Y’all, A’tall and the Southern Drawl

A’tall: (a form of “relaxed pronunciation” a linguistic term), regional variation on the standard English “at all”.  Ex: “That just don’t make a lick of sense.  It just don’t make no sense a’tall.”  –Tommy Lee Jones as Texas Ranger Captain Woodrow Call, Lonesome Dove, 1984.

Emily writes in her blog of the frustrating experience, despite speaking perfectly good Spanish, of a waiter or clerk recognizing that you’re “not from around here” and switching to their usually pretty minimal English.  We’ve all had this experience and, for the less confident, it comes across as at best patronizing, and at worst, a criticism of our Spanish.  Really it happens mostly with people in the service industry, waiters, store clerks, etc. who are only trying to be helpful thinking us to be someone who has memorized a couple of phrases and are in over our heads (the great majority of Americans abroad).  I can’t tell you how many times I have had this experience and in every case my Spanish is a lot better than their English.  But they persist.  It is even comical sometimes when I refuse to switch to English and most will then accept this and revert back to their native tongue.  The other day I was transacting with a guy who refused and kept on with his English, which was not good a’tall (see above), and I kept on in Spanish.  As Emily points out, it is not that we are making horrible mistakes.  It is our accent.  Period.  Until one has spent a really long time in-country, one’s accent will give him or her away every time.  There are other things like the routine interjections we make all the time.  Spaniards are always saying vale (Vah-lay).  Vale this, vale that, and vale the other.  It can mean “yes”, “okay”, “understand?” “all-righty then”, “I’m out of here”, “later (as in see you ~)”, and a few dozen other things we insert into our conversations as afterthoughts or sentence-enders.

So yesterday we all met with a group of beginning and intermediate English students, Spaniards and one Ukranian, and purposefully subjected ourselves to what is frustrating out on the street but a lot of fun when intended.  They spoke their English and we helped them out as needed and we spoke Spanish and got the occasional advice.  Like all parties where you have two groups who have never met, it was awkward for the first few minutes, but, with Leticia’s expertise in getting people talking, it turned out to be a lot of fun, instructive for all, and we’re going to meet again next Tuesday!  That’s not just the teacher’s idea but every one of our people that I spoke with today confirmed their enjoyment and desire to continue.  Before it was over many were exchanging their Facebook pages and whatever else they keep on their cell phones.

I got called over to one group who had told their conversation partners I-don’t-know-what about me and was asked to speak English so these people could hear my “southern” accent.  It’s a Texas accent, a point of pride, but I played along and started out with a good, “Howdy y’all.  Hower yooo dooin?  I was a fixin to talk to them folks over yonder but…” well, you get the idea.  After my little joke I spoke “normally” and then asked the Spaniards if they could hear the difference.  They were gracious and said “a little” but I’m not so sure.  It was an interesting idea but I doubt my students are able to discern a whole lot about the different Spanish accents they are hearing.  After many years of doing this, I can usually, USUALLY, distinguish between Spaniards, Mexicans, Argentines, and people from the Caribbean but that’s about it.  My native-speaker colleagues can nail a Spanish accent from just about anywhere but they’ve spent a lifetime learning the nuances just as we native English speakers have with southern, western, heartland, British, Australian, and other distinct accents and rhythmic variations on English.

The picture above features Anna “at work”.  I had a request some weeks back for a picture of her actually cracking a textbook and this is as close as I’ve come so far.  I am assured, however, that she IS working hard doing what she came to do as is everybody else.  We’re just really good at making it look so easy and fun!  There are a few more pictures in a gallery to the side.  Click on the first one to get an enlarged slideshow of the collection.

Tonight we go on our first nighttime tour with the theme of “Toledo misterioso”.  I put another gallery below the first that has some pictures of some of the streets we will be walking.  It has rained some this morning and is supposed to rain and drizzle a little more late afternoon.  With all the streets wet and shiny, lit by antique streetlights spaced pretty far apart, this should be a lot of fun and the perfect atmosphere for some good ghost stories.  A city with hundreds and hundreds of structures built by Romans, Visigoths, Arabs and then medieval Christians has just got to have a couple of ghosts about.  Let’s see what we can scare up!  (Now that WAS a pun!  See previous blog.)

If you really would like a quick link at a previous blog, pardon my conceit, you can go there quickly using my Table of Contents in the right margin cleverly entitled “Alternative Facts”  (hee hee).

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