Speaking of federalism

Posted on August 5, 2017. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns | Tags: , , , , , |

Aug. 1 was the designated day when the rubber starts meeting the road for 700 or so new laws in Arkansas. It marked the passage of the 90-day citizen referendum period following the end of the legislative session, after which laws without specific effective-date clauses go into effect.

One law that didn’t get passed (or even proposed) was to declare Tuesday Arkansas Federalism Day. That is, after all, the merit-worthy governmental system which lends the credence and authority to our state motto’s core principle.

Each of the United States is still free and independent in many ways, despite continual congressional encroachment, to enact legislation governing the broadest spectrum of everyday activities. The resulting blessings and curses, silliness and seriousness, praises and protests, and all other emanations in response to the assorted acts of the 91st Legislature in actuality serve to strike a celebratory chord.

Federalism not only lives, but thrives, and thank goodness it does.

It celebrates diversity at its most fundamental core. From the very start, which is to say from the earliest colonial times, the people of the various states were different. The states themselves were different, too—topography and climate helped create diverse dictates, mandates and habits regarding lifestyles, language and legacies.

All those state differences, refined through the decades, is what makes and keeps America interesting.

Texas has had 75 mph speed limits for years. We’re just now getting ours.

High school students in other states may or may not have to take personal-finance classes. It’s the law in Arkansas now.

Not every state lets suckers (mis)use their debit cards to play the lottery. It became officially accepted legal tender here on Tuesday. Some states don’t even have a lottery. And among those that do, they manage and regulate them differently.

Being united but different states makes for wonderful travel experiences, and one of the prime indicators of locality is the way we talk. Dialect is often a dead giveaway precisely because words, pronunciations and speech are so regionally rooted.

A couple of Ph.Ds studied the matter as part of a linguistic survey project at Harvard, and then visually mapped the informative and amusing results.

What do you call insects that glow at night? the researchers asked. Here in the Natural State, and across the whole South and most of the Midwest, they’re lightning bugs, of course. Get west of the plains of Kansas, however, and folks all call them fireflies.

Is a privately hosted sale of household items properly termed a garage sale, a rummage sale, a yard sale or a tag sale? It depends. Arkansas looks pretty split on the map; more along the eastern Mississippi River border favors the “yard” prefix, while the Northwest Arkansas area prefers “garage.”

There’s a solid Southern color block on the map for the answer to how a group of people is rightly addressed: We all say “y’all.” But up north and out west, it’s “you guys,” hands down.

When you’re thirsty for a carbonated beverage, where you live colors your drink request. Californians and New Englanders will ask for a soda. Northerners want a pop.

In Dixie we’ve turned a brand generic. Give us a coke.

Water fountain or drinking fountain? The latter in the South and East, the former beyond the Rockies.

A freight hauler is a: (1) semi/semitruck; (2) tractor-trailer or (3) eighteen-wheeler. Most of the nation falls into camp 1. There’s a camp 2 patch up in the northeast, and most of Louisiana and Mississippi and part of Arkansas belong to camp 3.

Do you lace up sneakers or tennis shoes? If you said sneakers, you ain’t from around here, or anywhere even near here.

Caramel is a pretty simple word, but the number of syllables pronounced is completely dependent on geography. The syrupy, three-syllable vocalization is limited to the lingering vowels of the Deep South.

Another drawling divide: the second “a” sound in “pajamas.” North of the Mason-Dixon they all incorrectly rhyme it with “jam.” Everybody knows it’s an “ah” sound, like “father.”

And hard as it is to believe, most Americans verbally mangle the obvious sounding out proscribed by the spelling of the word “lawyer.”

If you thought the “loy-er” pronunciation was limited to New Yorkers and their neighbors, think again. We who say “law-yer” belong to the rapidly shrinking minority.

The map depicting what miniature crustaceans are called looks like a colored layer cake: red across the southern bottom for crawfish, green in the middle for crawdad, and blue all along the Canadian border states for crayfish.

I decided to test the validity of an interactive graphic quiz published by the New York Timesfeaturing 25 questions from the original Harvard Dialect Survey (which had more than 100).

The online exam claimed it would produce my personal dialect map from my answers.

I dutifully replied to each query, and after the final submission, the map popped up as promised.

It’s unnerving to seem so easily predictable that a mindless tabulation tool can peg you.

But there it was. The dot for the city named most similar to me was sitting smack-dab in the Arkansas center.

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