Dialects, phonetics explained
summit daily news
Summit County, Colorado
FRISCO ” A person’s communication on a ski lift or at a bar is likely different from that person’s speech in a job interview.
Vertical dialects, known to linguists as “registers,” can change in any number of situations.
“We think of dialects as horizontal” or geographic, said Daniel Taylor, professor emeritus of linguistics on Thursday.
He used the example of a study that included an African-American woman who lived in Detroit’s inner city but worked for General Motors.
People adjust the way they talk ” regardless of whether they realize it ” to best communicate depending on the environment and people present.
Americans are losing their geographic dialects because the “television dialect predominates,” he said.
The Cafe Scientifique discussion at the Frisco Community and Senior Center drew an audience of about 25, and the invigorating question-and-answer session included issues from foreign languages to the way children learn to communicate.
One woman said that for Russians, use of the third-person pronoun when that person is in the room is considered disrespectful. Taylor said this social etiquette also fits in with the registers and pragmatics of communication.
The early part of Taylor’s talk involved phonetics. For example, he demonstrated how the sounds of “p,t and k” each come from a different area of the mouth ” the labial, dental and velar, accordingly.
“Language is the most salient, striking characteristic of any culture,” Taylor said.
Taylor’s 50 years studying language and 34 years of teaching at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis. involved the study of language history. He said the use of an apostrophe before an “s” to emphasize possession was actually an “-es” suffix 500 years ago.
Linguists’ purpose isn’t to tell people how to talk, but rather to observe it, he said.
However, he also pointed out how frequently the possessive apostrophe-“s” is frequently used incorrectly as pluralization in the United States.
Robert Allen can be contacted
at (970) 668-4628 or
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