Friday, September 4, 2009

Pittsburgh & Japan

Apparently Pittsburgh and Japan share a couple of linguistic markers. Well, not so much share. They are completely different, technically. But they function the same way, which is so cool.

Okay, so in "Pittsburgh English", there is a linguistic marker, "n'at." It is a contraction of "and that", and is commonly appended to many types of sentences. It means something like

"along with some other stuff," "the previous was just an example of more general case..."
Which is very much like the Japanese constructions たり。。。たり (tari... tari) and し。。。し (shi...shi). The "tari" construction is used for verbs/actions and the "shi" construction is used for nouns and descriptions. They are both used to list items in a longer list... or just one item in a longer list. In other words, exactly the same as "n'at". (Although I think the Japanese is a bit more formal and is "proper Japanese", while the Pittsburghese is more slangy.)

Similarly, it is common in Pittsburgh to use a falling question intonation when you are nearly certain of the answer.

Example: "Are you painting your garage?" (with pitch rising in intonation up to just before the last syllable and then falling precipitously).
Further explanation: Speakers who use this intonation pattern do not do so categorically, but instead also end many questions with a rising pitch (Fasold 1980). Such speakers typically use falling pitch for yes/no questions for which they already are quite sure of the answer. So, a speaker uttering the above example is simply confirming what they think they already know, that yes, the person they’re talking to is painting his/her garage.
This is quite similar to the Japanese use of の (no) in a question to indicate that you think you know the answer to the question... or sort of that given the context, it is clear that you have a reason for asking and that has given you an idea of the answer.

The example we got in class was, I think, that you are studying with your friend, who gets up and turns the heat up in the middle of your study session. You could ask, "寒いですか?” (samui desu ka?), "are you cold?" But you have a reason for thinking your friend is cold, so you think you know the answer. And you're sort of more asking to confirm why she got up to adjust the heater, maybe. So it sounds more natural to ask, "寒いのですか?" (samui no desu ka?), which is something like, "is it that you're cold?" or "is it because you're cold?" You already know the answer, probably, but you're double-checking.

If I'm way off-base here, native Pittsburghians or Japanese, feel free to correct me!

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