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Dialect, libraries, edited in other scattershot thoughts - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Dialect, libraries, edited in other scattershot thoughts
I've been thinking about dialect writing (Is it the reason I don't write Hagrid? Could be), and it really occurs to me that standard spelling is why English hasn't fragmented into at least six languages since the 1600s. I was helping someone this morning, and I looked up a book, saying, "I'll see if it's here"--a perfectly readable sentence in English. But I actually listened to myself say it, with my Buffalo accent (which is of course not an accent; only other people have accents, natch), and what I said was, "Ul seeft's herr." I realized that this is standard Western New York usage--no one is actually confused by it. We drop and combine words all the time. In WNY, "goat" is a perfectly legitimate verb, as in, "I'll goat the store." (Could also be "goant," as in "I'm goant the store now.") It's not, "I'll stop at the gas station and use the ladies' room," but "I'll stop at the gas station and goat the john."

"Goat" and "seeft" are in my head at the moment, but it occurs to me that if we wrote to reflect the way we talk, it would start to look like Latin breaking off into the Romance languages. Instead of saying, "Oh, people there pronounce such-and-such differently," there would be the subtle change of, "Oh, over there, that word is what this word means here." Regionalisms would split within countries, and chances are that you'd end up with actual different languages after a few hundred years. Literacy and standard spelling help prevent that.

(I was also thinking about dialect when I went to http://www.boston-online.com, and checked their lexicon, getting a kick out of the basic truth that, written phonetically, "onna-conna" makes no sense at all. But heard in context, when it's "I was late onna-conna traffic," you know pretty much what it means, which is a good thing, as it would sound practically robotic around here to say "on account of.")

Last week, I asked what people wanted in libraries. There was no serious precipitating cause for it, except for general curiosity. There's an iron-clad belief--and I think it's unshakeable--that what people want out of libraries nowadays is more electronic gadgetry and popular stuff. A wildly popular story is about a library director in Baltimore who was asked in his interview how many books he wanted to see on the shelf. "None," was his shocking answer. "I want them all to be out circulating." The theory that followed from this was that libraries should buy fifty or sixty copies of bestsellers, and that there's not any point to having books on the shelf that are only used once a year or so. (Or less.) I got that in my library management class, and believe me, it is presented as a very positive outlook, keeping libraries relevant and up-to-date.

Certainly, it has the advantage of making people happy when they come in for new books. (Though no matter how many copies of a bestseller you have, there's always a waiting list. I believe by the time Order of the Phoenix came out, the waiting list was something like four hundred people long; we got two hundred odd copies, but of course once it actually came out, the holds kept coming in.) And it keeps circulation numbers up, which is a major way in which cities evaluate whether or not libraries are doing their jobs.

For myself, as both a librarian and a library lover, I find it a kind of vacuous notion, not to mention one that's going to end up with too many copies of some books after the fad dies down, and no copies of other books that someone may want ten years down the line.

I was also curious about environment questions, and surprised how many people answered, straight off, "comfortable chairs and good lighting." These things are so often ignored as being of secondary importance. Quiet and food are things that are a mixed bag. The kids I see every day want us to change the no-food rule (which we do enforce if we happen to see someone eating), so it was surprising to me to see people wanting to institute such a rule.

As to dividing by genre vs merely shelving by author, I come down firmly on the side of genre collections, provided that they are clearly marked as genre in the catalog so that people looking for a specific book can find it easily. Genre shelving is better for people who are looking for something to read that they might like, but aren't sure exactly what. Someone who was wild about a Philip K. Dick novel he just read is more likely to find another book he likes by scanning the sf/f shelves than by methodically moving on to Dickens.

Of course, I work in a library with a VAST open shelf collection. Splitting into more mentally manageable collections is just helpful for sanity.

More later (probably).

Isn't satire supposed to be funny? Snopes reported a piece from the Democratic Underground, meant to be an anti-Bush satire (it's here), and it was...

Well, it wasn't even nasty. It was just kind of, "We're going to take everything that's said and change it mildly to sound like grade school." But it didn't work, because too much of it was an actual accusation. The closest to working was the complaint that he'd claimed that the dog ate his report card from military pre-school, but for most part, the "satire" just... :shrug: It's the same cant that's everywhere else, and not presented particularly cleverly. And if that passes for the "Underground," the underground is certainly not very different from the mainstream, is it? Feh.

  • "Change" and "progress" are not synonyms. People who oppose a change don't necessarily (or even usually) do so because they are against "progress." They usually do so because they feel the change in question is poor idea which will not solve the problem it is intended to solve, and may make it worse.
  • If you want to complain about or compliment a business, a letter is preferable to a phone call (or even an e-mail), as it provides an actual, physical artifact to be shown around.
  • If you are writing a summer reading list and expect the kids to get the books from a library, please have more than five books to choose from. In a major city library system when every kid is looking for the same small set of books, when it gets to be August, oddly, the hold lists get a bit long. Better yet, let them read whatever they want during the summer. But I've already done that rant.
  • I really wish people wouldn't call me "hon" in a restaurant. Or "sweetie." I recognize that it isn't meant malevolently, so I'd feel like a real bitch complaining about it, but I really, violently hate it. I mean sincerely. It makes me want to claw things and scream and stomp my feet. I don't even like it when people appropriate my first name without explicit permission. Endearments from strangers are crazy-making, and most definitely do not endear people to me. I do my best to be polite--I know that waiting tables is a thankless job and one I could never do--but I wish the same courtesy would be extended in return. The way to go with people is title first, then first name if invited, then endearments when you're close. So, "How's your burger, Miss?" is the way to go unless you absolutely know the person likes these endearments, because trust me, the people who hate them really, really hate them. Better to start off with the standard behavior and work your way down through the levels of familiarity from there. I promise to answer with, "It's fine, thank you very much." And a smile. But please don't make me ask the manager to talk to people about it. I know it's not ill-meant, but I swear, one more "hon" from a stranger and I am going to explode. (Of course, I have been known to call strangers "sweetie" or "dearheart," but believe me, that is not a sign of congeniality. That is me at my full-fledged bitchiest.)
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ivylore From: ivylore Date: August 5th, 2004 02:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

On dialects

My friends and family (in Canada) are fond of teasing me for saying things like, "I sawr it," "draw" rather than "drawer", or "quarter of" rather than "quarter to". This week I was pleasantly surprised to hear John Kerry pronounce "idea" as I do - "ideer" - at the DNC.

I've come to the conclusion that being the only one who says words a certain way result can result in the habit being reinforced. Whenever I say "ideer," typically someone immediately mimics me, and then I'm 'hearing' it as well as saying it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 5th, 2004 03:11 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: On dialects

"Ideer"'s pretty common around here (though "here" is pronounced "heah.") Good to know Kerry's accent is showing somewhere! The southern drawl has had twelve years in the White House. Vote Yankee twang! :p

In the lexicon at boston-online, the word "Cuber" is defined as, "An island south of Florida. It's capital is Havanner."
ivylore From: ivylore Date: August 5th, 2004 03:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: On dialects


I've never understood why Bostonians are accused purely of removing 'r's from certain words when we arbitrarily drop them all over the place too.

thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: August 5th, 2004 08:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: On dialects

In RP, final R is dropped unless it is the median consonant between two vowels. So you can say: Heah we ah (Here we are), but Here I am.
R gets put on to the end of words like idea if the next word starts with a vowel: The idear of it, but That's a good ideah.
I never actually realised that until I saw it online somewhere, then went, Yes, of course.
ivylore From: ivylore Date: August 6th, 2004 08:03 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: On dialects


That explanation definitely makes sense 'some' of the time, but not 'all' of time. Interesting!
readerravenclaw From: readerravenclaw Date: August 5th, 2004 02:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't think I commented on your original library post. I just wanted to mention that I definitely agree with you: libraries should do their best to keep the old, really good books that are hard to find or are out of print, and similarly, libraries should try to get at least one copy of less-popular books that the librarians judge to be well-written and likely to be enjoyed in years to come.

What do I want from my library? (Libraries, I should say. :D ) Lots of space to store lots of books, so that the library doesn't have to start getting rid of good quality books just because they're old. Nice, quiet places to read/study. Seperate genre sections - Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Mystery, etc. A good inter-library reserve system that users aren't required to pay for which hooks up to a large number of other libraries.

Luckily, the libraries that I go to have all of the above. :)
From: magnolia_mama Date: August 5th, 2004 03:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was also curious about environment questions, and surprised how many people answered, straight off, "comfortable chairs and good lighting."

Especially natural lighting, which I find so much easier to read by than artifical lighting. I'd also ask for good-sized tables for spreading out and, rather than chairs that are comfortable per se (too comfortable and you run the risk of falling asleep), chairs that provide good lower back support.

The only problem I see with genre-based shelving is that you often run into differing interpretations of what identifies a genre; my mother, who owns a genre bookstore (mystery, science fiction, fantasy and horror) sees this problem all the time. Take, for example, Sharon Kay Penman's The Queen's Man series. Would you shelve those under historical fiction or mystery? And would you have sections for regional literature, or would you shelve books by William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor under general fiction?

I second readeravenclaw's appeal for a free and broad-based ILL program. I'm fortunate in that I can use my university's program for now, but I imagine many independent scholars have trouble getting hold of sources they need without pulling out their wallets.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 5th, 2004 03:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think you sort of play it by ear--how does your particular collection break down, and what's the physical layout of the area. We have a few distinct parts of the room that can be used for special collections, and are; I don't think we would have a place for a new designation. (We sort of forced space for a graphic novel section, as they were previously all over fiction, sf, and various parts of nonfic.) I finally made a "series" section instead of a "romance" section, because the romance section was all series romances anyway, while mainstream romance (Eric Jerome Dickey or whatnot) was in regular fiction. Since we needed to push back the sf/f collection, I pulled out all the STs and SWs and put them in "Series" as well. All the "Buffy"s and "Angel"s from Mystery/Horror/Suspense (I thought they should be sf/f, but oh well) also got pulled and put in series. And catalogued to show which series they were in!
vytresna From: vytresna Date: August 5th, 2004 04:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, okay, fine. You've a good point on sorting by genre. Just as long as sci-fi and fantasy are in the same section to avoid confusing people, because everyone has a different dividing line between the two.

(Why is the term "sci-fi" offensive?)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 5th, 2004 04:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Beats me. Same reason "Trekkie" is offensive but "Trekker" is respectful, I guess--just to separate the insiders from the outsiders.
From: magnolia_mama Date: August 5th, 2004 05:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Huh. This second-generation Trekkie finds "Trekker" just plain silly.

As for the purported offensiveness of "sci-fi," I believe it's because sci-fi has generally come to be equated with space opera, as opposed to the more serious, cerebral, thought-provoking science fiction.

rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: August 5th, 2004 05:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Actually if I remember the debate at all, it was because some bright bunny started pronouncing it as "skiffy" and saying that those lovely B movies from the 50's had degenerated the form. (Of course, they were all for SF as it could stand for Science Fiction or "Speculative Fiction".

I kind of like "speculative" fiction, since so much of what gets shoved into Science Fiction has nothing of science about it. (Hal Clement -- now that's science fiction.) But to be honest I don't care. If the bookstore or library has an SF&F section I'm visiting...

"Trekker" got bandied about because the newspaper and tv folks discovered the Trek conventions and insisted on always interviewing the mostly naked green lady. It's all hogwash, of course. Generations earlier there were people who fussed about whether they were called Holmesians or Sherlockians...
alphabet26 From: alphabet26 Date: August 5th, 2004 05:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
no copies of other books that someone may want ten years down the line.

I recently realized, looking at Georgette Heyer books at my library, that all the ones we have are first or second editions. I was just amazed by that--real, actual first editions.
kelleypen From: kelleypen Date: August 5th, 2004 06:57 pm (UTC) (Link)


speaking as a Southern Californian raised by a midwestern mom and a Toronto raised dad, who has spent the last 26 years living in Utah, I love dialectual differences. It's part of what keeps our language alive. So what do you call the box in the dash? Glove box? Glove compartment? or Jockey box? Here in central Utah, it's jockey box. And my father-in-law raises reddishes every summer. I tease him and ask if the white ones are whitishes, but he doesn't get it. My mother-in-law likes a nice fire in the chimbley and hates it when a raspberry seed irritates her gooms. And if my in-laws don't know what you're talking about, they don't have an idee. And hens in a yard are called skruks. And baby chicks are pullets. And if you want your child watched, you need a babytender. So what are the NY equivalents?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 5th, 2004 08:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: dialect

Glove compartment, though "glove box" isn't totally alien. I never heard "jockey box." It has a fun ring to it.

Lessee... radishes are definitely RADishes and chimneys are chimnees, and baby chicks are chicks. There is no such thing as a Buffalo wing, and we laugh at the concept. Hens... are hens. Nothing creative there. Practical folk, western New Yorkers.

Kummelweck is pronounced kimmawick, or more commonly, "wick."

Babysitters are babysitters, or more commonly, sitters (though the job is always "babysitting").

Most freeways are named. In Boston, we might take the 33 or get on the 198 (if those routes existed here); in Buffalo, you take the Kensington or the Scajacweda. (Though the latter is spelled 1-9-8.)

At some point while I was in undergrad school, Psychology Today did a survey of the fastest cities in the country, based on things like counting change and syllables spoken per second. Boston was the fastest. Buffalo, not NYC, was a close second. (The City was third.) My first boss (at a regular job, as opposed to babysitting)--an old Buffalo businessman who'd been running his dry cleaning shop since the dinosaurs brought him their shed skins--insisted on a particular way of counting out change and was scandalized that I hadn't already learned it--first, say the change up to the first full dollar aloud, then count out singles to the next five or ten, then give bills until you reach the total. It sounds slow, but when you're not working with a modern register, it actually speeds things up. Eg, the bill for dry cleaning is $2.37, and the customer hands you a ten. You'd go into the drawer, and, as you're getting change, say, "That's two-thirty seven"--hand the cleaning to the customer--"and sixty-three is three, and two is five, and five is ten. 'v a nice day!" :wave:
From: anatomiste Date: August 5th, 2004 08:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
I know it's not ill-meant, but I swear, one more "hon" from a stranger and I am going to explode.

Be very glad you don't live in the South, then! :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 5th, 2004 08:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah... Albuquerque, where I used to live, is south of the Mason-Dixon and was in the Confederacy, and discovered that, whatever else I may or may not be, I am most emphatically a Northeasterner. Bluestocking, Puritan, law-shall-go-forth-from-Beacon-Hill, self-righteous, preachy Yankee.

Alas, the Yankee world is disappearing and I feel like a fish out of water nearly all the time, even in Boston. No wonder I have a few frayed nerves.
mafdet From: mafdet Date: August 5th, 2004 09:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
My maternal grandmother, from DeKalb, Illinois, called her purse a "pocketbook" and sat on the "davenport" instead of the couch or sofa. She also called soda, "pop." To me and most other Californians that's either a loud noise or a nickname for your father. Here you drink soda or a soft drink, pronounced "softrink."

Both my parents being Midwesterners, I grew up drinking "ornch" juice for breakfast and "chawklit" for dessert.

Re library books: I don't want a gajillion copies of The Da Vinci Code which I can pick up at Target or even the used bookstore. I want nerdly, nonfiction, books that cost $50 to buy and I can't afford. I like knowing I can find things I need for a research project or just because I'm in an info-geek mood, that I don't want to spend a big chunk of change on. Those in charge who think that libraries ought to stock only "popular" books, remind them that there are those who use the library for research purposes, also. Jean Auel, she of The Clan of the Cave Bear and its sequels, got her research material from the Multnomah County Library and its interlibrary loan system. Whatever one might say about her characterization and love scenes, one has to admit that this series is meticulously researched to the tiniest detail. Before Ms. Auel hit the big time and could phone up any number of professional archeologists, the library was her resource. So yes, the "unpopular" books serve a purpose.
scionofgrace From: scionofgrace Date: August 6th, 2004 11:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Just to add to the library debate, I don't care if my library has scads of copies of some new popular book. To me it is more important that a library have older books which may be hard to find. Books I read a lot I purchase. Libraries (to me) are more about research, or reading older books that someone has recommended to me.

About dialects: Being a midwesterner, I have that nice, flat accent that you hear in national newscasters or telemarketers. Not that we don't change things. Final "t"s are almost always "d"s, unless preceded by an "n", in which case the "t" disappears altogether. Half the time, "at" is pronounced "it". And "you" is often "ya."

Thank goodness for standardized spelling!
likeafox From: likeafox Date: August 7th, 2004 08:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
With dialects, here in Ohio you don't even bother asking what part of the state someone is from. You're either from Oh-hi-oh/yo (northern/central or, *shudder*, Ah-hi-ya (Southern)

And it's pop. *grins maliciously at possibility of starting this debate again.*
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