03 October 2011

On Maybells and DARE

Taking a quick break from the political stuff that I seem to have been getting sucked back into lately, I'm offering up here a link to an article from Humanities Magazine.

The article, which commemorates the passing of the Dictionary of American Regional English, points out some of the ways that language flows around us and through us. While the author (Michael Adams, of IU-Bloomington) does not say so, it is a lovely argument for some of the ways that humanities work can be quite practical.

According to this dictionary, a Wisconsin native may know a flower called a maybell, and so may a Michigander, but if they talk flora over a drink in Chicago, it may take awhile before they realize they are, in a sense, speaking different tongues. In Wisconsin, maybell means ‘lily of the valley’; in Michigan, it means ‘marsh marigold.’ The dictionary knows this because fieldworkers surveyed Wisconsin speakers with the question, “What are other names in your locality for the lily of the valley?” and Michigan speakers with the question, “What do you call the bright yellow flowers that bloom in clusters in marshes in early springtime?” Maybell was an occasional answer, a word some of us share that nonetheless underscores differences in how we know and name the world around us.

Anyways. The article is quite short, and definitely worth a read.

I'm off to go teach and attempt to avoid infecting my students with whatever horrible head-cold bug I've acquired. Cup of noodles, followed by dayquil, should beat down the sneezing and hacking long enough for me to get through class. Hurrah.

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