17 August 2016

Watcha say?

I have lots of questions.  About Life and how to live it.  And about people and the choices they make as they live Life.  And about my particular life as I live with myself and interact with people.

I'm not talking about the deep mysteries:  why are we here?  what happens when we die?  If there's an after life, is there also a before life?  I ponder those mysteries too but that's not what I want to talk about today.

Today I'm looking at a little thing that I experience over and over in social settings but I just don't "get".  I've always considered myself an intelligent person but the absence of intelligence in this regard -- an apparent inability to look, learn something and apply the acquired knowledge -- makes me wonder about my so-called intelligence.

So here's what's up for consideration today:  In more than 9 out of every 10 verbal exchanges with people, their response to my first statement or question is either "What?" or "Huh?"  I don't include my students in this number because, given the context in which we interact, I understand that much of what I say is probably new information for them.  I encourage them to question what I say.

Yes, I recognize the issue of regional dialect. I've lived a lot of different places, each with its own distinctive dialect.  But this place, Holly Springs, MS, is the first place I've lived where people routinely seem unable to understand my speech. Judging from past experience in other places, I speak a kind of generic American dialect that is decipherable for most American listeners. 

But not here. 

I was sitting in Wendy's recently, one of the few wi-fi spots in town, taking care of online business and browsing social media.  Fox News blared from the big screen TV while a female crooned a pop tune through the restaurant's sound system. At a nearby table, the adults in a rambunctious family group were engaged in a lively discussion of something they'd just heard on TV, apparently able to understand everything the news anchor said.

As I passed the table I paused to alert the young woman holding the infant that "Her little shoe fell off." 


"The baby's shoe fell off.  It's under your chair," I intoned slowly while making eye contact.

"Oh!"  She bent to retrieve it.  "Thank you, ma'am."

I proceeded to the counter to order a beverage. "Welcometowendy'smayItakeyourorder," the young cashier trilled as I approached.  After considering my options for a few seconds, I said "I'd like the green tea, please."


"The green tea," I repeated, speaking a bit louder and a lot slower.



Is it easier to understand newspeak than everyday conversation?  Or is it easier to hear the human voice through a TV speaker?  Or is real-time human interaction so off-putting as to disrupt cognitive processing?  Or do I talk funny and it's only coincidence that people in New Orleans, San Francisco, Boston, Colorado Springs, Rio de Janeiro, ETC., are able to understand my funny talk? 

Or ....?