Being in the word game myself in a small way, it was a real treat to spend some time over the last few days with Grant Barrett, lexicographer and co-host of A Way With Words. Grant was in town to visit classes and to speak at the arts festival at SUNY Potsdam (see featured events). Despite an already killing schedule, he was generous enough to schmooze with station friends and staff, and to field an hour-long barrage of questions about language in a call-in this morning. The man loves his work. And we (that’s a North Country we) love the topic. To a trained ear, how we speak is an entree into how we think, where we live, how we perceive our status, and how we relate to others.
Unless you travel a lot, or study the language, or speak other languages, one’s own tongue can be a bit of a mystery. Frankly, everybody but you and me talks kind of funny. It takes someone like Grant to parse out the commonalities and divisions, chart the evolution of expressions and the infectious spread of idiom throughout a culture.
While I can recognize the southern Indiana speech of my cousins when I hear it, I can’t tell you what it is that makes it different. And they know me for a North Country boy, but can’t tell me what the particular pattern is that gives it away. It’s like singing in the shower. Only your wife knows what it really sounds like. And Grant. Thanks (I think) for letting me know.