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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Your Personal Lexicon (Interview Included)

In my class: The English Language (a beginning linguistics class), we were discussing how each person has a "personal" lexicon. A lexicon, by definition, is about the same thing as a "vocabulary" of words. A lexicon is the full range of words available for use. Every language, dialect, and person has their own lexicon Many factors contribute to the fomation of any lexicon, but the lexicon of a single human is unique, in that it grows according to the owner's willingness to expand it, and the areas which recieve the most attention. . . well, those all depend on the the individusl spesker's own interests and/or environment.

I've done a lot of brainstorming for this project entry and have become convinved that it will be VERY difficult to single out just a few examples and scenarios The material is endless! Every person I've met in my life would make a good example - as would I myself. My own vocabulary, I'm sure, reflects something of my "personal culture."

A good example of a background influenced lexicon is my mother's. I'd never given it much thought before, but my mother does use a few words which are distinct - not words used by others. Most of them are slang words, or phrases, or words used only in a joking context, albeit they reflect her background. She loves to, for example, say "ya ya bet ya," when she does a comical impression of the stereotypical though non-existant (in reality) speech of Northern Minnesotans. The reason she has fun with this, though, is due to her Norweigan heritage.

My grandma (whose grandma cane here from Norway, and who actually has command of a quite impressive lexicon of Norweigian words) has a great Scandinavian influence on her family. Because of her, we have developed the tradition of making lefse for every holiday, buying sven and ole gag gifts (such as joke books) for each other, and now I'm even enrolled in a college course focussed on the Scandinavian region - purely for self interest (it fulfills absolutely none of my major, minor, or liberal education requirements).

Anyway, back to my mother's language. She often uses phrases that reflect not only the era she grew up in, but also a few from my grandma's era, that she picked up from my grandma's use of them ( one such phrase is "to get your goat" - which means to "get the best of you" or "to bother you.") I first heard her use this phrase when I was a young child, and I had no idea where the heck it came from, or what it meant. Though, I've heard it enough now that maybe, by the time I'm her age, I'll have made a habit of using it too.

The concept of having a personal lexicon is pretty universal. Below, is an interview where I questioned a friend of mine. My friend is Chinese, but she'd lived in Japan since about middle school, and is now a college student - studying here in the U.S. Anything in (.....) is not a quote - just an explanation. Also, this will not be a formal interview - since the person I am interviewing is a good friend of mine.

Me - Do you ever notice people in the city Osaka useing words that aren't use in other Japanese cities?

Her - Ya, of course. IT's called Osaka dialogue. In Japan we have lots of dialogues. Osaka dialogue is used in Osaka province. The city Osaka is just one of the cities in the province.

Me - What are some of those words, translated into English?

Her - They say "you know," but not as a question. (It would be the same as here when we say, for example, "You better wear a coat outside, cause it's winter, you know.)

Her (continued) - One most used Osaka diologue word is "yanen". (She then described to me how this is just something that they add, in Osaka, to the end of a sentence where a person is telling something. The word has no real translation into English.)

Her (continued) - In Osaka dialogue they use the word "hen." It neans "not" or "to deny." The correct way to say it is "hei" but in Osaka they say "hen."

Me - Do your parents ever use words that only their generation used? - words that the new generation doesn't use?

Her - They use words that are names of foods, that the younger generation doesn't eat anymore. So, the younger people don't know what those foods are.

Me - I've heard that sometimes young people in a few foreign countries will copy the rap and hip hop lingo of the U.S.? Do young Japanese ever copy the rap lingo from intercity areas in the U.S.? For example: hey, wasssup, yo yo yo?

Her - Ya, some young people say that, say "Yo." It's a common greeting.

Me - Would you ever catch your parents saying that?

Her - No, only between young people.

Me - Did you ever confuse your parents by using a slang word when you talk to them?

Her - Usually when I talk to my parents I talk to them in Chinese. There isn't much Chinese slang.

Her (continued) - Maybe new technilogy they don't know. Like, if we say "burn cd" in Japanese, they won't know what that means.


Thus, weather we use words from a past era, a distinct regional dialect, our ethnic heritage, or any other area of particular interest to us, those words are clues that we unwillingly put forth - clues that say more about us than we ever could known. We often make unconscios assessments of peoples based on the language they use. This topic, of course, as broad as it is, could just as easily be suited for an entire book as it is for a blog essay. But, the main idea of it is something we can all think about - something that we maybe havn't thought about that consciously before.


At 4:24 PM, Blogger Sharon said...

I like the interview! Makes the subject very meaningful!

At 9:41 PM, Blogger snapdragon said...

Thankyou! That is reassuring

At 4:59 PM, Blogger Dr Kuha said...

I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with you about the "non-existent" northern minnesota accents and lingos. I know personally a number of people who idiomatically use the phrase "ya you betcha" habitually.

At 10:25 PM, Blogger snapdragon said...

Really? Hmmm. That's interesting - cool too, I have to admit. Well, I stand proven wrong.


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