Dakoits on the Skookumchuck

November 19, 2009

Dakoit Looking for the Skookumchuck

We are in a rapidly evolving time for language. There are so many new concepts entering our lives, mostly through technology, that we are having to come up with new words and sayings all the time – LOL.

When your BFF sends you text, there are whole new spelling protocols. U R on a new wave.

English is an excellent platform for this kind of rapid evolution. It is, after all, a trading language. A hodgepodge and accumulation of words from all kinds of different languages. My title today makes perfect sense to a select group of English speakers in an area around Vancouver where the collision of Indian and Indian cultures – one native Chinook and one Hindi – makes it understandable.

When English speakers in England talk of boffins and whiters, most of us in North America have no idea what they are talking about. Much less get offended.

It looks to me like English is taking the route of Latin. They both started out as single languages and then geographically started to evolve. In the Middle Ages everyone thought they were speaking Latin. Only when they travelled from Spain to Italy or Romania to France did they realize that people in the other lands had totally changed what they thought was pure Latin.

Over time, these Latin dialects became (and these are all legally recognized): French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian, Portuguese, Catalan, Galician, Occitan, Sardinian, Arpitan, Norman, Corsican, Romansh, Mirandese, Asturian, Aragonese and Leonese.

And lest we think this is the end of the proliferation, ask anyone who speaks any of the larger ones of these languages about dialects. The Sicilians have a hard time understanding the Tuscans; the Madrileños have trouble with folks from Caracas; and don’t get Parisians started on whether Quebeckers speak French.  Quebeckers even cringe at New Brunswick Chiac.  All this happens even though they think they are speaking the same language.

English is the same. Few North Americans who watched Slumdog Millionaire understood the English well. I found myself explaining “tea-wallah” to my wife in the theatre (or should that be theater?)

Theories were that movies and music would create a consistency in English around the world as we were mass exposed to American and English English. But they haven’t.

On the contrary, local dialects and accents have added charm to media stories. I recall one Canadian commercial that was located in the province of Newfoundland and included English subtitles under the Newfie English dialogue so everyone could understand what the actors were saying.  I could use the same for some Australian, British or Southern US dialogue.

The internet and technology seems to have carved out its own dialect of English as a kind of tech speak. Morphing into a combination of phonemes short-spelled – U R so hot! C U later! ;)   And so on. And new uses for old words. But it is ever changing. Understanding this evolution is part of the price for admission to popular culture.

That’s why I think that despite the mass, English will eventually break into various dialects and then languages. In the future, universities may offer courses in Strine, Canuckish, maybe even Y’all-ese. As one of my Southern friends explained, the plural of “Y’all” is not “youse all” but “all y’all,” eh!

So the language we speak, English, is kind of a “dakoit” in itself. Taking, opportunistically, words and sayings from the seas of verbiage – wherever and whatever – and incorporating them into its basic structure.

Which gets me back to my title – it can be translated into “Thieves (dakoits or dacoits) on the angry sea (skookumchuck).” Which is what English speakers are as they steal words from the sea of sounds around them.

But, I have to add, the words “dakoit” and “skookumchuck” are considered pure English by the folks who use them.

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