Slurring, slovenly, lazy, careless speakers

Gimme a minute, will ya?
Such speech is labeled slovenly by our grammar mavens. It should be pronounced ’giVe me” and ’you’, they declare, otherwise, all language will descend into chaos and incomprehensibility. Every listserv has its Jeremiah warning us of the on-coming wave of confusion.

English is not the only language with this tendency to run sounds together, even words, as in ’give’ and ’me’ into ’gimme’. Another language even has a special name for it. It was early linguists, explicating the rules of the ancient language of Sanskrit so as to preserve the all-important ceremonial text of sacrifices. They recognized that some sounds merge in pronunciation and called it ’sandhi’.

One would think that the merging of sounds, thus enshrined in the great classical language of Sanskrit, would have been accepted as a normal part of language. But no, it, like so many phonological and grammatical features of language, is used to establish class lines. The term of ’art’ is ’careful speech’. So if we are not being careful in our speech, is it OK to say ’gimme’? If we aren’t careful, what might happen? If we are careful, what does that do to our speech? How do we sound to our friends and colleagues?

Often these grammar mavens assume that such “slurring” of sounds is the effect of slovenly people, usually portrayed as lower-class, less or uneducated, and often of some marginalized groups like Blacks or immigrants. What the mavens miss is that these sound elisions and mergers have rules just as strict as are those of the “cultivated and careful speech” of the cultural and social elites. For example, in the English-based Creoles found in the Caribbean and the U.S. where they are known as Black English or African-American Vernacular English, certain words such as “going” and “did” are used as auxillaries and as lexical verbs. When used as auxillaries, they can delete the initial consonant, resulting in constructions like “Im onna go now.”
Unfortunately, most of those who condemn such usages are those very people who will never learn about these things neither the Sanskrit nor the Black English. Should they study Sanskrit, it will never occur to them to connect sandhi with the slovenly slurring of English ’undesireables’.

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