Re: Languages spoken by very few people in the US

1

To nitpick, given that it's it's own language, it's not actually Hawaiian ASL. Looks like the preferred name is Hawaiian Sign Language or HSL.

I have other things to say about all this but I'm about to be in back to back meetings and classes all day.


Posted by: E Messily | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 6:48 AM
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That makes sense.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 6:52 AM
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"Kleine Stinkkatze" would be a good pseudonym.

I was gobsmacked when I went to Dallas and found out (from a plaque in the hotel) that it had been founded by Fourierists.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 6:54 AM
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Stinkkatze is a hilarious word. A college professor of mine used to say that Texas German is basically sentences like "The pferd hat über the fence gejumpt."


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 7:18 AM
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Cool. I had heard of Texas German, but didn't know it was still a living (albeit dying) dialect.

For obvious reasons, there are a lot of German dialects from Eastern Europe that have died out recently or only have a few speakers left. An old guy who was a high school teacher claimed to be the last living native speaker of his particular dialect, which was from a German-settled valley in Romania. Probably Blume or one of the Germanophiles here knows more.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 7:23 AM
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There used to be a lot of German spoken in the area where I grew up in Missouri. My dad is lay minister at a very German church; the people born before WWII all spoke German. (I guess I used the past tense there because they've largely died off in the 20 years he's been there.) From what I can tell, there was an accent, but I don't think a completely different dialect from what you'd find in Germany.

Family lore has it that my paternal grandfather's grandparents were both German speakers but had to speak English with each other, because he spoke high German and she spoke low German and they couldn't understand each other. My grandfather taught me a bunch of "German" songs when I was a kid (before I learned German) that I'd always assumed had gotten garbled as they were passed down. (He wasn't a German speaker.) Some time after I had taken history of the German language courses and after I had lived in Hamburg and gotten exposure to a decent amount of low German, I pulled those songs out of my memory and realized that the transmission to me had actually been surprisingly accurate, they were just in heavy dialect.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 7:25 AM
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Stinkkatze is a hilarious word.

Yes, it's more evocative than the more conventional German word "Stinktier". There is also a distantly related species called the Stinkdachse (stink badger), which is a similarly evocative name.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 7:32 AM
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When I was a kid we this book cracked me up hard. I figure the local germanophiles might get a kick out of it.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 7:40 AM
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There used to be Czech speakers in Central Texas, also speakers of Sorbian which is West Slavic though you'd think it'd be South Slavic like Serbian BUT NO. I think I remember reading there are still scattered Czech speakers but not enough to keep it going.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 7:42 AM
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I inherited some mostly boring pre-WWI family documents a while back (my paternal great-grandparents spoke German in the home sometimes, but my grandfather didn't grow up as a German speaker). Almost all from an industrialized German language publishing industry in the United States. It was mostly religious stuff, but there were birth certificates, bibles, hymnals, etc all industrially printed by a company in Chicago. I guess it shouldn't be even a little but surprising that a big US German language industry existed in the US but somehow it was.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 7:45 AM
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My grandfather also taught a younger male cousin of mine a few German songs that I guess he didn't consider appropriate for a girl. This cousin used to go down to the VFW hall in his little town and sing to the German-speaking oldsters who hung out there all day long. They were highly amused with this 6- or 7-year-old minister's son singing songs that went something like "Oh hell, oh damn, the cow's done got out of the barn again." There was another one about whiskey, the lyrics of which I can't remember at all.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 7:48 AM
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Joseph Pulitzer's first newspaper in Missouri was a German-language paper.

At least in Chicago, the thing that kept Czech viable was insular neighborhoods, so people born in those neighborhoods in the US would spend most of their lives surrounded by people who didn't speak much English. I would guess that villages in TX would be similar. Transport and communication changed that, delayed by two huge influxes of people fleeing the communists first in 1948 and then in 1968 and settling among existing populations. Don't know about much about Toronto.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 7:54 AM
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My father's family were native speakers of the Archaic German dialect known as Yiddish. It was widely believed that "Pennsylvania Dutch" spoken by the Amish was much closer to Yiddish than to Modern German, and there was some regular contacts between the linguisitc communities, especially by rabbis who did Kosher farm inspections/certifications in Central Pennsylvania.

Yiddish still has more than a few speakers in the US, although none under 70 in my family. If the the Texas Germans are lookking for conversation, they should head for Brooklyn.

There was a "reality" tv show featuring Amish teenagers recently. There were a few snippets of conversation with elders in the old tongue, and it sounded like Yiddish to me.


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 8:10 AM
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Oh, that article. I know languages come and go but reading about language death makes me terribly sad.

I'm so flabbergasted by the idea of parents who let a language die out so they can talk in code in front of the kids. I realize it's also about assimilation, but yargh. Perhaps I've mentioned, my whole life I assumed my grandmother knew words of Yiddish like we all do, and then a few years ago I found out she actually spoke it, and I could now speak it if she and my grandfather hadn't said to each other "wils g'n ergetz?" if they were thinking about going out to do something but didn't want the kids to get excited if they weren't actually going to. (This was the example I've always heard.)

It's not that it'd be useful but Yiddish has all this poetry and theater that's dead now because mostly the only people who speak it are scary inbred separatists upstate. At least in the US.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 8:12 AM
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I'm so flabbergasted by the idea of parents who let a language die out so they can talk in code in front of the kids.

This is why we're planning to ensure that Jane never learns how to spell.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 8:17 AM
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Or maybe I'm wrong and the family of readers of eclectic web magazines still speak Yiddish in the US.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 8:18 AM
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15 is a sound principle from the assimilationist standpoint, as well. The other kids will only think she's a terrible snob if she's literate.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 8:19 AM
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15: Once the kids could spell, we started relying on French, which none of us speaks well, but can use enough high school French and franglais pidgin to communicate.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 8:49 AM
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This is why we're planning to ensure that Jane never learns how to spell.

Send her to Waldorf school. That should take care of it.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 9:06 AM
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Discussed briefly here before, but I remember being surprised when I looked at how many indigenous or semi-indigenous languages there are in the UK.* Some of which are going to be fairly at risk, I suppose, or only have a few aging speakers.

English
Welsh
Scots Gaelic
Irish Gaelic
Scots [and maybe Traveler Scots as a distinct form]
Manx [last native speaker died in the 70s]
Angloromani
Shelta
Cornish [revived, it had died out]
Welsh-Romani
Jerrais
Guernésiais

etc etc

* i.e. that predate mass immigration from the end of the 19th century onwards.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 9:10 AM
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There was a "reality" tv show featuring Amish teenagers recently

Amish Mafia!


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 9:17 AM
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20. And that's without fairly recently extinct languages such as Yola:

MAI'T BE PLESANT TO TH'ECCELLENCIE, - Wee, Vassalès o' 'His Most Gracious majesty', Wilyame ee Vourthe, an, az wee verilie chote, na coshe and loyale dwellerès na Baronie Forthe, crave na dicke luckie acte t'uck neicher th' Eccellencie, an na plaine grabe o' oure yola talke, wi vengem o' core t'gie ours zense o' y gradès whilke be ee-dighte wi yer name; and whilke we canna zei, albeit o' 'Governere', 'Statesman', an alike. Yn ercha and aul o' while yt beeth wi gleezom o' core th' oure eyen dwytheth apan ye Vigere o'dicke Zouvereine, Wilyame ee Vourthe, unnere fose fatherlie zwae oure diaez be ee-spant, az avare ye trad dicke londe yer name waz ee-kent var ee vriene o' livertie, an He fo brake ye neckares o' zlaves. Mang ourzels - var wee dwytheth an Irelonde az ure genreale haim - y'ast, bie ractzom o'honde, ee-delt t'ouz ye laas ee-mate var ercha vassale, ne'er dwythen na dicke waie nar dicka. Wee dwyth ye ane fose dais be gien var ee guidevare o'ye londe ye zwae, - t'avance pace an livertie, an, wi'oute vlynch, ee garde o' generale reights an poplare vartue.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 9:29 AM
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Actually, maybe I've talked about this here before-- Czech in Bohemia nearly died in the 18th century. After the 30 years war replaced Czech protestant elite with Austrian Catholics (also ~30% depopulation), Czech became a peasants language. A few linguists energized by echoes of the enlightenment started documenting just after 1800, which coincided with a rise of nationalist politics and weakened Austrian control, so the language recovered.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 9:47 AM
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Huh. Google reveals that there were several Amish reality tv shows last year, most of them at least partly fraudulent. I think I saw Breaking Amish. Maybe those elders were fakes from the families of Hollywood writers, and really were speaking Yiddish.


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 9:52 AM
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The story with Breaking Amish, as far as I can tell from local media, is that all the people on the show left the community many years before they claim to have left the community.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 9:57 AM
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Did you guys know there is a (small) Wikipedia in Pennsylvania Dutch? Ironic, but true. There are at least eight German dialects with their own versions of Wikipedia, by my count.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 10:37 AM
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I was gobsmacked when I went to Dallas and found out (from a plaque in the hotel) that it had been founded by Fourierists.

Was it a transformative experience?



Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 11:15 AM
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Only if you don't eat.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 11:22 AM
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I would like it known that I refrained from making the exact joke in 27.


Posted by: heebie-heebie | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 11:23 AM
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27: By the time I got there, they had all decomposed.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 11:50 AM
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Martha's Vineyard Sign Language, which died in 1952, was widely used due to a recessive gene present in a early population of settlers from Kent. 1 out of 155 of the island population was deaf, as opposed to 1 in 5728, on the mainland. Fishermen and farmers found it useful for communicating over distances that voice couldn't carry or covertly, behind the backs of teachers and ministers. As a result, the punchlines to many dirty jokes were in MVSL, and were lost when the language died.


Posted by: Light Rail Tycoon | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 12:10 PM
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I was once asked by a native speaker to assist in editing his memoir, which had been written in Hawaiian Pidgin English. It wasn't a successful endeavor, not least because I don't speak HCE. I believe he's gone now, and he claimed to be one of the last people who spoke HCE as a primary language.


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 1:20 PM
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31: Interesting book about that.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 1:40 PM
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By the time I got there, they had all decomposed.

So, yes?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 2:20 PM
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Look, you got one vaguely topical math joke out of me today already, don't push your luck.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 2:47 PM
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I didn't realize until recently that Pennsylvania Dutch used to be spoken by large swaths of south-central Pennsylvanians, and not just by highly religious communities. It's just that it died out everywhere except among the Amish.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 3:04 PM
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37

As I understand it, the heartland of the Pennsylvania Dutch community was in Berks County (Reading area) and Lebanon county, not quite the same place as the Amish and Mennonite communities (Lancaster county).

I think the big institution for research on the Pennsylvania Dutch language and history is Kutztown University, halfway between Reading and Allentown. Not any of the places in Amish country.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 3:17 PM
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My family got lost in a German-dialect-speaking region in northwest Washington sometime in the eighties.

But my dad still speaks a little physicist German, and we got directions out after all.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 3:46 PM
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38 -- And they sent you to Leavenworth?

36, 37 -- My PD ancestors migrated from Lancaster County up to Dauphin Co. Actually, probably before the latter was formed from the former Then intermarried (early 19th c.) with Scots-Irish from across the River. Plenty common story, I'd suppose.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 3:57 PM
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You've got to understand that it wouldn't feel strange for the Germans. Federal diversity was the fundamental fact of German life from the Roman Empire until 1933 and quite a bit of it was put back in 1945. It's quite possible to speak good German and get lost in a German-dialect-speaking region of Germany.

I know - I've done it, in Waldhessen. The Germans, from the Hessisch bit of the Rhine valley, I was with got lost and while they were banksmanning the Audi out of someone's cowshed and bickering about the route I walked down the road to find someone and ask for directions.

Führt diese Straße hier nach Seidenbach?

[does this road go to Seidenbach?]

Hwargbarg nar fachenstein vork shmuelygarp. Vork!

Entschuldigen Sie bitte. Das habe ich nicht ganz mitgekriegt.

[I'm sorry, Sir. I didn't catch all of that]

Schwar schwar schwar vork Frankfurter schloach! [eyeroll]

...[I really had never heard anyone talk German like this before; I'd never heard anyone talk English this removed from the standard and I grew up somewhere people regularly used the verb "to laike"]

Nein...den Weg nach Seidenbach...kennen Sie?

[No - the way to Seidenbach - do you know it?]

[eyeroll]

[Total humiliation now]...Können Sie bitte es mir auf Hochdeutsch sagen?

[Please, can you repeat that in standard German?]

and with that, off he fucked. at least I tried. we eventually spread a map on the bonnet and worked the problem out for ourselves.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 4:06 PM
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Maybe FORTRAN would have worked.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 5:17 PM
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42

I've heard English-speaking USians who couldn't understand each other; high-schoolers from near New Orleans and somewhere in Maine respectively. I had some trouble understanding each of them, since that's a bit farther than my relations run. That was the 1980s, well into national broadcast everything!

I did get to explain to both of them that the salty breakfast jello was raw fish.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 5:20 PM
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40 Fond memories of getting lost in some small village near Koblenz. I kept thinking 'Doesn't anybody speak German here?". In Switzerland you're best off just not bothering and using French - they all know some since they're required to take years of it. The Swiss French are required to learn German, unfortunately it's not that useful when it comes to communicating with their fellow citizens.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 9:19 PM
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I've heard English-speaking USians who couldn't understand each other

Yeah, I've been in a really awkward situation while traveling with someone from the Midwest who was getting visibly exasperated and making audibly rude comments about the impossible-to-understand Southern dialect of some people we were dealing with. It was all completely comprehensible to me and I was really embarrassed by the grumbling about it.

I actually did temporarily fail to understand someone on the street here yesterday though-- someone standing outside a bank kiosk saying "Do you have a card? My girl's bag's in there" in a really strong Boston accent, so that I just sort of registered 'dude is asking me for something' and shook my head and kept walking until what he had actually said finally registered half a block later.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 9:30 PM
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37 is consistent with this map, though I wish I could find something with old data (say percentage of native Pennsylvania Dutch speakers in 1920).


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 9:33 PM
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37: I had not thought about it much recently, but I do recall there being a much more pronounced distinction between Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish back in my childhood (which after all was closer to WWI than to today ...). In particular, I recall no association between the NE Ohio Amish/Mennonite communities and Pennsylvania Dutch*. The various maps in Wikipedia articles on Pennsylvania Dutch, Pennsylvania Dutch Country and Pennsylvania German language illustrate CN's point quite well.

*Perhaps overstated in the other direction, although one source notes, Separate orthographies for Pennsylvania and Ohio dialects of "Pennsylvania" German.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 9:34 PM
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45: So I come along hours later and get pwned by a minute ...


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 9:35 PM
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Since I'm from a city in that region, I'm kinda curious just how common the Pennsylvania German language was in the various cities of that region.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 9:40 PM
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Did not find an earlier map from a Google image search but did find this arresting Pennsylvania Dutch quilt on a somewhat disturbing tumbler.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 9:49 PM
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Eskimo Queen! Some googling indicates that this photo was likely taken at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (hence "A.Y.P.E." in the lower left), held in Seattle in 1909.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 9:59 PM
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48: No map, but found this:

Sydney Fisher wrote in 1896 in The Making of Pennsylvania of the German influence in this region: In the towns of Lancaster, Lebanon, York, Reading, Allentown, Easton, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Dutch is constantly heard, and in some of these towns there are comparatively few people who speak English exclusively.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 10:05 PM
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13: Yiddish still has more than a few speakers in the US, although none under 70 in my family.

Apparently ~180,000 identified in the 2000 census. I do wonder when it really fell off (maybe steadily). My mother-in-law grew up in the Bronx in the early '30s with pretty much only Yiddish until starting school. This picture via Wikipedia is from about then. But my impression from her was that she and her friends dropped it like a hot potato to the extent that they could.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 10:16 PM
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I'm so flabbergasted by the idea of parents who let a language die out so they can talk in code in front of the kids

It's mainly about assimilation and fucked up theories about harming the kids English. Sometimes it's also about laziness - some kids start refusing to speak their parents' language and it's just easier to allow them to have their own way. In the case of second generation immigrant parents there's also the issue that the parents will often use mostly English amongst themselves and only use their parents' language when they don't want the kids to understand. I've heard of several cases of Jewish parents, whether from the US or Europe who did that.

I was the only American born kid among my parents' circle of Polish immigrant friends in the seventies who spoke Polish fluently, though a couple could speak a sort of pidgin version and could understand basic stuff reasonably well. My parents were chastised for not speaking English to me by both some of their friends and later by some of my teachers.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 10:27 PM
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More on the AYPE. Apparently the "Eskimo Queen" of the picture in 50 was Nancy Columbia, so named because she was born at the 1893 Columbian Exposition to Labrador Inuit parents who were appearing in a display there. She sounds like a fascinating person.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 10:28 PM
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I do wonder when it really fell off (maybe steadily).

I once read an interesting book about the history of Yiddish (the title of which I cannot now remember) that argued that use of Yiddish plummeted between around 1930 and 1950 in all of the areas where it was spoken, but for different reasons in each area. In the US and the USSR it was because of assimilation, in Palestine/Israel it was because of Zionist ideology and the deliberate promotion of Hebrew, and in Eastern Europe, well, you know.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 10:34 PM
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Czech in Bohemia nearly died in the 18th century

That seems a bit excessive. A majority of the population were still monolingual Czech speakers. The only cases in Eastern Europe where I can think of a language in that situation dying out is the case of the Sorbs and Slavic speakers in northern Greece. The Baltic languages survived, Slovakian survived, Ukrainian survived in Eastern Galicia, Romanian in Transylvania and the Banat, etc.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 10:36 PM
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I had a girlfriend in college who turned one of the above principles sideways: Her mother was a language teacher, and in phone calls with her mother she would use that language that wasn't remotely hers, ancestrally, to talk about, e.g., her roommate. I recall disapproving viscerally, but disapproving vocally only very late in the game, in ineffective terms and tone, at the least-useful moment possible - i.e., during our break-up argument.


Posted by: joyslinger | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 10:51 PM
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I recall disapproving viscerally, but disapproving vocally only very late in the game, in ineffective terms and tone, at the least-useful moment possible - i.e., during our break-up argument.

Wait, why did you disapprove?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 03-13-13 10:56 PM
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re: 42

I've met other Scots that I can't understand. I remember a friend having a school exchange student from Aberdeenshire staying when we were teenagers and barely understanding a word. It wasn't just that he spoke using a lot of dialect words, as I'm from a part of Scotland that still uses a fair bit of Scots in ordinary speech, it was a somewhat different set of dialect words, combined with a radically different accent. John Wells (in Accents of English 2) claims that Scots from the NE of Scotland (i.e. Doric) is the only English dialect* that he, as a linguist specialising in English dialects, found completely incomprehensible.

* arguable whether it's a dialect or different language.**
** iirc there was also one Caribbean dialect he couldn't follow.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 1:15 AM
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A good friend of mine, a Glaswegian of Pakistani/Punjabi origin, told me, on the dying second language thing, that she was the only one of her brothers and sisters who spoke really good Punjabi. She was the oldest and her parents didn't speak that much English when she was born. By the time her brothers and sisters came along, they did speak English.

It wasn't that they stopped speaking Punjabi at home, but it was that what they increasingly spoke at home was a kind of Punjabi/Scots English creole* and even regular family visits to Pakistan weren't enough to leave her siblings with what you'd call an 'educated' command of their parents' native language. Also, when she was little, her parents thought it important that she learn Urdu and to read and write well in Punjabi and Urdu, but by the time her parents came along, they cared less. Her brothers and sisters are university educated, and one is fluent in Arabic too, but they don't have much if any literacy in their parents language and their spoken command is more passive than active. I'd guess that process will only continue into the next generation.

* I work with several Indians, and it's amusing listening to one of them talk to her husband on the phone. They are nominally speaking Hindi, but I can understand about every third word, and often get the gist of entire conversations as there's so much English mixed in.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 1:22 AM
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They are nominally speaking Hindi, but I can understand about every third word, and often get the gist of entire conversations as there's so much English mixed in.

It's like that here, listening to English/"Urdu" bilingual taxi drivers talking to their mates on the phone.

Last year I was stumped asking directions from an Irishman within an hour's drive from Dublin. Not a clue, but I'm sure he was speaking English - he was a very nice guy who was going out of his way to help.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 2:13 AM
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re: 61.last

Yeah, I got stopped by some Irish travellers* just this week asking for directions. I could understand them, but I was really struggling.

re: 61.1

Yeah, and my workmate isn't UK raised [where I'd expect that more, I suppose]. She and her husband are both Indian born and raised, although they did their post-graduate degrees in the US.

* for US readers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_travellers


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 2:23 AM
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I once read an interesting book about the history of Yiddish (the title of which I cannot now remember) that argued that use of Yiddish plummeted between around 1930 and 1950 in all of the areas where it was spoken, but for different reasons in each area. In the US and the USSR it was because of assimilation, in Palestine/Israel it was because of Zionist ideology and the deliberate promotion of Hebrew, and in Eastern Europe, well, you know.

That accords with the narrative I remember from this book, which is a great read.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 3:30 AM
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49: The swastika was a hugely popular quilt block in its (well pre-WWII) day because it's easy to make and visually arresting, plus also had the positive connotation. Now when people are buying and restoring antique quilts or making quilts from historical patterns, there are traditional and accepted replacements for it.

Mara's best friend moved here from India about a year ago, though his parents have been here longer and in fact now they've moved to FL and so we don't see him anymore, but his parents speak to him only in their home language because what they've seen in their friends' homes convinces them that this is the only way he'll maintain fluency. Being able and willing to keep up a language does take effort and isn't always compatible with the lives of parents who are working hard to improve their English, even at home.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 3:54 AM
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ttaM, I may have mentioned before my parents' surprise on hearing Gaelic spoken on a bus in Glasgow, looking round, and seeing a Pakistani couple talking to each other. Turns out there's a Pakistani-Scots family (now well into the third generation) that own shops up and down the Outer Hebrides, and of course they all speak Gaelic to the customers and each other. And English. Not sure if they speak Urdu as well...


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 4:15 AM
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We are planning to try as much as possible to maintain Czech and English at home when the baby comes along. We'll see how that works, as obviously my wife and I mostly speak English together, with just the occasional bit of Czech. The plan is, as per previous discussions, to have J' speak only Czech to the baby.

re: 65

Heh. IIRC, a girl I went to school with who was of Pakistani origin took the Gaelic 'O' grade. Not a Gaelic speaking area, obviously, so only one or two kids did it every couple of years. I'm fairly sure she took it (along with at least one other language). Not sure why except pure personal curiosity, I suppose.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 4:34 AM
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65 In that vein I was once very surprised to hear an Asian couple wandering the streets of Manhattan speaking Polish.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 4:59 AM
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A friend of mine who spent a couple of years in Israel tells a story of getting off a bus in Edinburgh and overhearing a young Israeli couple debating in Hebrew which direction to take to get to some tourist attraction or other. Without missing a beat he replied to them in fluent Hebrew as he walked past. I expect they were somewhat surprised.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 5:05 AM
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found out (from a plaque in the hotel) that it had been founded by Fourierists.
27, 29: I was going to go with "you saw the sine and it opened up your eyes?"


Posted by: Awl | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 5:13 AM
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Right, that's it. Next time I come to New York I am going to wander around the streets in a kilt talking to my companion in Tamil, just to really blow people's minds.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 5:18 AM
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I think NY is probably about the worst place on earth to try and blow people's minds with a stunt like that. We specialize in blasé.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 5:22 AM
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re: 70

On a similar thing, my grandfather [of horse pole-axing fame] spoke about five Indian languages. Which was a bit of a surprise, I think, to the first wave of Pakistani immigrants into the east end of Glasgow, that little bald Scottish guy spoke excellent Punjabi. He'd spent about 20 years in India, in the Signals, and there was some sort of pay incentive to having language skills.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 5:22 AM
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59 Ex-wife #2, born and raised in the US, had a Scottish pen pal when she was a kid. In her early twenties she moved to England for a year (most of it spent in Derby, would you believe) and decided to give him a call. Unfortunately, she couldn't understand a word he said and he became noticeably angry by this fact. She hung up on him and that was the last she heard from him.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 5:27 AM
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ttaM's grandfather was awesome.

70 You speak Tamil?

71 And number of languages spoken. Now a little Circassian or Tamazight would be a bit beyond what I usually hear around here.



Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 5:32 AM
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Scottish accents are weird that way. There's a particular one, and I don't know enough Scottish people to know where it's from regionally, that goes globally incomprehensible for me even when it's not all that heavy -- like, the same person will be speaking English in a manner that doesn't sound all that weird, and then they'll speed up a notch or do something and I'll lose the ability to understand them at all. Not missing a word here and there but the whole thing turns into noise. That's the only accent that works that way for me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 5:33 AM
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re: 75

I'd guess the North East? Of Scotland, I mean. But maybe that's just me. That's the one I struggle with at times. That and some geordies.

Some people are just ignorant fucks about accents, though. Mine is by no means strong.* It's sort of mild generic Central Belt, and while I guess there are probably some class-shibboleths that someone with a good ear could pick up, fairly educated sounding Central Belt at that.* I still occasionally encounter people** who claim to struggle to understand me. Unless they've got some specific linguistic disorder, I'm assuming they are just arseholes.


* I know I switch into a much more accented, more dialect heavy version when speaking to people from where I grew up, but I generally spend my time interacting with non-Scots.
** pretty much always from the SE of England.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 5:42 AM
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If I'm remembering you right, the accent I'm thinking of isn't a thicker version of how you sounded, it's something fairly different.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 5:48 AM
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I'm assuming they are just arseholes Tories.

You get this. I've heard such people claiming not to understand an educated Leeds accent (as I imagine Alex must sound). Pure snobbery and not a grain of truth.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 6:11 AM
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He'd spent about 20 years in India, in the Signals, and there was some sort of pay incentive to having language skills.

Still is. You get a few hundred quid extra for Higher French, and the incentives go up according to a) how good you are and b) how difficult the Army thinks the language is. So French and Spanish are "easy", Russian and Polish are "tricky" and Hebrew and Pashtun and Mandarin are "very difficult".
(There's a wee footnote to the effect that, yes, you get extra pay for speaking Gurkhali, but not if you're a Gurkha, that's cheating).

But in the Army of India it was even more than that - learning the language was a requirement for commissioning. You couldn't be an officer commanding Indian troops unless you spoke the relevant language to a given standard. I know that Hammer-Hand nattarGcM wasn't an officer, but I wouldn't be surprised if senior NCOs were heavily encouraged along the same lines. Especially signallers.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 6:11 AM
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(There's a wee footnote to the effect that, yes, you get extra pay for speaking Gurkhali, but not if you're a Gurkha, that's cheating)

That seems fair, but only if Gurkhas get a bonus for speaking English.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 6:15 AM
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I am going to wander around the streets in a kilt talking to my companion in Tamil

I have surely told this story before, but I was once in a small restaurant in Vienna with my then-boyfriend (an Indian American), speaking English, and we became aware that people in the restaurant were staring at us. We switched to German to try to stick out less, but then people stared at us even more. So we switched to pretend-Tamil, with boyfriend actually speaking real sentences, and me saying things like "Four ten spicy two please give me more okra belly thank you heart." Very satisfying reactions from the other restaurant patrons.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 6:26 AM
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56. Not a central topic but: A majority of the population were still monolingual Czech speakers.
Sure, but not even primary schools in the language, the only writing for 150 years was a very few sermons and grammars. Maybe like Navajo today, a language that could revive with nurturing (which os what happened, as with neighboring languages, especially after 1848) or atrophy with neglect.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 6:40 AM
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Did you guys read the lip-reading article? She talks about battling accents.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 6:43 AM
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battling accents

It's a version of street fighter where Groundskeeper Willie and Foghorn Leghorn hurl colloquialisms at each other like fireballs.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 6:45 AM
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Or a regionally diverse version of Duelling Banjoes.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 7:11 AM
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It occurs to me that banjos doesn't pluralise like that. I am Dan Quayle and I claim my five pounds.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 7:13 AM
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80: I think they do - in any case, they have to reach a certain standard within 12 months of joining, or they're out.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 7:17 AM
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Belatedly to teo's 58: I think some of my disapproval was a side effect of believing that ex-girlfriend was, if not a bad actor in her wars of wills with her roommate, at least a worse actor than she believed herself to be. Some behavior that might otherwise have been neutral - including the non-English telephone conversations, which strike me now as rude,* but not immoral or intrinsically unethical - got under my skin in that context, but might not have in others.

*I had best define why they seemed rude, or I won't really have answered the question: Although this was barely before the time when most college students had cell phones, at least some of the conversations could have been moved to another time or place, and when they were instead voluntarily held in the shared room and shielded by language they seemed to me to be flaunting for the roommate the unintelligibility of a conversation that was partly about her.


Posted by: joyslinger | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 7:33 AM
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51: wondering vaguely which county this was.

52: I have met plenty of travellers that *I* can hardly understand. I thought Brad Pitt actually did a great job of that "almost-intelligible but not quite" thing in whatever film that was. I hadn't much time for him as an actor before that.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 8:26 AM
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That would be me, trying out feedly. Some things I don't like but some that are an improvement.


Posted by: emir | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 8:29 AM
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90.1. Would that be to 61? It makes no sense to 51. Anyway, Kilkenny.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 8:34 AM
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I'd never encountered an Irish traveler in person in my life until recently, when I was at a restaurant in Beverly Hills that was full of them (apparently they love this place and BH generally, fly from all over to go there, and pay in cash and order their steaks extremely rare). Anyhow I was totally fascinated and tried to listen in to their conversations but they were completely incomprehensible.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 8:48 AM
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88 Wouldn't that depend on whether or not the girlfriend and her mom routinely used that language? It would never occur to me to conduct a phone conversation with my parents in anything other than Polish except as a way to speed up planning something that we'd all be doing together and I needed the other person's real time input. Even then I'd find myself slipping back, as I often do when guests are present.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 9:25 AM
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89.2 is definitely Snatch, which has a puzzling fun.-style period after it at IMDb.

(Also, the movie with which Guy Ritchie followed that up, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, is the Netflix disc I have at home at the moment.)


Posted by: joyslinger | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 9:28 AM
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93: My memory is that their choice of language was pretty purely voluntary, since it wasn't the mother's native tongue - just one she taught professionally - and wasn't my ex's birth tongue, though she learned it young. I hesitate to say definitely that they were being deliberately exclusionary - they might both have found this second language second nature, and my memory of this is sufficiently fallible that I'd waffle if asked what the language was! - but I don't believe they were slipping up.

(Or should I just say I remember not believing it then? There are a lot of places for errors of fact or perception to creep into my telling of this story.)


Posted by: joyslinger | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 9:41 AM
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My 94.2 has the movies in the wrong order. Lock, Stock... came first.


Posted by: joyslinger | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 9:42 AM
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Yiddish was wounded by Hitler, but killed off by the new nation of Israel. When Israel committed to Sephardic Hebrew, most Jewish schools in the United States followed. Many were also teaching English, and three languages in one curriculum was too much. The current U.S. Yiddish speakers are descendents of the anti-Zionist Jews, who rejected settlement in Israel, and opposed the nation of Israel, because G-d would take us there when He was ready. This was always a minority position.

Yiddish was also considered a peasant language, especially by its own speakers. Most of the literature concerns characters like Tevye the Milkman.

Israel also killed off Ladino (which wasn't much affected by the Holocaust) and some smaller Jewish languages, and vastly reduced the range of Aramaic. the revival of Hebrew is generally thought of as a great lingusitic success story, but . . .


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 10:15 AM
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I've been in a lot of arguments with other linguists because it turns out I really don't care about language endangerment or death. I care about people's rights to use whatever language they want to, but not about whether or not any particular language stays in use.

This is not a mainstream opinion in the field.


Posted by: E. Messily | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 11:01 AM
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Ladino (which wasn't much affected by the Holocaust)

Excuse me?


Posted by: Opinionated Former Thessaloniki/Balkan Jewish Communities | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 11:04 AM
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it wasn't the mother's native tongue - just one she taught professionally - and wasn't my ex's birth tongue, though she learned it young

This description matches my mother's and my relation to Spanish, and we speak it ~50% of time. Now, it's possible there was something more going on in context that made it plainly rude. But in general what you're describing sounds like normal behavior for speakers of a common language.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 11:33 AM
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100: All right, I yield! Mea culpa.

This all does seem regrettably consistent with my general sour framing for that relationship: that for my first collegiate girlfriend I chose someone whom I quickly came to dislike, and formed a low opinion of her; that retrospectively I see that some of my judgments were fair and some weren't; and that in practice I was unfair to her and sometimes mean.

In sum, I am glumly unsurprised that I recapitulated some of that process in groping for a story I hadn't thought of in quite some years.


Posted by: joyslinger | Link to this comment | 03-14-13 12:30 PM
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Dog in Wendish.

I was visiting a friend in England years ago and was heading up to Edinburgh next. I called a hostel to try to book a space and my friend noticed I was having some trouble understanding the other person on the phone.

"Trouble with the language, eh?"

"Yeah, I think she was Australian."


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 03-16-13 6:39 AM
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second try at dog in Wendish link.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 03-16-13 6:40 AM
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102. A plurality of hotel receptionists in Britain are probably Australian.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 03-16-13 7:12 AM
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probably Australian

But maybe Kiwi. They've got very vague accents.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 03-16-13 7:33 AM
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98 -- I'm generally sentimental, and so death of a language does seem to me to be a bit of a minor tragedy. Which pales, almost to invisibility, compared to whatever it is that has caused the language to die. There should certainly be more Salish speakers in my neighborhood. Real efforts are being made on that front, but I doubt there's much optimism. My colleague should be in a position to teach her children at least some Nakota, and I think if she could, she probably would.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 03-16-13 7:34 AM
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105 Not so much vague as a carefully modulated murmur.


Posted by: Opinionated Frank Arthur Swinnerton | Link to this comment | 03-16-13 9:09 AM
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