>Bullock and I were both working in our respective studies, but energy gave out and we started messing around and wasting time. I’m surfing the ‘net and playing with PBS’s “Do You Speak American?” site, and he’s playing a computer game called Empire Earth. There’s something that one of the commanders keeps saying in his game and I *swear* it sounds like “Behold the left flank!” Of course, that makes no sense whatsoever, and I think it’s more likely “We’re under attack!” or something like that. There’s also another guy who says very clearly “Prepare to die!” and the frequent sounds of anguish and pain. So I went into his office to see just what was happening in this game and what I found was some crazy and disturbing mash-up of medieval and modern warfare where stealth bombers were decimating knights on horseback. Oh that’s so wrong! I couldn’t help feel sorry for the tiny CGI knights and their wholly innocent horses. Poor things.
I just hope this isn’t his way of getting out his unconscious aggression toward the medievalist in the household!
Speaking of “Do You Speak American?”, since I’ve never taken a full-on HEL class (my linguistic knowledge, fwiw, pretty much stops with Shakespeare), I don’t know that much about American varieties, although I knew about the Northern Cities Shift because I once saw William Labov talk about it at a conference. Given that I now live in the midst of it, it’s very useful knowledge. However, I could probably stand to get some deeper knowledge of it to make teaching the sounds of Middle English to my students more effective. I made the mistake this semester of insisting on something about “midwestern” phonology as a guide to Middle English sounds that was really only true for my central midwest variety and not for my students northern cities variety. Generally when one is teaching the ME short vowels, one says they’re more or less the same as now, with a couple of exceptions like the short -u- and the short -a-. I play clips from BBC TV to help them hear those sounds and explain the whole “u as in put, but not as in but” thing. But they were having a heckuva a time with the short -o- sound, which I thought was really weird. I said the short -o- was like our own, but they weren’t getting it. Well, that’s because for many of them their short -o- was sounding more like my short -a- and so my examples made no sense to them — for them “cot” sounds like “cat.” I knew about the cot/caught merger (which I have) and so I knew to expect some trouble with ME -o- sounds, but it turned out to be a different trouble than I expected! Yeah, it’s only taken me 5 years to figure this out. What can I say — I don’t have the most finely tuned ear. But from now on I think I’ll stop using the same old pronunciation guides that worked for students in SoCal (and for me) and adapt some for my NCS-ing students.
But, anyway, what I really didn’t know but learned on the PBS site is that my own cot/caught merger is something that only happened in my region starting with my generation. That explains so much! See, once upon a time our next-door-neighbor’s son Don was dating a woman named Dawn and I thought this was totally perplexing because I could NOT hear or articulate the differences in those names’ vowels. But my Boomer age siblings — and maybe Virgo Sis and Fast Fizzy can attest to this, if they remember — couldn’t understand why I couldn’t hear the difference. Turns out I was on the cutting edge of a phonological change in my regional speech! Awesome!