One bright sunny morning I looked out the window and said in an offhand manner to my wife, Marsha, “I ain’t seen no dog friends out heeyah this mornin’.”

As I spoke, I thought to myself that this is the comfortable patois I use in my daily intercourse with family and friends.

It is the language used by most of the elderly neighbors I visited as a child. In 1944 the old people in my neighborhood were born in the 1870s and 1880s. Some had gone to sea or started to work in the quarries at the age of 12.

Today we seldom see a child playing outside, but before I discovered girls I spent a lot of time visiting elderly neighbors. I suppose they tolerated me because my grandfather or great-grandfather had tolerated them when they were small. Perhaps they wanted to pick my brain for gossip. Marsha is close to 70 now, and nothing seems to interest her more than what her friends and all their relatives are doing. So as I blabbed my way through the village in a mindless fashion, my child’s ear quickly absorbed the unique lexical items of my old neighbors – along with their grammar and suprasegmental phonemes.

My seventh-grade teacher felt obligated to purge us of what he considered to be substandard speech. His name was Mr. Bragdon. He hailed from metropolitan Ellsworth, so he spoke with a refined city accent. In 1945 he returned from foreign wars with a burning need to replace “gut” with “got.” As in, “I ain’t gut none.”

In other words, Mr. Bragdon tried to shame us out of using a language that had been the backbone of social intercourse in our coastal community for generations.

Some of my grade-school classmates had been hauling their “lopstuh” traps into a skiff or dory for years and would probably be married at 17, so learning how to itemize deductions like bait and potwop on an income tax form would have done them more good.

It is remarkable that after 70 years, it is easier to remember what we were told not to say than what it was we were taught to say.

Would you be able to forget that you must never say, “My father he dug some clams he did”? Even if your father did? My father’s hobby was digging clams and inviting his friend Russ Thomas in to help him and Mother eat them.

He fell into clamming by accident. When our neighbor, “Uncle” Thure, took me clamming and I got $1.37 for a hod of clams, my father raised his eyebrows and realized it was something worth looking into.

Most of us have several levels of language that we can trot out for appropriate occasions, usually without realizing we’ve shifted gears. Here are a couple of common ones. You can think of more.

• The language we use with our family and close friends.

• The language we use with the person who signs our paychecks.

• The language a rural person might use when trying to not sound like a hick. Never do it. This kind of speech makes one sound like a hick when, for example, a person tries to articulate an uncomfortable –ing, and ends up sounding like an explosion in a bedspring factory. Whenever I try to say “fork” like my wife, who was raised in Connecticut, it simply doesn’t work. Give up trying to sound like someone else.

Ever hear a hyperurbanism on a national news program? If you have ever visited Marsha and I (sic), you know all about them.

Then there is the language you might use while giving a speech or being interviewed on camera for broadcast. Even experienced public speakers often start out on a very formal level. But then, as they become more comfortable with the venue, they tend to relax and slip into their conversational model. Like anything else, you’ll notice this if you look for it.

Mr. Bragdon will always be revered by those he led down the narrow path of linguistic righteousness. It is ironic, however, that a man who labored to purify the language of his students married Almi, the daughter of Finnish immigrants. She taught school here in town for years and, although she was probably born in Thomaston, she spoke with a Finnish accent.

Time has morphed our coastal dialect into a valuable commodity: People will now pay to hear Gary Crocker or Tim Sample say, “You can’t get there from heeyah.”

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at:
www.thehumblefarmer.com/MainePrivateRadio.html


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