Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Linguists Convene in Pittsburgh

The Linguistic Society of America is holding its 85th annual meeting Thursday through Sunday at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown Hotel.

Barbara Johnstone, professor of linguistics and rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon University, will present an overview of the research into the phenomenon known as "Pittsburghese" which she and colleagues at CMU and Pitt have developed over ten years.

She says people mistakenly assume "Pittsburghese" grew out of the languages of the city's many European immigrants, but in fact the children of those immigrants modeled their language, not after their parents, but after the young people already here, whose speech resembled the region's original English speakers, the Scots-Irish.

Pittsburghers began realizing their speech was distinctive during World War II, according to Blackstone, when they were told by people in other regions that they used different words and phrases, or "had an accent".

Johnstone's research shows that young people who could not follow their fathers and grandfathers into the steel mills when jobs disappeared had an identity crisis as well as an economic crisis, and some turned to their city and its speech to define themselves. Those forced to leave the area when the steel industry collapsed in the 1970s and 80--the diaspora known today as "Steeler Nation"--use "Pittsburghese" as a component of their identity.

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