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Social Currency: Dialectology and Fashion.

January 12, 2008

japanese_street_fashion_3_by_hakanphotography.jpg(Image thanks to another nifty little wordpress blog: 

I come from a family that says Chahlston, like Gawd intended.  But, if you know me in person, you know that I…err…don’t “talk like that.”  Or at least, not around you, peers.  I do speak Southern American English, more specifically a Lowcountry dialect, in its appropriate context: any gas station south of Richmond, my grandmother’s couch, the church bookstore…But my mother swears that I never had “an accent” (unlike my brother), and that at eight, I turned to her one day and solemnly informed her that I did not wish “to sound like her.”  

Somewhere in my stubborn eight year-old head, I understood stigma, and social currency.  I understood superficial judgments, and first impressions.  This is a little disturbing.  But, on the other hand, over a decade later, I can see that this statement of linguistic non-conformity was the first in a lengthening line of decisions to be “different.”  (To head north for college, wear weird homemade clothes and lots of bracelets, to live with my boyfriend, explore eastern religions, travel the world…)  

You may recognize another native South Carolinian who’s ditched his accent:  

If you are naturally a chameleon, you will pick up accents and fashion quickly…either to blend in or to stick out.  It’s a personal struggle of mine– when to strike out, and when to embrace the colorful, quirky, stigmatized or “local.”  I always wanted people to hear what I’m saying rather than how I’m saying it, and to admire the time/effort/creativity that went into the composition of my daily couture.  And when I concentrate on those things, I see that they are actually extensions of my family and Southern heritage, rather than opposition to it.  Every good Belle wants to be admired for her beauty, and reverent in her speech, so that it puts others at ease.  So, the full range of my dialects and intonations, speeds and tones, reflect the continuum of my life niches…a colorful and powerful tool, with which I dress myself from school, to work, phone-calls with my Momma, and interactions at a till in England…  Another creative flourish, interesting choice, stitch of make-up, that’s all.

This makes me think of Annie Dillard, for some reason:

“The extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. After one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire since the word go!”

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