10 December 2012

Rise Up Lights

When I first started the blog I covered the spelling of names but I saw something on Facebook last month that may get the point across better than any blog post. Many of us probably have a mental list, if not a physical one, of letters that are most commonly transcribed wrong - L and S; a, e and o; M, N and W. Still we may have trouble finding a record because we didn't consider the y or g or f hanging from the line above changing the look of a letter in the name we're searching for. On top of all that we have to factor in accents and pronunciation because, in the case of census records, the person writing the record would write what they heard. Correct spelling was not a high priority.

Okay, so the Facebook posting that triggered this post: Say "rise up lights" a few times quickly. Out loud. Now slow it down. Do you hear it?
If you don't I'll tell you after the jump.

ⓑⓐⓡⓚⓘⓝⓖ  ⓤⓟ  ⓣⓗⓔ  ⓦⓡⓞⓝⓖ  ⓣⓡⓔⓔ

You've been saying "razor blades" with an Australian accent. I know a few of you are thinking, "But my ancestors have been here since the Revolutionary War. This doesn't tell me why I can't find them in the 1930 census?" Do you know how long the enumerator for their district had been the the U.S.? Your ancestors may have migrated from a different part of the country. Their accent may be a regional one that the enumerator was unfamiliar with or the enumerator may have been the one to migrate. You need to picture yourself on both sides of the conversation.

Could they have grown up in the South and lived elsewhere as an adult?



Or lived in the South after growing up in Brooklyn? [Apologies for the label in the center. I didn't upload this but I think the title is a perfect example of what we're talking about.]



Accents can be influenced by class, culture, and of course by migration. This is by no means restricted to the US. Almost every country around the world has a wide variety of accents within its borders.

Say the names you're looking for out loud and stop to think about what they sound like.

I know I have readers in Australia and New Zealand and the "rise up lights" example doesn't work for you. Sorry about that. You can entertain yourself picturing Americans saying the phrase over and over because we think your accent is so cool. Seriously, once I start saying it I can't stop! To all readers outside the U.S.: Are there words that you can say that would sound like completely different words to an American ear?

If you'd like to hear examples of different accents try a YouTube search for "accent tag" and then whatever accent you'd like to hear. Think we could get all these people playing tag to say different surnames to help us out?

UPDATE: I always forget something. Good thing I have friends to remind me! From David, "don't forget that regional differences were much more extreme before the advent of radio, records, movies and television." We need to remember that someone who spent their entire life in one state may have never been exposed to accents from around the country much less around the world. They would have no frame of reference at all for certain accents.

UPDATE II (30 Jan 2013): A graphic, a video and be sure to check out the comments for more examples!

 A week after this post came out Ancestry.com put up a video on the same subject:




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6 comments:

  1. Great Post! My fiance is British and a running gag we have is when one of us can't understand the other and asking, "why can't you speak English????" The accent, choice of slang and even common words used differently (pants for example) make it an experience to have a conversation.

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  2. I love this post. It certainly has relevance for me as I research Southern records most of the time and I often find myself closing my eyes and repeating a name or phrase over and over until I "get it."

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    1. The next comment below has a great link (the 1st one). I wonder if anyone has done something similar the help describe the Southern drawl.

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  3. Years ago, there was a little book published in Australia called "Let Stalk Strine" by Afferbeck Lauder, which, if you read it aloud, gives you many clues to understanding what we say down here. NB, the vowel in 'strine' is a diphthong, which when properly pronounced, makes the word sound like a 2-syllable word - stry-yun.
    Actually in Strine, the afore-mentioned shaving implements are 'rise up lides' - it takles less breath to pronounce a 'd' than a 't' ... If you want a mild amusement, go to
    http://www.textfiles.com/humor/strine.txt
    for some extracts, and practise reading them aloud. For further info, see various Wikis, a couple of YouTube videos for sound, and an article in the Sydney Morning Herald for an update:
    http://www.smh.com.au/national/let-stalk-some-more-strine-20091023-hdcd.html

    I have family in 19C England, and have found the one woman listed as Ann, Anne, Anna, and Hannah (so far), and her family comes from the city of Leicester, recorded by various census-collectors as Lester, or Lister as well as Leicester. Always read things out loud, and remember what you hear on TV programs made in countries other than the US!

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    1. That's brilliant! Thanks Karen :-)

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  4. Here's some Chicago examples:

    1. Grachki (grach'-key): Chicagoese for "garage key" as in, "Yo, Theresa, waja do wit da grachki? Howmy supposta cut da grass if I don't git intada grach?"

    2. Sammich: Chicagoese for sandwich. When made with sausage, it's a sassage sammich; when made with shredded beef; it's an Italian Beef sammich, a local delicacy consisting of piles of spicy meat in a perilously soggy bun.

    3. Da: This article is a key part of Chicago speech, as in "Da Bears" or "Da Mare" -- the latter denoting Richard M. Daley, or Richie, as he's often called.

    4. Tree: The number between two and four. "We were lucky dat we only got tree inches of snow da udder night."

    5. Over by dere: Translates to "over by there," a way of emphasizing a site presumed familiar to the listener. As in, "I got the sassage at Jewels down on Kedzie, over by dere."

    6. Frunchroom: As in, "Get outta da frunchroom wit dose muddy shoes." It's not the "parlor." It's not the "living room." In the land of the bungalow, it's the "frunchroom," a named derived, linguists believe, from "front room."

    7. Use: Not the verb, but the plural pronoun 'you!' "Where use goin'?"

    8. Braht: Short for Bratwurst. "Gimme a braht wit kraut."

    9. Goes: Past or present tense of the verb "say." For example, Den he goes, 'I like this place'!

    10. "Jeetyet? Translates to, "Did you eat yet?"

    11. Cuppa Too-Tree: is Chicagoese for "a couple, two, three" which really means "a few." For example, "Hey Mike, dere any beerz left in da cooler over by dere?" "Yeh, a cuppa too-tree."

    12. Junk Dror: You will usually find the 'junk drawer' in the kitchen filled to the brim with miscellaneous, but very important, junk.

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