Wars on Language, 1917.

Dong Hyun Kang (a senior at Seoul International School with “a keen interest in historical and comparative linguistics”) writes (pdf) for Babel: The Language Magazine about the anti-German campaign in America and the anti-French campaign in German-ruled Alsace during WWI; it’s a sad tale full of linguistic interest, and I recommend the whole thing (four pages), but I’ll excerpt the same bit of patriotic peevery Trevor tempted me with when he sent me the link:

The Chicago Woman’s Club, whose prominent members included Jane Addams and Lucy Flower, suggested that public education in America make it mandatory for children to recite the Watch Your Speech pledge, which actually became a reality in 1918. Schoolchildren found themselves saying “I love my country’s language. I promise: (1) that I will not dishonor my country’s speech by leaving off the last syllables of words; (2) that I will say a good American ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in place of a foreign ‘ya’ or ‘yeh’ and ‘nope’; (3) that I will do my best to improve American speech by avoiding loud harsh tones, by enunciating distinctly and speaking pleasantly, clearly and sincerely.”

Nice work, Dong Hyun Kang, and thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. “Foreign ‘ya’ or ‘yeh’”—really?

    It appears in printed US English starting in the late 1800s. It could be a German thing.

  2. Back in the ’70s, I had an elderly elementary school teacher with a couple of interesting peeves. She insisted that words like “white” or “which” should be pronounced as “hwhite” and “hwhich,” which is not at all the way anyone talks in my state (Arizona). She also wanted everyone to say “yes,” not “yeah,” which is what we really said, or “yah,” which no one ever said, but she accused us of saying. Even at the time, I thought “yah” sounded German and wondered if she had a problem with Germans.

  3. That pledge, or an extended version, can be found in at least one vintage reader. McGuffey’s, maybe. We had it floating around when I was a kid, and there were other details like never pronouncing the t in often. It was such an odd collection of peeves when you get right down to it, and I’ve never forgotten that some of the children using these textbooks were not, of course “good Americans” but were immigrants.

  4. Isn’t “nope” the most American thing?

  5. Trond Engen says:

    Yep.

  6. Welp, maybe.

  7. OE ġēa [jæːɑ], “quod est, lingua Anglorum, verbum adfirmandi et consentiendi” (Beda Venerabilis).

  8. David Eddyshaw says:

    Is the business about Alsatians being pro-German actually right? I remember as a kid being made to read something in French by an Alsatian from the period between the Franco-Prussian War and the First World War which went on at some length about how the wicked Germans were suppressing the natural Frenchness of Alsace. On the other hand, this was a French class, so I suppose that you wouldn’t really have expected to be reading passages about how Alsace was yearning to be properly German.

    Dong Hyun Kang is muddled about Alsatian, which he doesn’t seem to realise actually is a German dialect. I expect he’ll get it sorted out when he achieves his aim of majoring in linguistics, though.

  9. Sur la toiture de l’école, des pigeons roucoulaient tout bas, et je me disais en les écoutant :

    « Est-ce qu’on ne va pas les obliger à chanter en allemand, eux aussi ? »

  10. A significant chunk of Alsatians, I heard, love France but despise the Welsch, which must be a quite natural things to do for human beings.

  11. David Eddyshaw says:

    @SFReader:

    Well found! It may well have been that, that I was confusedly remembering. In which case, not by an actual Alsatian at all (and Daudet has a pretty transparent agenda. Horrid man.)

  12. The Daudet thing has a less well-known sequel, where the new German teacher, a brutal man called Herr Klotz arrived. The brutalized little Gaspard moaned at the end of the story, in Allemannic with the correct Swabian value of a, “Losso mi fort gen, herr Klotz…”

  13. David Eddyshaw says:

    Ah. R E Keller’s “German Dialects” (from 1961, since when I imagine things have changed greatly) says re Alsace and Alsatian:

    “As the langue de culture [French] is the medium of learned, cultural or written commercial and administrative intercourse … the haute bourgeoisie adopted French before the middle of the nineteenth century and stuck to it throughout almost half a century of annexation to the German Reich as a Reichsland. All other classes, i.e. 90% of the population, have retained their native German dialect as the everyday spoken medium. Even after the stirring experience of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire had made the Alsatians Frenchmen in spirit, NHG played an important part as a literary medium …

    ….The annexation to the Reich in 1871 meant first of all a severe cutting back of French … the bulk of the population grew up practically ignorant of the language of the nation to whom they continued to feel spiritually linked.”

    I think the story of Alsatian is a bit different from what Dong Hyun Kang takes it to be; fundamentally it reflects an older concept of nationhood in which it was not taken for granted that nationality and language must inevitably be aligned.

  14. David Eddyshaw says:

    Wikipedia says

    A 1999 INSEE survey counted 548,000 adult speakers of Alsatian in France, making it the second most-spoken regional language in the country (after Occitan). Like all regional languages in France, however, the transmission of Alsatian is on the decline. While 43% of the adult population of Alsace speaks Alsatian, its use has been largely declining amongst the youngest generations.

  15. I first read Daudet’s story in Uyghur translation. Achieves same intended effect as far as I can tell.

    “Ular bu kepterlernimu nimis tilida sayrashqa mejburlimas!” dep oylidim ichimde.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    Blackadder said “nope” in a very prominent position.

    a German dialect.

    Well, several. The dialect boundaries cross the Rhine at odd oblique angles.

  17. I think that some of these “peeves” should still be taught Even though many grammar rules have been thrown out the window, I feel that there should still be some indications of right and wrong, good and bad, formal and informal. For the past couple of decades, I get the feeling that anything goes. That’s not good because the language is something we need to groom and cultivate..

  18. She insisted that words like “white” or “which” should be pronounced as “hwhite” and “hwhich,” which is not at all the way anyone talks in my state (Arizona).

    This is standard in Scottish English. (It’s what the “h” is there for!)

    Perhaps she had not so much a peeve as an accent?

    I promise: (1) that I will not dishonor my country’s speech by leaving off the last syllables of words;

    I can’t think of any sort of accent that habitually drops the entire last syllable. Last letter, sure (goin’, doin’, thinkin’). But last syllable?

  19. I believe that is many anglophone accents, the vowel in “yeah” is somehow abnormal, whether phonetically or phonologically. Perhaps, in consequence, different speakers of the same accent may mentally map the same (abnormal) sound to different phonemes?

  20. marie-lucie says:

    She insisted that words like “white” or “which” should be pronounced as “hwhite” and “hwhich,” which is not at all the way anyone talks in my state (Arizona).

    I knew a woman from Oregon who spoke that way.

    And I had an Irish landlord who said fwite and fwich.

  21. I still pronounce /hw/ in those words, but my daughter doesn’t. Insisting on it is just silly.

  22. David Eddyshaw says:

    I too, and likewise with a daughter. Possibly that explains why she thinks I’m silly. There can be no other reason.

  23. Marie-Lucie: An Ulster Scot, most likely, rather than an Irishman proper.

    As for leaving off the last syllables of words, I suspect that has to do with using adverbs that don’t have -ly suffixes other than the standard ones like hard.

  24. Trond Engen says:

    Reed James: For the past couple of decades, I get the feeling that anything goes. That’s not good because the language is something we need to groom and cultivate..

    It’s not that anything goes. It’s that the conventions have changed and nobody told us. What was considered polite, friendly, nasty or lewd in our youth, or in the time of our grandparents, or in the age of the troubadours, isn’t the same as today. And still, much is the same. What we think is the end of civilization is just obsolete junk being thrown away for new (and in our day, lucky us, often more egalitarian) ideals. But not by any official dictum, only by constantly negotiated consensus. That’s why the rules always change, and why nobody ever tells us. The best we can do is accept it, get a coloured shirt for that wedding, and be happy for the young people having their day.

  25. marie-lucie says:

    JC: An Ulster Scot, most likely, rather than an Irishman proper.

    Possibly. I never asked him where exactly he was from.

  26. Does the comment system still eat Cyrillic? I tried to post something and it disappeared! Is there a workaround?

  27. Workaround: transliteration. Looks ugly, but it works

  28. David Marjanović says:

    This is standard in Scottish English. (It’s what the “h” is there for!)

    Americans who distinguish wh from w use [hʷ], which sounds quite different from the Scottish [ʍ].

  29. A propos nothing I thought readers here might enjoy this from a law blog: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/12/05/horace-google-westlaw-and-pursuant-vs-pursuant-to/?utm_term=.89bd5a1ea33c

    “Is the business about Alsatians being pro-German actually right? I remember as a kid being made to read something in French by an Alsatian from the period between the Franco-Prussian War and the First World War which went on at some length about how the wicked Germans were suppressing the natural Frenchness of Alsace.”

    Eddy, I think there were Alsatians and then there were Alsatians. My great-grandfather, L1 French speaker, born and bred in a house with statuettes of Napoleon everywhere in the California Gold Country in the 1800s, considered himself and the family Alsatian. He loathed anything German with a passion that did not comport with the rest of his gentle soul.

    I think this suggests a couple of things. It suggests that the issue of German in Alsace, of any variety, was a hot button issue because there was a lot of that kind of thing going on. I think it also suggests there’s some validity to something I read about ethnographic distributions in Western Europe where there’s a pattern of Germanic speakers below a certain elevation and Romance speakers above having to do with soil types and farming methods, especially plows, dating from the Migration Period.

  30. marie-lucie says:

    I don’t know the Alsace region and the only Alsatian I remember meeting was my German teacher, Monsieur Bechtel, a native speaker of Alsatian who spoke with a heavy Germanic accent and had no idea of what was hard for French students to learn. Other than that, the impression I have gotten from various sources is that Alsatians consider themselves neither French nor German but a separate ethnic group. Indeed the region was sometimes independent in the past but was shuffled time and again between its neighbours according to which of them won in frequent wars. On the other hand, the French revolution seems to have been quite popular in Alsace, as was Napoléon. But to this day, there are French laws and rules which do not apply in Alsace, for instance the separation of church and state, which was excepted when Alsace reverted to French sovereignty after being ruled by Germany for more than 40 years, and there are still traditional rules specific even to some single towns. During WW2 when most of France was under German occupation, Germany made often successful efforts to get young Alsatian men to enrol in the German army, and perhaps the ones who did so were rebelling against their parents as much as against France.

  31. A propos nothing I thought readers here might enjoy this from a law blog

    Good for Volokh — a very sensible approach to the question.

  32. Matthew Roth says:

    My undergrad advisor did a Fulbright in Strasbourg. Everyone whom he asked identified as Alsatian, even though they spoke mostly French with many also speaking Alsatian. This was in the mid-1990. Sadly, Alsatian has declined, as we can see above.

    As to Volokh, “pursuant (something)” is a Frenchism, IMHO.

  33. per incuriam says:

    An Ulster Scot, most likely, rather than an Irishman proper

    I think not. This fw- pronunciation is characteristic of native Irish-speakers. Flann O’Brien readers may recall “Phwat is yer nam?”, a recurring question in the spoof novel An Béal Bocht

    Wh- words borrowed into Irish are typically spelt with initial f.

    the region was sometimes independent in the past but was shuffled time and again between its neighbours according to which of them won in frequent wars

    Alsatians are wont to remark that in all those wars they always came out on the winning side.

    A notable relic of the German period is the fact that trains run on the right.

  34. Americans who distinguish wh from w use [hʷ], which sounds quite different from the Scottish [ʍ].

    How? Any good sound clips of the Scottish sound?

    (With apologies to the IPA.)

  35. Indeed, I remember that my father (born in the Irish ghetto of South Philadelphia) used to parody his former neighbors as saying /fwat ɪz pþæt/. But /f/ as distinct from /fw/ is I think northeast and insular Scots.

  36. David Eddyshaw says:

    /f/ for /hw/ is indeed regarded in Scotland as stereotypically Aberdeenshire. “Fit?”

  37. Greg Pandatshang says:

    Americans who distinguish wh from w

    Supposedly there are still some American accents where making the distinction is routine (although I don’t recall noticing it myself). Then there is the subset of people who prefer to insist on it despite it being uncommon in their milieu. The latter might plausibly have a different realisation than the former.

    I’d be curious to what extent English speakers in different regions can produce [ʍ] (or [hʷ]) fluently even if it has been lost in their everyday speech. That is the case for me: I think of /ʍ/ as a native sound even though I normally never use it. I guess that’s because I learned it in school when I was little and they told us it was an English sound (although iirc they did not pressure us to use it; I considered it optional). I can produce it more comfortably than other /h/+approximant initial sequences that don’t occur in English, for instance if I wanted to emphasize the difference between “which” and “witch”. I’ve also noticed myself using /ʍ/ when doing religious chants; as if it were part of a marked religious register like “thee” and “thou”.

  38. marie-lucie says:

    Greg: Supposedly there are still some American accents where making the distinction is routine

    The woman I know, from Oregon, always makes the distinction. She must be in her sixties now.

  39. Greg Pandatshang says:

    Well, yeah, but I think some people use /ʍ/ for idiosyncratic reasons. So you’d need to know how the rest of her speech community talks to get a sense of, basically, whether or not it’s a spelling pronunciation for her.

  40. Don’t most anglophones realise /hj/ as [ç] rather than [hj]? When I naively attempt to pronounce “Hreiðarsson” or “Rolihlahla” I am aiming at /hr/ or /hl/ and probably fortuitously producing something like [r̥] or [ɬ]. It seems harder to produce a phonotactically alien /hC/ than a phonetically alien unvoiced sonorant.

  41. David Marjanović says:

    How? Any good sound clips of the Scottish sound?

    I first heard it in a special feature of a Dr Who DVD by Steven Moffat. As it turns out, however, that was a monologue where he kept his accent consistent, which he doesn’t do otherwise – he’s got a continuum between full-blown Scottish English and RP. So I just spent way too much time on YouTube listening to him saying [w]. The only exceptions I found are here at 3:09, where there’s – surprisingly enough – a [hʷ] or possibly a [hʍ], and maybe at 9:03 where a wh is too short for me to tell whether it’s voiced (closely following another that is clearly voiced).

    Don’t most anglophones realise /hj/ as [ç] rather than [hj]?

    Many do; not sure about most.

  42. marie-lucie says:

    Don’t most anglophones realise /hj/ as [ç] rather than [hj]?

    I don’t remember anyone saying [hj] with two phonetic segments. It is either [ç] or [j], the first one very widespread in North America. That’s why many Americans are mocking Trump’s pronunciation of “huge” as “yuge”.

    I am surprised that in the same places the car manufacturer’s name Hyundai is usually pronounced “hundai”, when I would expect [çundai] or [yundai].

  43. Greg Pandatshang says:

    I’ve noticed before that English-speakers often believe they cannot pronounce /hj/~/ç/ if it isn’t part of a sequence including the “long u” /ju/ vowel, as in “huge”, since that’s the only environment where it occurs in native English words. Now, you could say /hjundaɪ/, but /u/ or /ju/ isn’t the vowel you’d expect upon seeing “undai”. So, I imagine people see “Hyundai” and figure, well, it has to end with /ʌndaɪ/~/ʊndaɪ/ and it should probably start with /h/, and /hjʌndaɪ/~/hjʊndaɪ/ is infeasible, so we’ll just have to ignore the “y” and read it as if it were “Hundai”. Note that “y” never indicates /j/ in English except in morpheme-initial position.

  44. Thanks, David. I might just look for that DVD at the library.

  45. In the original Hyundai commercials aired in the U.S., the announcer clearly says [hʌndei], “like Sunday”. I would assume that that fully explains the current U.S. pronunciation.

    As for “yuge”, I don’t think Trump would be mocked for it if it were widespread. WP says the hew-you merger is confined to NYC, Philadelphia, and Cork (Ireland). I, born just outside the NYC dialect area, don’t have it. Reduction to [ç] on the other hand is widespread and probably idiolectal rather than dialectal.

  46. David Marjanović says:

    Bernie Sanders, too, is from NYC, says ‘uge, and has even mocked himself for it.

  47. Note that “y” never indicates /j/ in English except in morpheme-initial position.

    More than fifty years of learning and self-learning, and I never realized that. Are non-native speakers taught it?’

    Yoyo is an exception, though, unless you segment it into two cranberry morphs.

  48. David Marjanović says:

    Are non-native speakers taught it?

    Nope.

    Kenya seems to be an exception.

  49. Greg Pandatshang says:

    If we’re allowing country names, then I guess Myanmar is a notable exception. However, that explains why Anglophones not infrequently pronounce it /ˈmaɪ̯ænˌmaɹ/. I guess Kenya is a better example insofar as nobody ever mispronounces it as /kɛˈnaɪ̯ə/, so the /j/ realisation is consistent.

  50. Trond Engen says:

    It could be argued that -ya is analysed as a morpheme. Or that the rule is about syllables, not morphemes.

  51. Skye. Pyloric. Gyre, tyre. My.

    At least in some accents. I don’t know how picky you are about /aj/ vs. /aɪ/.

  52. Hyacinth.

  53. @Y: None of those words have /j/ in my accent, or any American accent I know.

  54. Greg Pandatshang says:

    There are also words like “guy, boy, toy, Roy, say, day”, where you could treat the “y” as a consonant /j/ if so inclined. Linking /j/ may tend to appear in extended forms like “saying, toying”, etc. Then there are words like “lawyer” and “bowyer” where the presence of the “y” is somewhat opaque, but I guess the -yer counts as its own morpheme. In practice, English readers will probably tend to guess that “y”=/j/ at the beginning of a syllable, but that is because in normally it is limited to morpheme-initial position in longstanding English words. That explains lack of confusion about “yoyo” and “Kenya” vs. confusion about “Hyundai” and “Myanmar”.

    P.S. every time I see “Skye” … well often when I see “Skye” … my brain tries to read it as Old Tibetan. So, in that case, yes, it has /j/.

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