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The Pathos of Everyday Life 6 (Language as a Badge of Authenticity)

This morning I had to telephone the call center of a bank in order to transact some business. The voice that eventually got on the line sounded like a middle-aged woman who announced that she was speaking from South Dakota, so I said to her: “You sound like a native South Dakotan.” Her happiness was clearly audible: “Born and bred,” she answered, with a lilt in her voice, and repeated the phrase to punctuate her pride. “I’ve lived in South Dakota all my life! I’ve lived in the eastern part, and I’ve lived in the western part.” For my part, I said nothing about my being a linguist and being able to discern a South Dakota accent. (Listening to “Prairie Home Companion” for many years helped, of course, since Minnesotan and South Dakotan American English are similar.)

In an era when regional dialects are fading under the onslaught of media language, it is clear that natives of rural areas still cling tenaciously to their traditional linguistic forms of expression, and for them the fact that a stranger on the other end of the telephone line has acknowledged the authenticity of their speech is of considerable personal and social import.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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