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A Chat With Seth Lerer

Date:Feb 6, 2008
Time:7 pm Pacific (GMT -8)
Topic:The Journey of the English Language
Duration:One hour

Scroll down for the transcript of the chat.

Seth Lerer is the author of Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language, and a professor at Stanford University. In the past he has taught at Princeton University, Washington University in St. Louis, and Cambridge University.

He has published eight books, more than one hundred articles, reviews, and chapters in books, including two chapters in The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature.

His scholarship has been recognized by the award of many fellowships and he has received numerous awards for teaching.

He is also a popular lecturer on the history and state of the English language. His audio and videotape series, The History of the English Language, for the Teaching Company has sold over sixty-thousand copies.

He was educated at Wesleyan University, Oxford, and the University of Chicago.

Transcript of the Chat

Anu Garg
Welcome to the 27th online chat at Wordsmith.Org!

Today, we have as our guest Seth Lerer, a professor at Stanford University and the author of "Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language". He is joining us from California.

Welcome, Seth Lerer.

Seth Lerer
Hello to everyone. Thank you very much I am delighted to be part of this exciting chat.

Anu Garg
The topic of today's chat is The Journey of the English Language.

Tom Doyle - DC
I very much enjoyed your Teaching Company lectures. Could you clarify something that you mentioned in them? You cited the Cornish accent that became “pirate talk” (due to the movie portrayal of Long John Silver) as an example of a form of English that had not completed the Great Vowel Shift. Some folks (without much authority) challenge this online -- have you or others written anything more detailed on this that I could point them to? And do you have anything further to say about it here?

Seth Lerer
Tom: not Cornish, but East Anglia, late 17th century English.

Tom Doyle - DC
Ah, that's a good start.

Anu Garg
A reader sent this question in email: "I would like to see some discussion of how words that originate in other languages, and especially those that come from languages that do not share our alphabet, get their English spellings. I'm particularly fascinated how a name like 'Iraq' ends up with a Q instead of a C or K at the end, and how all the Qs and Xs end up in the western spellings of Chinese words, but are not pronounced as those letters are typically pronounced in English."

Seth Lerer
A couple of questions in Anu's email: one: there are standard ways of transcribing words not in English. Two: words from other languages are often respelled into standard English forms. A good example: ketchup, from Chinese, kai-chap, a spicy condiment.

Tom Doyle - DC
Is English still positioned to be the global lingua franca of the 21st century, or will economic changes move other languages into the commercial and cultural forefront.

Seth Lerer
Tom: I think English is positioned to be the language of global economy and institutional life. A fascinating matter is the way in which it is the language of airline communication.

Matthew -- Atlanta
What about the name Nguyen. This name is pronounced n-wen Where does the 'g' come from?

Seth Lerer
Matthew: I'm not a speaker of Vietnamese, but my guess is that there is a standard way of transcribing Vietnamese names that was set up by the French; so they may work better in French than in English.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
Actually the Vietnamese orthography was set up by the Portuguese before the French arrived. Ng is a velar nasal like the ng in sing.

Seth Lerer
Jim: Thanks so much! I knew I'd learn from everyone on this chat. Thanks.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
You're welcome.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
What do you think has been the biggest change in the English language in the last 100 years?

Seth Lerer
Jim: the rise in idioms -- expressions that go beyond changes in single word use or added loanwords; such idioms come from popular culture and music and have had a huge impact on the "feel" of English.

Betty-Maryland
But weren't Chinese unhappy about English speakers calling their city Peking, so we now have to say Beijing?

Seth Lerer
Betty: you may be right; those with a better knowledge of Chinese than I have may wish to weigh in.

Laura M - New York State
Can you address the speed of change over time in the English language? With so much standardization (spelling and pronunciation) now, do you see future changes happening more slowly, or more quickly?

Seth Lerer
Laura M: great question: some things are getting more standard, but others are changing greatly; lots of spelling changes are happening through e-mail and IM, music, and rap conventions, but I think we are seeing a gradual leveling out of traditional regional dialect pronunciations due to media.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
Do you feel that there's been an increase in idioms? Or that there's a better chance of them being recorded?

Seth Lerer
Jim: I think there really are more idioms coming in; I think English is becoming a more idiomatic language than it had been in the past.

Laura M - New York State
I'll miss that! I love regional differences...

Seth Lerer
Laura: I love regional difference, too -- I miss the old New York sounds of my 50s childhood.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
How about the North Central vowel shift which Labov has been studying?

Seth Lerer
Jim: Yes, it's an interesting example.

Seth Lerer
Jim: what in particular are you interested in?

russ
Do you think texting will drive the language in any significant way? Abbreviation seems essential to Internet communication but will "BTW" become part of verbalization?

Seth Lerer
Russ: I do hear my students actually talking in IM abbreviations; I don't know if this will really change things or if it's just affectation.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
As an example of pronunciation changing even though the orthography remains the same ... Many Anglophones mispronounce Beijing, too. The j is a dzh and not a zh like in azure.

Matthew -- Atlanta
Betty, Peking is an antiquated pronunciation that caught on and never really went away. A similar example, but in Thailand, is Bangkok. The name of the port was Bangkok, but the city is something like Phreng Thep. Everyone still erroneously calls it Bangkok, though.

Seth Lerer
Matthew: Thanks so much for the clarification.

bb-Bellingham
As I watch CNN news, I often hear ads for the "Nutrisystem" diet. That ad, and many others, use "good" instead of "well"--"it works so good". It drives me nuts! Do you think advertising is shaping our language in its attempt to appeal to the viewer?

Seth Lerer
BB: yes, advertising has shaped our language for over 150 years. H. L. Mencken's American English is very good on this history.

Alicia Law - Calif.
What is the basis of the English language?

Seth Lerer
Alicia: Wow: well, English began as a Germanic language, and then changed through contact with Romance languages, lost its system of grammatical gender and case endings, changed its syntax, added vocabulary terms, and shifted in pronunciation... The big story of English is really how it has changed so much in the past 1000 years -- almost unrecognizable.

Fortunato - Richmond Old Virginny
Less versus fewer. Where do you come down on the prescriptive v. descriptive grammar debate? Is there such a thing as correct English? Is this the sort of linguistic dictatorship up with which we should not put?.

Seth Lerer
Fortunato: Well, I'm a descriptivist at heart, but I grew up being taught that there was something just plain "good" about grammatically correct English; so while I don't want to be a linguistic dictator, some things still make me squirm.

Betty-Maryland
Matthew... do you know how all these changes drive someone my age crazy? :) I'm just trying to learn countries in post-colonial Africa (map is so different from one I learned in 1948).

Matthew -- Atlanta
Africa draws a new map every six weeks. Good luck!

Betty-Maryland
Matt, lol.

Laura M - New York State
As for more changes over time...how long do you think it would take (or could it even happen again as in the past) for our descendants to have trouble reading what we write (or understanding what we say, in recordings) now?

Seth Lerer
Laura M: Hard to say; my students are having trouble making sense of Charles Dickens; so who knows what things will look like in a century.

Tom Doyle - DC
Do you feel a show like The Tudors misses something by modernizing all the language, leaving very little of the feel of how people spoke to one another then? Or is that just inevitable for entertainment?

Seth Lerer
Tom: that's entertainment, I'm afraid.

bb-Bellingham
Do you have an opinion about the use of grammar that's outside of the rules we were taught? Do we just go for change or hold a standard? (I know how the French feel :)

Seth Lerer
bb: I believe that when I'm teaching a college class, students should write according to the standards set for the class; how they speak or write to each other, that's up to them.

wordnerd
Professor Lerer, what is it that makes you "squirm"?

Jean - Oregon
It is already sometimes difficult to understand the Scots.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
It's really a matter of register.

Seth Lerer
Jim: Register, yes; sometimes it's hard to draw the line between register and grammar.

Fortunato - Richmond Old Virginny
I guess my concern from a social point of view is that prescriptive grammar tends to divide societies into the linguistically competent and the linguistically incompetent.

Fortunato - Richmond Old Virginny
The intellectual haves and have nots.

Seth Lerer
Fortunato: I agree.

Betty-Maryland
Prof. Lerer, Has the possessive before the gerund disappeared from English? I've asked about younger acquaintances, and none have heard of it.

Matthew -- Atlanta
I learned grammar from one Strunk and White's books, but I've found several English instructors who disagree with some of it.

Seth Lerer
Whoa, so fast!

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
Yes, but most descriptivists I know, write standard English. They just don't exclude something from language because it differs from that standard. There's plenty of room of accents and dialects.

Seth Lerer
Jim: a healthy attitude, yes.

Alicia Law - Calif.
How did the English language get mixed up with the Romance languages-through what contacts?

Seth Lerer
Alicia: the Norman invasion of 1066 brought a range of French terms and syntax into English; over the next 300 years, English, known as "Middle English" had an increasing Romance vocabulary, and attendant changes in sound and sense.

bb-Bellingham
But will they even know what's "correct"? I hear my kids' generation (college students) knowingly speak outside the rules and feel as if it's just the new way to speak/write.

Seth Lerer
bb: As long as they know the rules when they're in my class, I'm (as they say), down with that.

rover-Minnesota
My son, age 17, often uses the expression, "word". I don't know what he means by that. It appears to be random, but he and his friends seem to know what it means. Can you enlighten me?

Laura M - New York State
"Word" signifies agreement, generally... a sort of "Yep, you're right" statement.

bb-Bellingham
word!

Seth Lerer
rover: word; I have a sense (though others may know directly) that it comes from African-American idioms; ah, Laura, has it.

Jean - Oregon
What is a language anyway, other than a set of conventions.

Seth Lerer
Jean: To me, language is a set of social behaviors that enable communication.

Fortunato - Richmond Old Virginny
Another problem is how do we really "know" what is correct? To what extent are languages and grammars accidental, and rules arbitrary and even meaningless?

Seth Lerer
Fortunato: the idea of 'correctness' is fascinating; my sense is that as long as there have been speakers of language, there have been grammarians.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
Non-standard dialects have rules (or conventions), too.

rover-Minnesota
Thanks for the "word" definition. Any insight into its origin?

Laura M - New York State
rover: Not entirely; perhaps a twist on "What's the word on X," as in "give me an update on the situation"... but I have many friends who use it.

Seth Lerer
Rover: origins of "word" -- I'm throwing it open to the group.

Jean - Oregon
Word = "I dig" from the 50s and 60s.

Seth Lerer
Jean: Sounds right to me.

Fortunato - Richmond Old Virginny
I don't know where I come down on the debate - I find it endlessly fascinating - like free will versus determinism. There are strong arguments on both sides.

Betty-Maryland
Am I the only person here concerned about the possessive before the gerund? ;)

Seth Lerer
Betty: sorry, I just can't type that fast; can you give us an example?

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
Betty, I'm not sure it wasn't "borrowed" from Latin. Do you know if it occurred in Old English?

Betty-Maryland
E.G., I don't like his going on a trip; most now say, I don't like him going on a trip.

Seth Lerer
Betty: I see what you mean; I think it's part of the larger move towards -ing forms that begins in the late 16th century.

Jean - Oregon
Isn't or wasn't there an expression, "The man's got the word."

Betty-Maryland
Prof. Lerer, but is the rule now defunct? I spent so much time in the 4th grade learning it.

Seth Lerer
I bet we could go online to the Oxford English Dictionary and find "word" in this new sense, perhaps.

Matthew -- Atlanta
I think you're saying two different things, Betty. I don't like his going on a trip -- this means I don't like the circumstances. I don't like him going on a trip -- this means I don't like him when he's going on a trip.

Seth Lerer
Betty: I'm afraid it may be defunct. I know how you feel. I learned so many things specifically about, e.g., shall and will in elementary school that are now irrelevant.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
Are grammatical rules defunct when people stop using them?

Seth Lerer
Jim: maybe we should say that forms of communication often bleed from conventions to rules and that when we stop accepting things as rules, they become social conventions or parts of register.

Laura M - New York State
Change! It's all around us! ;)

Betty-Maryland
Matthew, no, that is not what I learned in 4th grade. I learned that a gerund takes the possessive.

Matthew -- Atlanta
I misunderstood.

Betty-Maryland
Jim, I'm prolly one of seven people in USA still using possessive before the gerund. :)

Seth Lerer
Betty: Eight, including me.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
It's OK with me.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
Interesting distinction.

Betty-Maryland
Prof. Lerer, ;)

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
Whenever I pronounce err as err (instead of air), people often try to correct me. I find it funny when folks say "To air is human". I usually agree with them.

Seth Lerer
Jim: Try distinguishing between marry, merry, and Mary in certain parts of the country.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
Yes, I still distinguish between cot and caught, but my wife doesn't.

Sparteye -- Michigan
My husband considers my pronunciation of "forte" -- fort -- a futile gesture.

Betty-Maryland
If we are having trouble with marry, merry, & Mary, think of trouble people having whose mother tongue is not English.

Seth Lerer
Betty: a fascinating version of this discussion goes on in the 16th century, too, when people from Europe are learning English and trying to master dialect differences in Britain. Nothing is new, I'm afraid.

Tom Doyle - DC
It's a shame this isn't audio -- I've enjoyed your recorded recreations of historical pronunciations.

Tara Gallagher - Bozeman
I'm from the Midwest where we pronounce the Mary, merry, marry all the same - my son's name is Harry, which I pronounce Hairy, though I hear East Coasters say Haaaa-rry.

Seth Lerer
Tom and Tara: yes, it's hard to evoke these sounds by typing; but I gather we all have experiences of dialect difference. My question is, what happens when these differences get leveled out over time. Will we lose something about ourselves?

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
I like how the pronunciation and spelling of admiral changed. The 'd' doesn't really belong there.

Seth Lerer
Jim: Off the top of my head, I'd say that this is one of those 18th century learned respellings (like perfect, which was always parfait, or perfet, from French -- respelled to look like Latin).

bb-Bellingham
Prof. Lerer: Have you found any considerations of the change in movie/film English over the 20th Century? The pronunciation seems to harken back to British English, but I'm not sure if that's what's going on--could be a Hollywood thing.

Seth Lerer
BB: I think there is a real difference between pre WWII English in movies and post WWII English -- I think WWII changed the sound and idiom of English greatly.

Betty-Maryland
Prof. Lerer, Is it easy or difficult for non-English-speaking pilots to learn proper English for flying? Just so I'll know how tightly to grab the arms of my seat on my next flight.

Seth Lerer
Betty: Sometimes, when I listen in to the cockpit chatter, I can hear what you're talking about.

Jean - Oregon
Remember the Russian school children who died in the air crash on their way to Switzerland. It was a tower to cockpit misunderstanding. [It was not. -Ed.]

Betty-Maryland
Jean, a tower to cockpit language misunderstanding? That's chilling.

Tara Gallagher - Bozeman
I enjoy the dialect differences very much... I have friends from the South who deliberately practice to lose their southern drawl - I think they should celebrate their heritage, and keep it!

Laura M - New York State
Tara: I had a friend in college from Maryland, with the same name as mine, who pronounced her version very differently! She said it much like as it is spelled, stressing the "au" sound; I say something more like "Lora".

Tara Gallagher - Bozeman
Laura: I'm Tar-a, where most in US pronounce my name Terra, it's a shame to me.

Jean - Oregon
Two words that I am often teased about are 'route' and 'roof'. I'm from the East Coast, but now live out West.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
I'm not convinced that dialects are being leveled. It seems more like they're changing, along with the standard.

Seth Lerer
Jim: Yes they're changing, along with the standard; but I'm wondering if we still think of ourselves as regional speakers -- still define ourselves by dialect?

Tom Doyle - DC
From a writer's perspective, when we lose dialect, I think we lose part of the distinctiveness of setting that makes a story interesting.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
I agree Tom.

Seth Lerer
Tom: a good point; my question is have we replaced regional speech with educational or economic levels of speech.

rover-Minnesota
Is anyone else concerned about the ubiquity of "customer" to replace words like passenger, clients, patron?

Seth Lerer
Rover: I'm concerned; but I guess I have to become accustomed to being a customer.

Matthew -- Atlanta
Rover: Customer isn't even vogue anymore. Now customer is being displaced by guest.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
Could be. I have a better feel for German dialects of the Rhineland. They're still awfully vibrant. Other European countries, too.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
But, Dr Lerer, I know many people who speak Standard English professionally but some regional dialect socially.

Seth Lerer
Jim: I do too; it's a good point and an important distinction. What happens when our children lose their parents' regional dialect? So much movement in this country

Jean - Oregon
Jim, that's the standard in most European countries.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
My point being that many people have kept two or more registers separate for a long time without problem.

Seth Lerer
Jim: Yes. I'm just wondering if things are changing.

Matthew -- Atlanta
Lerer, do you think the usage council is too lenient when accepting new definitions for words?

Seth Lerer
Matthew: hard to say, except on a word by word basis.

Fortunato - Richmond Old Virginny
One problem is observer bias. Can we be sure that we are accurately sampling the language, or are we imposing our expectations on the results?

Seth Lerer
Fortunato: The answers we get are conditioned by the questions we ask; so yes, it's hard to get unfiltered linguistic responses when we try to figure out how people are talking.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
Things are always changing!

Anu Garg
Speaking of regional accents, do you have any theories on why people in the US find the British accent so fascinating?

Matthew -- Atlanta
I suppose I notice when it bothers me more than when it's helpful for me.

Jean - Oregon
Brittany Spears seems to like the English accent : - )

Seth Lerer
Anu: people in the US have been fascinated by British dialect and accent since the 1830s. I think it's a sense of looking at a culture that defines itself, at least in part, by speech.

Jean - Oregon
I've beeeeen to see the queeeeen. Does that impress you?

Seth Lerer
Jean: Only if you really have seen her.

Laura M - New York State
I've always been fascinated by other accents - I love Welsh English, South African English...musical to my ears.

Seth Lerer
Laura: I was in a bar in LA and ordered a Manhattan and the guy said: sounds more like a Brooklyn.

Laura M - New York State
Hah!

Tara Gallagher - Bozeman
To mine as well, I love accents, and can't help slipping into what I'm hearing wherever I am...

Seth Lerer
Tara: do you think of accent as a kind of mask that we put on, or do you think of accent as a part of our personality that we may mask with "standard speech"?

Laura M - New York State
My friend from France always answers "South Brooklyn" when someone asks where she's from...

Seth Lerer
Laura: the deep south.

Laura M - New York State
Yup.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
It used to be that way in the UK, where public school spent a lot of time drilling RP [Received Pronunciation] into its students who spoke different regional varieties of English.

Tara Gallagher - Bozeman
Hmmm... I truly can't help mimicking what I hear... but, I have noticed that it helps me to be accepted by people who might have some barriers up toward me...

Jean - Oregon
I was recently on a cruise to New Zealand, Tasmania and Australia. We were predominantly Europeans, Americans, and Canadians. Each new couple one met had its own variety of English.

Tom Doyle - DC
I've noticed that British readers voicing an American character have a standard accent that sounds a bit to the west of the American average -- either they find that accent the easiest to reproduce, or it sounds interesting/amusing to them.

Seth Lerer
Tom: Yes, there is a "stage" American for the British.

Tara Gallagher - Bozeman
Not a deliberate mask, but perhaps, an accidental one - and helpful.

Betty-Maryland
Prof. Lerer, I grew up in New Orleans, but then lived in Boston for 35 years. When I returned to live in N.O., I could hear the N.O. accent, but not after about five years. What goes on in the brain that makes that happen?

Laura M - New York State
Yes - I come down on the side of using a 'standard' speech to mask our regional origins.

rover-Minnesota
I would be interested in Dr. Lerer's comments on how words that are adopted into English from a specific local culture, such as India, are spread to the rest of the English-speaking world.

Seth Lerer
rover: Many words are coming in through cooking, popular culture, and other forms of contact.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
Tara: Some linguists refer to it as accommodation. Prof Trudgill is big on it. To further communication, you accommodate the other speaker.

Tara Gallagher - Bozeman
Thanks Jim, nice to have the name for it.

Seth Lerer
On accents, I'm convinced that as we age, earlier forms of our speech come back to us, like hidden memories; and yes, there are times, too, when we accommodate or adapt to other speakers.

Fortunato - Richmond Old Virginny
Dr. Lerer: Is there such a thing as "linguistic imperialism"? Should Asians in general and the Chinese in particular be concerned that the latest fashion trend toward teaching English as a Foreign Language is a thinly-veiled first new step toward Anglo socio-economic colonial conquest?

Seth Lerer
Fortunato: Linguistic imperialism: I wouldn't want to weigh in without thinking about it in detail, but I think that cultures in power, for the past 2000 years, have imposed linguistic forms on the societies they tend to dominate.

Fortunato - Richmond Old Virginny
The last gasp of the British Empire?

Marcus - NYC
Why did we lose separate words for formal and informal 'you' in English while they continue in (all?) other languages?

Seth Lerer
Marcus: the formal and informal forms of you -- you as formal, thou as informal -- begin to disappear in the 17th century, and are just about forgotten by the early 19th.

On you and thou: a plug for my own book, Inventing English: I have a full discussion of these distinctions throughout; it's fascinating, complex, and one of the things that, yes, distinguishes English from the other European languages.

Jean - Oregon
I've learned to always pronounce someone else's last name the way they prefer it to be pronounced, no matter how wrong you personally think they are.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
Somebody mentioned the English used in movies between the wars. I heard it was a kind of mid-Atlantic accent created to blend between RP and US English. After sound came in in the late '20s.

Seth Lerer
Jim: Very true; now listen to what is called "Estuary English" on the BBC or on popular British TV; very different.

Tom Doyle - DC
Has anyone done an extended recreation of Shakespeare as originally pronounced?

Seth Lerer
Tom: Yes; there's a wonderful bit in Ian McKellen's video, "Acting Shakespeare" where he does Macbeth in early 17th century pronunciation.

Jean - Oregon
Most German youth has now done away with the formal "Sie" in favor of a unbiquitous 'Du'.

Jean - Oregon
Unbiquitous.

Jean - Oregon
For some reason an 'n' keeps coming through there, but I don't want it.

Seth Lerer
Jean: so I've heard; we're all informal now.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
Jean, I found out it's almost as much an insult to say Sie to somebody you're on a du basis with as vice versa.

Jean - Oregon
Typing too fast, I presume.

Jean - Oregon
Das stimmt, Jim.

Fortunato - Richmond Old Virginny
Jean, je prefere unbiquitous moi-meme.

Seth Lerer
Jim: I've heard that, too; though I err on the other side, invariably.

Seth Lerer
Unbiquitous: a new coinage; let's see if it catches on.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
Me, too. Tja, Jean.

Tara Gallagher - Bozeman
I think tu is becoming more commonly used by the French youth as well.

Seth Lerer
The larger question may be whether the loss of the formal/informal distinction is an influence of English (esp. American) on world languages. Any thoughts?

russ
I was told that Shakespearean English was well preserved in the hills of North Carolina. That was 40 years ago...

Seth Lerer
Russ: certain sounds, yes; but not the language as a whole; there are parts of Kentucky where, in the early 20th c, the words "join" and "line" rhymed, as they did in the 17th c.

Betty-Maryland
In New Orleans, the distinction continues: e.g., Ms. Smith, Ms. Betty, Betty.

Jean - Oregon
Absolutely. The Germans don't have the aversion to English that the French have.

Laura M - New York State
Oh, there's a wonderful dialect of (I think) Elizabethan-era English on Ocracoke Island, NC.

Seth Lerer
Laura: It's true that some of the Carolina islands preserve some pronunciations from the time of the settlement.

Betty-Maryland
Prof. Lerer, perhaps more the expansion of democracy? Not so much emphasis on social class?

Seth Lerer
Betty: Perhaps, yes. But I do see a lot of class stratification in speech, and I wonder how much of our spoken identity is defined by class rather than region.

Laura M - New York State
I think class does have a big part in this; "proper" English was taught as a way to transcend class.

Seth Lerer
Laura: I was taught to speak in a way that would get me to transcend, or move out of, my social class; speech was, in some sense, a social accomplishment.

Betty-Maryland
Where do you see this class stratification, besides UK and New Orleans?

Jean - Oregon
A major complaint about standardized testing, i.e. SATs, is that it discriminates against certain social classes.

Seth Lerer
Jean: I'm afraid that may be true; I remember an SAT analogy that expected the student to know that a "regatta" was a yacht race; pretty class specific, I think.

Fortunato - Richmond Old Virginny
Is there really a social class system in the Western world though? I seem to experience more of an economic class system, where filthy lucre is the only way anyone really keeps score anymore.

Seth Lerer
Fortunato: point taken; perhaps economic class has displaced social class. So my question: can one sound rich?

Fortunato - Richmond Old Virginny
Hence the ascendance of Donald Trump, who wields the intellectual acumen of a tapeworm.

Seth Lerer
Fortunato: I guess you anticipated my question and implied an answer.

Fortunato - Richmond Old Virginny
I'm sorry, I insulted the tapeworm.

Tom Doyle - DC
Maybe urbanization has affected formal/informal as well -- hard to keep track of who's who in a mass society.

Seth Lerer
Tom: Especially as cities are often the sites of regional and social mixing: London of th 15th century is a great example; people coming from all over, changing the sound of the language. Same is true for American cities of the 1930s, I think.

Jean - Oregon
In Europe (here I go again), a well-educated person is far superior to a nouveau-riche person.

Tara Gallagher - Bozeman
It depends on the beholder - Jean.

Anu Garg
The chat ends in five minutes.

Jean - Oregon
But it's so interesting, Anu!

Seth Lerer
Well, I was in a store in Pasadena last week, and the clerk said: "You're so well spoken. Are you a lawyer." Anyone want to parse that one?

Betty-Maryland
Jean, cute.

Laura M - New York State
Another lawyer joke, eh?

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
Could be a compliment. Maybe not?

Jean - Oregon
Were you trying to convince him to give you something for nothing?

Tom Doyle - DC
Only TV lawyers speak well these days (and I'm a former lawyer).

Seth Lerer
Why are there no TV English professors, then?

Laura M - New York State
We could do with a few!

Seth Lerer
I'm available.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
There was one in Third Rock.

Tara Gallagher - Bozeman
Maybe you should write one!

Betty-Maryland
Tom, why are doctors always doctors, even when they retire? Aren't lawyers always lawyers?

Matthew -- Atlanta
Lawyers have a juris doctorate degree.

Seth Lerer
Professors are always professors, even online. It's been a wonderful conversation. Thank you all!!

Tom Doyle - DC
Yep, unless disbarred.

russ
Professor, thanks so much for the chat!

Matthew -- Atlanta
Doctor Doyle.

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
But a lawyer also has to pass the Bar.

Betty-Maryland
Prof. Lerer, thanks a bunch.

Tara Gallagher - Bozeman
Thank you Dr. Lerer!!

Laura M - New York State
Thanks!

Matthew -- Atlanta
Thank you, Lerer.

Anu Garg
Thank you, Seth Lerer, for taking part in this discussion.

For more, please see his book "Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language" or the video series "The History of the English Language" (from the Teaching Company).

Sparteye -- Michigan
Thank you.

Fortunato - Richmond Old Virginny
I feel like I spent an hour in Paul McCartney's living room!

Jean - Oregon
Vielen Dank!

Tom Doyle - DC
Thanks!

Jim Bisso - Sonoma
Thank you, Professor Lerer.

Fortunato - Richmond Old Virginny
Xie xie.

Fortunato - Richmond Old Virginny
Grazie.

Anu Garg
Thanks to all the participants for being a part of this discussion.

Seth Lerer
Thank you Anu, for setting up this wonderful forum.

Tara Gallagher - Bozeman
And thanks to you Anu too!

Anu Garg
Please send your feedback on Wordsmith Chat to (words at wordsmith.org) on how you enjoyed the chat and how we can make it better. Thank you.

Sparteye -- Michigan
Good night!

Laura M - New York State
Yes, thanks Anu!

Fortunato - Richmond Old Virginny
Zaijian!

Liz- Chicago
Thank you!

Anu Garg
Our next Wordsmith Chat guest will be Ben Yagoda, author of "When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It". The topic of the chat will be "Friend Me, Pimp My Ride, and Signage: Or, the Ever-Changing Parts of Speech". This event will take place on Mon, Feb 25, 6pm Pacific (GMT -8). See you then!

Seth Lerer's picture

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