The English language is always absorbing new words and changing existing elements. A porous, living thing -- the language is in a perpetual state of reinventing itself.
Nov 17, 2003

The New York City Accent: History and Change

New York

Linguist William Labov records people speaking naturally by involving them in storytelling. Labov spent 40 years studying the accents of New York City. He says at one time it was fashionable among New Yorkers to pronounce certain 'R's in words as a vowel. Today, that Britishism is often seen as a sign of working class speech.

 
June 4, 1999

Shop Talk: Workplace Jargon

haircut

Every field has its own language, from waitresses who plate to writers who edit graphs. And forget about understanding lawyers, who practically speak Latin. How does jargon from one job or profession find its way into everybody's everyday lexicon?

 
April 4, 2002

Looking Back on a Childhood Voice

audio tape

Aviva Barraclough tells the tale of finding a tape of her voice from 23 years ago, when she was 5, and had an English accent. Now an adult with an American accent, she is amazed by her voice on the tape. Barraclough found out that her English fiancee was born in Venezula, and has tapes of himself speaking Spanish 23 years ago.

 
January 17, 2002

Local Accents Snag Shreveport Phone System

Shreveport, La. uses a voice-activated telephone directory that handles non-emergency calls -- but the system has exasperated staff and citizens alike. One of the reasons for its problems: the thick Southern accents of callers.

 


   
   
   
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Q&A
Robert MacNeil

Robert MacNeil

MacNeil, the author of Do You Speak American? and the former cohost of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour weighs in on the shaping of American language.


Why do dialects and slang persist? Americans are speaking less alike, not more. Dialects are a badge of local identity and pride, in a world where so much else seems to be homogenized.
As for slang, it is quintessentially American and highly creative. According to Jesse Sheidlower, American editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, slang is "the American spirit distilled into language."


What do you think are some of the stranger words that have been taken into American English in recent history? Some new words I find strange but amusing are a flight attendant saying, "We are late leaving the gate because we overboarded the aircraft." Teenagers in California calling a girl butterface, because everything about her is great but her face.

Finally -- importantly -- your take: Should Internet be capitalized? I suppose so, but I'm not sure, and I am in a hotel room with no reference books at hand. I capitalize it... I think!

Jan. 8, 2005
 
 
 

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