Sunday, January 23, 2005

Death of a Calque

One of the peculiarities of Cincinnati English is the "Cincinnati please." It is (or has been) common for native Cincinnatians, to say "please?" when the rest of us would say "pardon?" or "what?" or "huh?" or (in California) "come again?" This use of please is a calque (loan translation) from German bitte; Cincinnati was heavily populated by German immigrants in the 19th century and "please?" is one of the places where the German substratum of Cincinnati English is still visible.

For a while anyway. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, "please?" is on the way out. I'll miss it; anything that differentiates regions in this country is always good, in my book.

At least we still have brats, by which I mean bratwurst, which is a big favorite here. It's pronounced to rhyme with "lots," by the way; John Kerry didn't win any friends last fall when he announced during a campaign stop how much he loved eating "brats," pronounced to rhyme with "cats." Thanks for caring, Senator.

Another Cincinnatism that might be an outcropping of the German substratum has to do with intonation. It is typical of natives here to agree with you and yet sound like they are contradicting you.
A: Dang, it's cold today.
B: YEAH it is.
Most of the rest of us would say "Yeah, it IS." My theory — and I haven't thoroughly researched this — is that the intonation might be a Germanism as well. I really don't know if Germans today say "JA sicher" (please write and tell me) when they are agreeing with you. But I did notice last summer that the Dutch say "jazeker" (certainly) in the exact intonation of "YEAH it is."

Anyway, here's hoping that this peculiar intonation remains. Long live heterogeneity!

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