’t think so, girls. Still, it’s a wonder the bushes didn’t die, because…let’s face it, Bologna isn’t plant food. Michelle, is however, a very good cook, and in their senior year, Michelle had a free period right before lunch. She would go home and make lunch for Lindsay who would come over at lunch. It was a fond memory of Lindsay’s from that year. Another fond memory is the day that Michelle and Lindsay kidnapped, Lindsay’s little sister, Kellie and made her ditch her class. Kellie was a little freaked out about it, but their mom, my sister, Allyn was a good sport, and didn’t kill them for it.

Michelle is seldom called Michelle, because she has a number of nicknames. I don’t know if these date back to the secret languages or not, but Lindsay has long called her Mash Stav…don’t ask me why or what that means, because it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just one of the goofy names they used. Lindsay also called her Meechelle, my Belle. Lacey, Michelle’s little sister often called her Mish Mash. They couldn’t go with any of the normal nicknames, like Shelly or anything, because that would be too…normal. And not to be outdone, Michelle had nicknames for Allyn’s family too. Lindsay became Lance, Kellie became Killay, and Allyn became Lynnie…and there are probably many more that we haven’t thought of.Michelle-Stevens-drawing

Michelle is a very intelligent person. She has moved to Spearfish, South Dakota to finish her education, before beginning her career choice of being an art teacher. She is an incredible artist and will be an amazing art teacher. She is also a very fun person, who is a friend to all. While she does feel lonely and homesick sometimes, she likes the Spearfish area, and especially the lack of wind. We miss her too. Today is Michelle’s birthday. Happy birthday Michelle!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My sister, Allyn was always a very soft hearted person. Even as a little girl, my mom had a very hard time with any disciplinary action when it came to Allyn, because any show of disapproval put her immediately into a broken hearted state. This was not a fake way of getting out of trouble either. Having witnessed this myself with Allyn, I can attest to the validity of her feelings. In later years when my sisters and I spoke of the trouble we used to get into, we all agreed, “Not Allyn though. Allyn was always good!!” When you think about that, it is really a tribute to her in itself, and one that no one could argue.

There was and is something quite different and interesting about Allyn. She is one of those people who doesn’t like to say anything mean or hurtful about people, but she loves giving her loved ones little pet names. So, her daughter Jessi became Jessilynn, her son Ryan became the boy, her daughter Lindsay became Squirrel, and her daughter Kellie became Baby Kellie. She also called Lindsay, Squee Squee, and Kellie, Pretty Teeny Sweet and Little or the babe. And even made up a song for Kellie that went like this, “Mommy got a pretty Kellie, Yeah!!” And of course, she would always say, “She just a baby!” Always meaning it is an endearing way. And when one of the kids calls or stops by, she always calls them BaBy…using a high pitched voice to enunciate each syllable.

Allyn always likes to say encouraging things to people too, so she might tell someone they are “stunningly beautiful, fantastically clever, and wonderfully sweet.” Or she might say they are “the sweetest and the best.” And if one of the kids was whining or complaining, she would say, “How could you say those words??” If the kids were going outside in the winter, she would say, “Mittens, mittens, teeny kittens!”

And now that she has grandchildren, she has a whole new generation of cute little sayings. To her grandson she says, “Spinken spank the teeny Ethan. Teeny make him teeny cry.” Not that she would spank him, but more to make him laugh so that whatever problem he was having simply melted away. Ethan and his baby sister, Aurora will grow up hearing all those funny little sayings a lot, and that is a pretty good deal when you think about it.

I’m not sure what brought this strange and different language out in my sister…which her daughter-in-law, Chelsea calls Allynisms…but most of us find it very amusing to say the least. And, it has been an endearing thing as far as her family is concerned. And really, when she says some of that stuff, who can help but laugh. Bad moods quickly melt into smiles and laughter…because who could keep a straight face when someone, out of the blue says, “Spinken spanken teeny wanken”…whatever that means. Yes, my sister might speak a language that is very different from the rest of us, but I guess that is what makes her so special. Happy birthday Sis!! We love you Teeny Wanken!!

When Christopher and Shai were just babies, they spent much of their time together. My daughters, Corrie and Amy, had given birth one day apart, and Amy took care of the Christopher while Corrie worked. Christopher and Shai, grew to be almost like twins when they were young. Sometimes they seemed to be in their own little world. They shared meals and nap time. They shared playtime and their little secrets. We even had people ask us if they were twins. And like most kids, understanding much of what they said when they first began talking was difficult, to say the least. But they seemed to always understand each other…like a secret language or something.

They were best friends for a long time, maybe because there was no one else in their little world. They played their own funny little games in their own little playhouse of choice that day…usually they would choose the dog’s kennel, which always seemed odd to me, but it was where they wanted to be. They would sit in there and play for hours, talking in their own little language. Totally entertaining themselves. They also enjoyed going out for lunch…usually in a kitchen cupboard, or exploring…usually under a table, or chair, or climbing to new heights…on top of Amy’s hope chest, or really getting out of a rut…by going out in the back yard, when the weather was warm. Yes, they shared many good times, and we get to have many special memories from those times.

I don’t pretend to know what they were talking about when they were playing. They just chattered on like two little birds, paying no attention to those around them, and saying some of the funniest things. I suppose they were just doing what we all do, socializing. It was like a private club. They held meetings Monday through Friday, and only members were allowed. I find it so fascinating how two little babies could have so many things to say to each other, but in today’s society, if you are going to get ahead of the pack you need to start early developing your skills. You need to know how to walk and talk. And one very important skill…social networking!!

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