ozarque (ozarque) wrote,

Linguistics; Ozark English; "About Cows, and Ozark English Discourse"

About Cows, and Ozark English Discourse

Let's just suppose that when someone is about to speak they have four broad goals for the language sequence they use: that it be understood; that it be believed; that it give pleasure (or at minimum that it not provoke hostility); and that it be remembered. The way in which these goals are ranked in importance for the speaker is a matter of personal choice, with the most typical order probably being understanding, then believing, then either pleasure or remembrance -- depending. A crochety and elitist professor might rank a classroom utterance as RUBP; that is: "I want you to remember this. I hope you understand it. I'd prefer you to believe it, but if you don't, so be it. And I'm not particularly interested in whether it gives you any pleasure or not." The politician making a routine political speech might choose BPRU. The Ozark speaker who makes choices that strike the purist as excessively nonstandard usually does so deliberately, based on the ranking given to those four communication goals. Which brings us to those cows. Consider this:

1. "Come get your cows."

This utterance puts understanding first; it's in English, it's an unambiguous command, and it has no extra words in it to interfere with comprehension. It puts belief next; nobody would say such a thing if the cows weren't really there needing to be retrieved. Remembering follows; any Ozark English speaker knows this utterance is so rude that it's unforgettable. As for giving pleasure, the speaker is either almost indifferent to this goal or is deliberately working against it. [It wouldn't be true to say that the speaker hasn't considered giving pleasure at all. There are worse things that could have been said, such as "Come get your damfool cows" or "Come get your cows, or else."]

Here are some of the many alternative ways to start letting somebody know that their cows are on your property and should be removed by said somebody -- with the stipulation that they're all said neutrally, not sarcastically or condescendingly or with hostile intonation. Examples 2-9 are Ozark English; example 10 is not.

2. "Guess what I just saw in my front yard?"
3. "You might want to take a look at what's in my front yard."
3. "You'll never believe what I just saw in my front yard."
4. "Might could be you'd want to take a look out your east window toward my front yard."
5. "You know, I do believe your cows are out."
6. "I'm wondering ... do you know where your cows have got to?"
7. "Hey, guess where your cows are? [Or "are now?" Or "are this time?"]
8. "I do hate to say it, but I'm about at the end of my tether with your cows."
9. "I'm truly sorry to have to tell you this, but your cows are in my yard again."
10. "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but your cows are in my yard again. I'm afraid you will have to come get them."

Each of these utterances demonstrates a speaker's strategy based upon a particular ranking of the four communication goals. Because come the day your neighbor's cows are in your yard and you want that neighbor to come get them, you can't say just any old thing. Cows are a nuisance in a way that's almost awesome. And if you don't choose your words with care, you'll find yourself with one of two outcomes: (a) your neighbor says, "Be damned if I'll come get 'em!" and hangs up on you; or (b) your neighbor says, "I'll get to that, first chance I have." Either of those responses means you're in for a bad day, and there is no County Cow Catcher you can call for assistance. The list of good excuses that can be offered for not yet having come to get those cows is as infinite as any formal construct you might care to devise.

Do not think that if you decide you'll just get rid of the cows yourself it will be easy. It is easier to move a department chairman than it is to move even one cow. Fire a .45 over the head of a department chairman or drive straight at one with a pickup truck, he (or she) will move; a cow will not. I have tried both of those tactics any number of times, and no cow has ever so much as budged. It's not just a matter of saying, "Shoo, cows!" Trust me.

If I were actually to say to you, "Come get your cows," one of the two things I want you to understand is that I don't give a hoot how you feel about that utterance or how you feel about me personally. "I'm afraid you will have to come get them" is almost as bad. I know someone who would say that, because that someone would rather suffer the consequences of cows than stoop to the use of Ozark English. That someone will forever suffer the consequences of cows-in-the-yard, and many other unpleasantries -- but it is her conscious and deliberate choice. It is a militant refusal to speak OzE. Publicly, she will blame Providence for the perpetual presence of other people's cows on her property, but she knows better.

It happens that the best choice on that list, the one least likely to end you up with a chronic cow problem, is the entirely nonstandard #4 with its double modal. That example has as its metamessage: "Now, there's a problem over here, and I'm not pleased, and we need to talk about it, and you need to fix it. But I want you to know that I am on your side and that I admire the way you look after your cows." And its ranking is UPRB.
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