American Dialect: Alaska & Hawaii

In this final installment of our series on American dialect we take a look at the dialects spoken in the two newest states, Alaska and Hawaii. Both were American possessions since the 19th century and both were admitted to the Union in 1959. Other than that, they have very little in common. Alaska is the only arctic state and Hawaii is the only tropical one. Alaska is the largest state in terms of area (over twice the size of Texas the next competitor) and Hawaii is one of the smallest (47th of the 50). Hawaii, on the other hand, has nearly twice the population of Alaska.

Linguistically, both have a strong native influence, but the similarity stops there. Alaskan terms are strongly influenced by Tlingit and Inuit (with a faint hint of Russian dating back to the days before the Tsar sold Alaska to the US), while Hawaiian is a Polynesian language. Outside of a specialized vocabulary relating to the arctic environment, Alaskans speak a very standard form of American English. Most Alaskans are not natives, having moved there from the Lower-48. There are, however, distinct Hawaiian pronunciations and grammatical rules to the English spoken there.

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Word Of The Month: DNA

From the decoding of the human genome to the fiftieth anniversary of Watson and Crick’s discovery of its structure to the recent claim by Chinese scientists that they have created rabbit-human hybrid cells using cloning technology, DNA has been much in the news lately. Given that Watson and Crick’s discovery is ushering in a brave new world of biological revolution, it is only fitting that our word of the month should be:

Deoxyribonucleic acid, n., also DNA, a self-replicating chemical that carries the genetic information in the cell. DNA consists of two long chains of nucleotides twisted into a double helix and linked by hydrogen bonds between the complementary base pairs, adenine and thymine or cytosine and guanine. Thus the sequence of one strand can be replicated from its partner. The sequence of base pairs determines individual hereditary characteristics. The existence of nucleic acids has been known since the 19th century and DNA was differentiated from RNA in 1931. But DNA’s function in genetics was not fully understood until Watson, Crick, and Wilkins deciphered its structure and its process of self-replication in 1953.

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Humor: Military Linguistics

In the US military, confusion sometimes reigns because members of the four armed services do not always understand one another. Not only do the four services have their own uniforms, equipment, and traditions, they also have their own jargon. This is illustrated by fairly old joke about military jargon.

Take a simple command such as secure the building. One would think that this command would be rather unambiguous, but this is not necessarily so. Each of the four services interprets this command in its own, unique way.

If one tells an Army soldier to secure a building, he will occupy and prepare to defend it.

A Marine, on the other hand, when told to secure a building will attack and destroy it.

Tell a Navy man to secure the building and the sailor will turn out the lights and lock the door.

Finally, if you tell an Air Force airman to secure the building, he will take out a five-year lease with an option to buy.

Book Review: Dubious Doublets

Dubious Doublets, by Stewart Edelstein, is another in the long line of popular press etymology books. Two things, however, make this book stand out from the crowd. The first is the quality of the research and the second is Edelstein’s approach to the subject, examining pairs of seemingly unrelated words that share a common origin.

Edelstein is an amateur etymologist. A lawyer by trade, he brings over thirty years of private study to the subject and it shows. Although the book lacks source notes or a bibliography (Edelstein does provide a rather long list of books that are “recommended reading"), the etymologies he gives stand up to detailed scrutiny. Edelstein does not plump for questionable etymologies, nor does he attempt to pass off false etymologies with words like “some people believe.”

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Myths of Language Change, Part 3: It’s Never Been That Way Before & But It Makes Sense

The changing face of our language has created an interesting conundrum. On the one hand, people recognize and delight in the language change of the past. But on the other hand, people routinely resist current changes in the language. The language they learn as children is, for many, the only acceptable manner of speaking. Change is vehemently eschewed.

How people can revel in the changes of the past yet fiercely resist the changes of the present is just bizarre. And it is futile. The language will change whether we like it or not, and no amount of resistance will stop a change whose time has come.

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