Remember back in 2008 when news sites spun into a tizzy over the National Debt Clock? The debt had topped $10 trillion and the clock ran out of digits. Bigger debt called for a bigger clock, and the machine was replaced in 2009.
I was watching an old TV cop show online (by “old” I mean from the mid-2000s). I had the subtitles on, and the words “sound of a tape rewinding” appeared on the screen. There I was watching Netflix, two levels of technology removed from the character rewinding a tape. It occurred to me that entire generations of people may see this phrase and not know what it means. We will have lost a sound.
But can we really lose a sound?
A videotape (By Gnnwikifikator via wikimedia commons
Is it cray-ahn? Cray-awn? Or crown? Do you take out the trash or the garbage? And what on earth is a sunshower?
Cray-ahn? Crown? (credit: By Crayonsman via Wikimedia Commons)
Those were just a few of the questions Joshua Katz, an NC State PhD student tried to answer in a fascinating series of maps illustrating regional American dialects. (See all 122 maps here.) The maps became so popular after BusinessInsider published a story on the project that Katz’s site crashed Wednesday.
But, though BusinessInsider insists the maps show “How Americans Speak English Totally Differently from Each Other,” what might be even more interesting is how much we sound alike.
“Where are you from again?” she asks. I smile. “Texas.” She leans forward to make her point clear to everyone there. “You don’t have an accent at all.” I shrug: I’ve had this conversation before. “It’s there. It comes out when I’m tired.” But she shakes her head. She doesn’t believe me. I don’t sound Texan enough.
In a classroom in NYC last year, several grad students from the East Coast were teasing a guy from California. He didn’t know what a “whiteout” was. They explained “blizzards,” and he stared at them like they were crazy. Hours later, the floor began to shake. The Easterners looked at each other. “What was that?” a New Yorker asked. From underneath the doorframe, the Californian looked smug. “THAT was an earthquake,” he said.
I don’t believe in comparing tragedies. One person’s loss is no greater than another’s. The number of casualties means little to the person who lost someone. Who are we as an audience to compare? But I will compare news coverage.