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“You Talk Like a Lawyah!”

Every language has several speech styles, including elliptical and explicit sub-codes, and a range of stylistic registers. One particularity of the language of an advanced society is the existence of professional jargons, by which is meant the specialized vocabulary, syntax, and diction that are found in the speech of professionals (doctors, lawyers, engineers, university professors, et al.). These jargons are normally used when professionals talk to each other and are generally not employed in talking to laypersons. However, some professionals seem unable to desist from utilizing jargonic speech even when the occasion and interlocutor would seem not to call for it. This indecorous habit amounts to what the French call déformation professionnelle.

Apropos, Y-H-B recalls that his father-in-law’s brother, an immigrant from Hungary, used to chide his nephew, a native-born American, for speaking in an especially crabbed way, and he did this by saying (in his heavily accented, quasi-New Yorkese English), “George, you talk like a lawyah!,” which usually put the quietus on what was otherwise a highly loquacious youth.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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