Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dialectus Illusivii

Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes.

Oh, my dear Oma Davidson.

I never met the woman, as she died before I was born. She was a little Dutch lady trying to make do in a dusty little farm town in Idaho.

I know only a few stories about her, about how she interacted with this new society and this new language. She expressed amazement at the friendliness of the people they met on the roads – “When they pass you, they always wave,” she said, not knowing the meaning of the one-finger salute she was getting as they drove down the road slowly in their jalopy.

She also loved going to the rummage sales – which she called “rummagie” sales.

This is the era when immigrants learned the language by hearing it, either at the movies or in passing conversation.

Just like Hyman Kaplan, creation of Leonard Q. Ross and star of “The Education of H*y*m*a*n K*a*p*l*a*n.” Kaplan is an immigrant – of possibly Polish or German extraction, it’s hard to tell – who populates an early equivalent of an English as a Second Language class with his mangled English, viz:

One night, Mrs. Moskowitz read a sentence, from “English for Beginners,” in which “the vast deserts of America” were referred to. Mr. Parkhill soon discovered that poor Mrs. Moskowitz did not know the meaning of “vast.” “Who can tell us the meaning of ‘vast’?” asked Mr. Parkhill lightly.

Mr. Kaplan’s hand shot up, volunteering wisdom. He was all proud grins. Mr. Parkhill, in the rashness of the moment, nodded to him.

Mr. Kaplan rose, radiant with joy. “’Vast!” It’s commink fromm direction. Ve have four diractions: do naut, the sot, the heast, and de vast.”

And so on: When corrected, Kaplan moves immediately to “Ven I’m buyink a suit clothes, I’m gattink de cawt, de pents, an’ de vast!”

The bit culminates in a big finish I won’t reveal here because, even as a half-Dutchman used to hearing accents and being accused of having a mild one myself, it took me a bit to figure out what Mr. Kaplan meant by “a big department.” This comes, of course, from a guy whose Dad tried once to tell a joke about “a black doot [dude]” to a crowd of fellow construction workers, only to have an electrician follow up the joke with a question: “What’s a doot?”

No comments:

Post a Comment