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Islands of Englessness in Seas of Normativity

“Dropping one’s g’s” in gerunds and present participles (and the substantives derived therefrom) is typical of colloquial and non-standard (dialectal) speech of all regions, and stereotypically of Cockney, Southern American English, and African American Vernacular English. (Eng is the linguistic term for the velar nasal stop sound rendered orthographically by the digraph –ng.) It can also be an (unconscious?) affectation in the speech of Standard American English speakers who make a point of showing their solidarity with the plebes by recurring to englessness as a linguistic badge of their democratic outlook.

One can hear this kind of (faux-?) linguistic solidarity being manifested by Bayard Winthrop, the CEO of the company American Giant, in an interview broadcast on today’s installment of the NPR program “All Things Considered Weekend.” The irruption of englessness in otherwise utterly normative speech, deployed in an utterly neutral context, can only be interpreted as pandering to the current tropism toward an indecorous lowbrowishness among educated speakers (cf. Barack Obama).

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

One Response to “Islands of Englessness in Seas of Normativity”

  • Excellent observations, to which I would like to add the following.

    At times such englessness – used in relaxed situations – is interesting. I am particularly referring to an English Professor who has been living in New Orleans for decades and at times comes out with a wonderful southern accent, on purpose, of course. It gives color to the story.

    I also noticed Barack Obama’s lowbrowishness (trying to use your technical terms). Although I agree, I think that it is a smart move. When Obama steps down from his otherwise perfectly comprehensible English, he appeals directly and cunningly to a certain level of society. Other times I thought, he was under stress and unwillingly let himself speak with an inflection that belonged to his childhood.

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