Friday, December 13, 2013

From the West Coast to the East Coast

My husband recently sent me a link to the 12 Sayings Only People from California Will Understand. It sounded mildly amusing to my linguistic brain, but trust me, the amusement is far more than mild! When I read it, it totally clicked. I grew up knowing what "june gloom" was and speaking about "the carpool lane." I remember learning "hecka/hella" only when I met people from NorCal (Northern California) and thinking it sounded so odd. I know natively the words dank and shred in their California usage; I use dude, gnarly, and cray-cray frequently; and I overuse epiclike, and literally on a daily basis.

It made me nostalgic to reread these words from my home state. Words are how we portray ourselves, and these words were mine. They tell me and others where I belong. The way I speak places me in a location and says, "Those there are my people from whom I come."

It's crazy all the little things that define us and make us different. You never realize what those things are until you get out into the big wide world and discover, like Peregrin Took did, that the meal Elevenses isn't universal.* In some not-so-far-off land you may find, as I did, that "crap" isn't always the polite form of a swear word (much as "dang" stands in for "damn") and that here it is more offensive. You might hear "God bless" as a common greeting, whereas in other places the reference to God gives offence.

It is funny all the little things that make a place into a Place. The arbitrary set of behaviors that turn some group of people into A Group Of People. Some form of the collective somehow melds into a "we."

This is not wrong, nor bad. We need community. We need a Place from which we come, a Place where we belong. We need someone to teach us some version of the narrative of life for us to live at first--and on our journey continue tweaking it, of course, with all the other cultural narratives we encounter. But our culture will forever guide us: it tells us how to interact with others, how to express ourselves, how to attract attention or avoid it, how to give a compliment without giving offense. Culture is the common fabric by which we communicate not just words but ideas and know that they will not be misunderstood.

In all this wide world there must be very many words and behaviors and manners and ideas and traditions and ideologies, which means there must be a Place for each where it can flourish and be practiced. Without subcultures, there would be no diversity.

And without subcultures, there would be no unity. For cultures will merge together just as they split off from one another. They are fluid and ever-changing, like the people of whom they are made. Change is natural. Linguists will all universally tell you: languages converge but they also diverge. Latin, the old language of the world, used its influence to infiltrate English and German and countless others, but it also split into Spanish, French, and Italian. English is now sadly wiping out many smaller languages as it becomes the new trade language of the known and knowing world, but it is also splitting: you get Chinglish and Spanglish and Hinglish and all sorts of plays along the common theme of English but each with the variety and diversity of the individual people who speak it. English, like all languages, daily changes according to humanity's varied needs.

Humans spread things among ourselves. Whether by war and conquering or by peace and sharing, our technologies and cultures spread. But wherever something is spread to, so it also becomes unique. We take things as our own. In Socal, we took dank from meaning dark, damp, and mouldery to cool, awesome, and crazy. We made words our own, and in so doing, words made us. We are a people, called Socalers. We are individual, different, unique. Everyone needs a place in the world, and our home culture(s)** helps give us a little bit of that.

And there are Norcalers and Virginians and Washingtonians and all the rest. There are Davisites and San Diegans; there are swimmers and surfers; there are digital artists and classic artists; there are...a thousand things we have taken as our own to become our identities.

And dude, this epic, gnarly language is a part of mine.

Word count: 748.

*Sorry, guys. You'll have to forgive me if my mind is dwelling over-much on all things Tolkien... Today is the day of the release of The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, after all. Also, I was very pleased to see that Google Chrome's spell check did not flag "elevenses." Apparently it's a word in their dictionary :)
**Let's admit, for some of you, there isn't just one. You've had to balance two or more cultures that were at odds, all asking for you to join them. Perhaps you liked having multiple identities, or it caused tension inside you. In fact, all of us have felt that tension, haven't we? I was a homeschooler but also a public-schooler; I am a writer but I also love Calculus. Our identities are always in tension somewhere, for no person perfectly fits any cultural or subcultural bounds. Those who fit the least are perhaps those most prone to travel...