Is Y'uns Watchin?

"A hundred and fifty years ago rural blacks and whites sounded more alike than you might have thought. But today whites and inner city blacks sound more different than you might have hoped. After decades of civil rights advances, the implications are pretty sobering, because more separate languages mean more separate peoples."

Do you speak American? That was the question posed by Robert MacNeil in a three-hour program that premiered on PBS tonight. It's an overdue followup to his '80s TV series "The Story of English". If you missed it, PBS isn't saying yet when it will air again. But, the transcripts are available online, as are some bonus and background materials.

The program explores the fears, prejudices, regional pride, and historical context behind the way we speak. It's a history lesson, a sociological experiment, an ethnography, and a travelogue. I can't begin to summarize it, so instead, here are a few highlights.

My favorite new expression: "Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit." (Texas)


ROBERT: How would you describe the state of our language today?

JOHN SIMON: Unhealthy, poor, sad, depressing, um, and probably fairly hopeless.


Nobody wants to hear their brain surgeon say, 'Al’ight now what we're gonna do is, saw the top of your head off, root around in there with a stick and see if we can't find that dad burn clot.’


Well you know, you do have to be bilingual in this country. And that means you can be very very adept at slang, but you have to be adept at getting through a job interview.


In the original German version of the [BMW] interface, they chose a female voice. And German reactors, reacted very negatively saying that I don’t wanna be told how to drive by a woman. And in fact they actually had a product recall requiring them to in fact have a male voice instead.

ROBERT: But what about American men? I mean, they’re much more amenable to being told by women how to drive, aren’t they?

PROFESSOR CLIFF NASS: Well I don’t know that they’d wanna pay extra for it, though.


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