Tag: linguistics

A New York State of Language


New Yawk English. You know it when you hear it. It is unique and serves as a cultural marker.

“You Talkin’ To Me? The Unruly  History of New York English,” By  E. J. White tells the story of New York English. It is as much about why New Yorkers talk the way they do as about how they talk.

A study of New York linguistics, told by someone who is a linguistics expert, it is not a dry, scholarly tome. Rather it is as lively as Brooklynese, told with Bugs Bunny insouciance and Archie Bunker confidence. The book opens up with a study of New Yorkers’ favorite obscenity.  More than a term describing human reproduction, New Yorkers use it as an endearment, a qualifier, and an expression of respect. (Only in New York.)

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Nobody in academia had ever witnessed or even heard of a performance like this before. In just five years, 1953– 57, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student— a student, in his twenties— had taken over an entire field of study, linguistics, and stood it on its head and hardened it from a spongy so-called social […]

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Words, language, communication. It’s one of our favorite topics. Language can be beautiful, frightening, coarse, forceful, and arresting and, when under the employ of a master, it is like “wine upon the lips”, according to Virginia Woolf.

In the photograph that accompanies this entry is a rendering of the Tower of Babel. As the story goes, at some point in antiquity there was just one language, spoken and understood by all of mankind. Some academics say part of this story at least is true: there really was one language that gave birth to the rest of the tongues we have now. But from where did that language come? It’s a study that has fascinated linguists for years.