“Politically Correct” Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood

There was once a young person named Red Riding Hood who lived with her mother at the edge of a forest. One day her mother asked her to take a basket of fruit and some mineral water to her grandmother’s house. On the way to Grandma’s house RRH was accosted by a wolf:

1) Wolf: “What do you have in that cute little basket?”

2) RRH: “Some snacks for my grandmother, who is capable of caring for herself.”

3) Wolf: “My dear, it isn’t safe for a little girl to be out walking alone.”

4) RRH: “I find your sexist remark extremely offensive.”
5) RRH: “Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll be on my way.”

Red Riding Hood continued on her way, taking the main path to her grandmother’s house. But the wolf knew a shortcut and got there first. He burst into the house, gagged the grandmother, shoved her into a closet, then he put on her night clothes and crawled into bed. A half hour later Red Riding Hood entered the cottage.

6) RRH: “Grandma, I have brought you some sodium-free snacks to salute you as a wise and nurturing matriarch.”

7) Wolf:: “Come closer, my child, so that I might see you.”

8) RRH: “Oh, Grandma, what big teeth you have.”

The Wolf leaped out of bed and grabbed Red Riding Hood in his claws. She screamed. Her screams were heard by a woodchopper-person, who just happened to be passing by. He ran into the house, approached the wolf and raised his ax to strike.

9) RRH: “And what do you think you’re doing, bursting in here like that?”
10) RRH:.”Sexist! Idiot! Neanderthal! How dare you assume that women and wolves can’t solve their own problems without a man’s help.

Adapted from James Finn Gardner, Politically Correct Bedtime Stories.

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Pennsylvania German: a dying language?

An Amish Family

Pennsylvania German, or Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch, is a variety of West Central German, spoken by at least 83,700 in the United States, with numbers that are increasing. The ethnic population estimate is at least 300,000[1]. Blending of several German dialects, primarily Rhenish Palatinate (Pfalzer) German, with syntactic elements of High German and English, it is largely incomprehensible to modern Germans. It was brought to America by speakers from Southern Germany, Eastern France, and Switzerland. Today, speakers are largely found in communities of Amish and Mennonites in America and Canada. There is also a group of Mennonites who fled America in the 20th century to South America in order to maintain their unique culture. This community speaks a very distinct dialect of Pennsylvanish called Plautdietsch[2].

There are multiple varieties of Pennsylvania German. For example, the orthographies differ between speakers from Ohio and Pennsylvania. They are a plain community, not shifting to English due to cultural reasons. Part of their culture is the refusal of modernization. Preschoolers are almost exclusively monolingual, while almost every adult is bilingual in Modern English. Their language does evolve, however, by integrating some English words, such as “bet”, as in “Ich bet, du kannscht Deitsch schwetze” (I bet you can speak German), or “depend”, as in “Es dependt en wennig, waer du bischt” (it depends somewhat on who you are). Other words include “tschaepp” for “chap” or “guy”; and “tschumbe” for “to jump”. Today, many speakers will use Pennsylvania German words for the smaller numerals and English for larger and more complex numerals, like “$27,599.”[3]

There are fears of loosing Pennsylvania German, since many of the older speakers have grandchildren who only speak English. The language was once a regional dialect, but now seems to be largely contained within religious communities. It is associated with “horse-and-buggy” Old-Order Mennonite and Amish. To counter this, Kutztown University offers a minor program in Pennsylvania German studies[4] as well as a BA in German Studies[5] with a focus on PA German Culture in America[6].

The numbers of speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch/German are unclear. Some suggest there might be over 300,000 speakers today, taking into account the number of Old Order Amish at over 200,000 and the number of Old-Order Mennonite in the 10s of thousands. There are also some Pennsylvania German speakers who are neither Amish nor Mennonite. One reason why the numbers of speakers are increasing is the fact that the Amish population doubles every 20 years. Ethnologue puts the number at around 83,700 speakers, based on the 2000 census records. It is inaccurate to take records from the Census, however, since the 2000 census does not have a category for Pennsylvania German under languages. Thus, many speakers simply put that they spoke German or English. Further, in Anabaptist churches, including Amish and Mennonite, they only consider baptized members to belong to the group, meaning that only adults around 25 years or older will be counted as belonging to the category[7]. That is, an Amish church might claim to only have 20 members, which means that there are only 20 “Amish” in the community. They ignore in their count the 40-60 children who also live in the community and attend church every Sunday.

A Morphology Poem

“I was wildered and fuddled at my gruntled employee. She was quite chalant at her ept approach to work. She took a flated balloon and embowled it, using it to capitate a doll. This made me quite pressed. It seemed evitable given her hibitions; so strange. Beknownst to me, as I was plussed, she has been trepid for quite some time. Once things are taken off her plate she will begin to feel whelmed again, as long as she doesn’t linquish them. She is only vincible, after all.”

Adrienne LeFevre

Once Upon a Word

Coming from a linguistic background, I can’t help but feel my blood boil when people try to say that the English language is under assault. They make claims that certain languages are better than other languages, that certain dialects are a degradation of the superior dialects, that only certain words with certain word forms should be used, and only if they are pronounced in certain ways. This is absurd. Language is a living, breathing, organism… well, maybe not literally so, but pretty darn close! I found on Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary a following of facebookers all gnashing at each others’ throats over the fairly recent addition of the word “ginormous” to the official English dictionary. English majors came out of the woodworks, all FURIOUS at this violation on the “King’s English!” (ironically, they all appeared to be Americans who did not speak the King’s English anyways).

One phrase thrown around a lot was that it was evidence of the “dumbing down” of America. I normally don’t entertain this sort of pointless rant, but here I could not resist. Where one of these threaders stated, after mentioning that he had no college education to speak of, that although language DOES evolve, it shouldn’t. This is akin to saying that just because insects adapt to their environment does not mean they should. WHO WOULD SAY THAT?! I quickly pointed out in his thread that his very phrase “dumbing down” is an example of language evolution. “Dumb” was introduced probably around the 12th century, and it was a NOUN, not a verb. Further, it only referred to mutism, a very serious affliction. It was not until perhaps the 16th century that it became a verb (because that’s what words do over time: they change parts of speech when it becomes necessary) but still referred to mutism, perhaps temporally: “Her lover’s death dumbed her for weeks.” Not until much later did it actually refer to stupidity!

Pseudo-intellects and the well-meaning English and Lit majors enjoy following the trend of “preserving” our language, which requires creating arbitrary rules for how language “ought” to be (instead of what language is and can be). When my friends get up on their high-horse (not sure where this saying ever came from) about how the English language will fall to the dogs if WE ALL don’t try to save it, which requires us correcting every other person’s ‘whether-to’s and ‘why-for’s, their who’s and whom’s, they always assume that I should agree with them. As a linguist, I ought to be able to judge correct speech, and edit those who don’t use it. I always like to ask them “do you ever end a sentence with a preposition?” 9 times out of 10 they will reply “I try not to” … HA! You have fallen into my trap… “You mean, ‘I try to not!’” They usually laugh but never know what to make of it. The second sentence is prescriptively correct, but it does not sound grammatical! Winston Churchill commented on this very topic, since it was around his time when this became the fad for pompous grammarians to make arbitrary rules such as this. Churchill remarked: “THIS IS THE SORT OF ENGLISH UP WITH WHICH I WILL NOT PUT!” ‘nough said.