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How I Got Here?

George J. North, Jr.

Engl 4284, Fall 1994
Dr. Mackie J. V. Blanton
November 28, 1994

I. Background

"Economic systems are not good for languages." Leonhard Hertzenberg , Ph.D. is Fulbright Scholar at the University of California at Berkeley, Department of Near Eastern Studies. He is also Professor at the University of St. Petersburg, Russia, where he serves as Research Coordinator for the Department of General Linguistics. He is a member of the Russian Academy, Institute for Linguistic Research. It was my good fortune to be present on two occasions when Dr. Hertzenberg spoke, first on the linguistic history of Slav languages, and then on the current state of linguistic research and theory in Russia.

His "economic systems" comment was made during a discussion about tone systems and sound symbolism. When asked after his presentation to explain the comment, Dr Hertzenberg stated that speakers prefer simple language models, but listeners require complex models. Continuing, he explained that complex models deliver more input to the listener, which is required by the listener to derive meaning.

Much of what is presented here is derived from the free flowing discussions that occurred during Tuesday and Thursday morning classes at the University of New Orleans (UNO) -- Fall, 1994. English 4284, Social Dialects was conducted by Dr. Mackie Blanton. On many occasions, these discussions reflected the conflict set up by the opposing interests of speaker and listener. By conflict I mean the psychic struggle, often unconscious, resulting from the opposition or simultaneous functioning of mutually exclusive impulses. II. Aims

"The underlying goal of most conversational interviews is quite straight-forward: to get as much naturalistic speech as possible by the subject, that is, speech that represents how the subject speaks in ordinary, everyday conversation when language is not directly under examination. This is often easier said than done." The interview with my informant proved this statement. Just a few of the more than sixty minutes of recorded conversation reflects his natural speech patterns. The informant understood that both video and audio would become part of the UNO archives. Understandably, he was guarded in his mannerisms and quality of voice. Still, the data collected reflects an everyday, as opposed to edited, use of language.

Appendix A includes seventy-two sentences or fragments which include the word got or an equal (get, gotten, etc). Appendix B summarizes this data into seventeen categories by context or intended meaning. Appendix C is a transcription of the audio tapes. Appendix D contains two writing samples from my informant.

For sake of simplicity, this paper will treat speaking - writing, and listening - reading as if they are equalivant. Most of my data and most of this paper is concerned with one result arising out of the conflict between a speaker's desire for a simple language system, and the listener's needs of a complex system. I will not attempt to show, but do feel that the same relationship exists between writer and reader as does between speaker and listener. The writer's desire for a simple language system conflicts with the reader's desire for a complex one.

One result of this conflict can be seen in one word ... GOT . III. Procedure ... How I got here?

Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Bienville selected for himself a large portion of land opposite the city of New Orleans in April, 1718. This is the area that later became the site of the original Algiers. It is nestled in the Crescent of the Mississippi River. Also called the West Bank, parts of Algiers are move east than parts of the East Bank. Old Algiers, as we know it today, dates to 1895. On October 20 of that year, fire destroyed most of the town. Two hundred and fifty homes burned on streets with names like Villete, Seguin, De la Ronde, Bermuda, La Boeuf and Elmyra. Much of the growth of Algiers is due to the Southern Pacific Railroad ( the SP) and its predecessors. Huge railroad yards were created, extending from the river to the Orleans-Jefferson Parish line, a distance of 22 blocks long and two blocks wide. The machine shop at the SP yard constructed some of the largest steam locomotives ever built. Because the railroad yards set up a barrier dividing Algiers, viaducts were constructed at Patterson and Newton streets, and a foot bridge near Alix street.

Sometime after the Civil War, George North moved from England to the United States. He settled in Algiers, died destitute, and was buried in a grave donated by the policemen's association. His son William B. North lived in Algiers all of his life. He worked with the Southern Pacific Railroad until retirement at age 65. For many years, William was chief engineer for the railroad ferry, which carried RR cars to and from New Orleans and Algiers.

My father, George, the fourth son of William was born November 15, 1917. He is a lifelong resident of Algiers. My mother, Emma Falgout Ford North, and her parents, were also lifelong residents. Even though I now live in Metairie, La., I consider myself a lifelong resident of Algiers. In the fullest sense of the word, Algiers is my family's neighborhood.

George North, Sr. is a gentle man willing to help all, unable to harm any. On August 22, 1941, America had not yet entered the war. A military draft was begun the previous October. With some of his brothers and friends already in the service, my father was prepared when his turn came. On entering the service he received four weeks basic training . He spent the next three years in the US working a desk job. In August 1944 he was ordered to Europe, and became one of many troops used for reinforcements. His only experience firing a weapon came in 1941 during basic training with a World War I vintage rifle. He was now assigned to an infantry Regiment already deeply involved in combat.

October, 1944 ...

Against stiffening resistance by fresh German regiments rushed from the Po Valley, the First Battalion drove for Gesso. Courageous rifleman fought their way into the outskirts of the town on 10 October in a night attack; but were forced to fall back in the face of savage counterattack in great strength. The Second Battalion, attacking along high ground on the right flank, scored limited gains and suffered very heavy casualties in fighting reminiscent of Capello. Major Edwin H. Marks took command of the Second Battalion when Colonel Boyd was seriously wounded, and Colonel Champeny brought up tanks to the high ground overlooking Gesso and ordered the First and Third Battalions to storm the town.

During the night both the First and Third Battalions made repeated desperate attacks on the town, and both units were halted by intense mortar and machine gun fire, in addition to suffering heavy casualties in schu-minefields. British troops on the right of the 351st had not kept pace with the regiment and heavy fire was being received from that flank. Before daylight both battalions pulled back to deflade least they be caught in open ground directly in front of the German positions. Overwhelming fire power and all-out infantry assault would be necessary to break the bitter resistance, for the enemy had no intentions of withdrawing form his powerful positions.

As Companies E and F battled heavy resistance on 24 October in an attempt to reach Company G , now surrounded and fighting desperately, the following radio message was intercepted form the 1st Parachute Regiment to the 1st Battalion, 4th Parachute Regiment: "Attack Vedriano. Vedriano is decisive!" Men of the First and Third Battalions, themselves locked in battle against desperate Germans counterattacks, noticed the rattle of small arms fire coming through the mist form Vedriano. In the afternoon the sounds of firing faded away and a short time later another message was intercepted: "Vedriano retaken. Eighty Americans captured. "

Although they were overwhelmed and could not hold Vedriano, the men of Company G had approached closer to the Po Valley than any unit in Fifth Army -- for it was less than five thousand yards to Highway 9, the main lateral road for the German forces facing both the Fifth and Eighth Armies. The heroic men of the 351st Infantry Regiment had fought and suffered as long as was humanly possible -- had the order come through to attack, they would have come out of their muddy foxholes and again stormed the German bastions in their characteristic savage manner. But with over two thousand dead and wounded in thirty-one days of fighting, and a critical shortage of replacements and ammunition, the 351st dug-in and organized its bloody ground for defense. For the third time in less than a year the 351st Infantry had distinguished itself by spearheading Fifth Army drives up the mountainous Italian Peninsula. Those who survived the bloody Gothic fighting could look upon their accomplishments with pride and thanksgiving.

How I got here ...

One assignment for History 4991, American Presidents and the Cold War , was to complete an oral history. The purpose of an oral history is to personalize history. This assignment includes selecting an appropriate individual, preparing for, then arranging and conducting a personal interview. Selection of an appropriate individual was of some concern to me. Very early on, I sought and received permission to interview a veteran of World War II. Permission to do so was required because this assignment was to interview someone in military service during the Cold War period which started after WWII. So that I would conform to the assignment, I searched and found an acquaintance who, in the Navy, spent one year in Germany around 1966. I spoke with him on two occasions in preparation for an interview. Mostly he related how much fun he and his wife had in Europe. They traveled as much as possible. Still, I knew there was a story there somewhere, because he worked with military ease-dropping technology, and had a top-secret clearance. In preparation, I reread the assignment.

The purpose of an oral history is to personalize history. I now realize that, for myself, history will never be more personal than an interview with my father. On October 24, 1944, my father and eighty men of Company G, 351st Infantry Regiment were overrun by German forces near the Po Valley in northern Italy. He was a prisoner of war (a PW) for six months when he was liberated by American troops headed for Berlin. In the time since, I have not known him to talk about that experience in any detail.

On October 24, 1994, I asked my father if he would agree to be interviewed concerning his capture and time in PW camp. He was pleased and excited to do so. On November 4, 1994, I met with him at his home. I explained that I would both video tape and audio tape our conversation. He was ready and willing, so we proceeded. It was obvious to me that he had prepared for our conversation in advance. He was at ease through out, and answered all questions in some detail. This session lasted about forty minutes. On November 11, 1994, I returned for a second session. The purpose of another session was to cover in some detail four days in an over crowded box car traveling to Prison of War camp. He and more than one hundred other GI's were crowded into a small box car with standing room only. This session also covered life inside Stalag 7A. Daily life and daily conversation centered around food. Prison food and home cooking seemed to be a center of conversation. He described a blower stove that was constructed by many of the PW's there. Everyone used stoves such as this to recook each meal. This session lasted about twenty minutes, and was video and audio taped.

How I got here ...

The Fall semester 1994 will complete my undergraduate degree requirements; a graduate assistantship awaits. Enrolled in my last twelve hours, classes started on Monday, August 29. Everything was coming up roses. By Tuesday, I was in a major panic. A letter from my advisor arrived stating that I needed eighteen, not twelve hours to graduate. And that an Urban Studies class in which I was enrolled could not be counted. The last day to add courses is tomorrow ... and I needed to add nine hours. Everyone I talked with heard the same sad story. "Recommend for me a class -- PLEASE." I was on and off TEL-A-GATOR, adding and dropping classes for two days. On Wednesday, exhausted, I flopped down in Jennifer's office. Patricia and Jennifer heard my oft'mentioned refrain, "give me a course, any course." Like most of my friends, they mostly ignored me. When I was leaving the room, Jennifer mentioned English 4284. She and Patricia were enrolled, and the course description seemed to fit well with my graduate assistantship project. A major requirement for this course was to write this paper. Jennifer and I agreed that we could cooperate on research for the paper. A meeting with the instructor confirmed that possibility.

A most favorable result of this is Dr. Mackie Blanton's involvement with the Toyota Families for Learning project. My assistantship project is loosely coupled with the Toyota project. Dr. Blanton has also agreed to worked in an advisory roll with my project. The goal of which is to develop computer education software for preschool children. For many reasons, this paper did not develop around its original goals. Partly because Jennifer changed status from credit to audit, but mainly (as I now realize) because Dr. Blanton, by design, wanted decisions about this paper delayed as long as possible.

With three weeks remaining in this semester, I wanted to be finished with this paper. Not only wasn't it finished, I didn't know what to do (by design). The Oral History project was complete and turned in. With audio and video tapes in hand, I decided to ask permission to use my father as informant for this paper. "Of course," replied Dr. Blanton. The audio tape was already transcribed.

On November 26, I asked my wife to sit with me and view the video of my father. It was my hope that she could point out for me several instances of how my speech patterns are similar to my father's. For an hour, we sat in silence watching my father. Only once did my wife say anything about our similarities. Taking notes myself, I began to notice my father's use of the word got . It was the first time I took notice of this -- having listened to the tape many times recently. Later, I watched again and documented 51 uses in 67 minutes of video. A week later, another viewing revealed 81 incidents of got (get, getting, gotten, etc.). On Thursday, December 1, I showed Dr. Blanton my data and asked for advice. He said something to the effect of "... you've really got something now." What, I still did not know.

On Tuesday and Wednesday next (December 5 and 6), I attended talks by a visiting professor of linguistics. One brief statement caught my attention. "Economic systems are not good for languages." As a computer Scientist, this cut against my grain. Economic systems are a major design goal. Afterward, I ask the professor to explain what he meant. As he explained, it turns out that economic language systems are a design goal of speakers, but listeners require complex systems. This was interesting information, but how does it apply to my paper. What does a language system got to do with got ? IV. Significance

Evidence of the unavoidable conflict between a speaker's simple language model and a listener's complex model can be found in the evolution of very simple words such as get . The verb get is an old word. It is derived from ghend, also ghed meaning to seize, take; from Old Norse geta, to get; beget, from Old English beg(i)etan, to get, beget. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) lists 72 categories of meanings for get. Each category includes many different usages. For example, category get under has twenty-three listed usages. I didn't want to count, but feel safe in saying that get has several hundred definable usages, or definitions. The OED lists 71 different spellings. One common use is: to come into possession or use of. A not so common use is: to accomplish or attain as a result of military action. Both of these uses are documented in my data.

Simple words acquire complex and varied meanings as a result the conflict between speaker and listener. A speaker uses simple words from which a listener must derive complex meanings. The same is true about writers and readers, but their conflict can be more severe because words are more important in writing than in speaking. In other words, spoken language is a more rich environment for deriving meaning than written language. The conflict of simple versus complex is a beneficial one. It results in words such as get that serve the needs of both speaker and listener. Although, an often prolonged battle or war will occur when a one basilect is established as the mesolect. This is the state of affairs in the United States as was illustrated during the current semester of English 4284. This is also a beneficial war, in which both sides are correct in their positions. Accepting a student's basilect while teaching the mesolect are equally desirable. V. Observation (Data)

The data presented in the appendix is used as an example to illustrate the results of the conflict between speaker and listener. Seventy-two examples of the use of get are included. These are shown to represent seventeen different usages. With further examination two groups emerge: common meanings, and less common or obscure meanings. The common and obscure usages are split about equally, thirty-eight to thirty-four.

It is obvious that the data presented here is far from sufficient to show relationship or revealance of any assertion. The data is used as a focus for discussion, not a proof.

VI. Description (rules)

The assertion is: common words, such as get take on complex meaning as a result of the unavoidable conflict set up by a speaker's simple language model versus the listener needs for a complex model. For just a moment, think of the other alternatives. Both speaker and listener accept an economic system for languages. Why would a simple word such as get have complex meanings? Both speaker and listener accept a complex system for languages. Why would a simple word such as get exist at all? A speaker requires a complex system, but listener requires a simple one. Why would a speaker use a simple word as get to convey many varied meanings?

The chart below illustrates the data in Appendix A and B. Categories 1, 2, and 3 are common uses of get . Statistically, their use is equal to all other uses of get. This speaker splits use of get evenly between simple and complex meanings. Half of the occurrences are based on a simple model, half on a complex model.

38 occurrences are simple usages, 34 occurrences are complex usages.

VII. Explanation

"True language is multilayered. It is composed of a system of meaning-less elements that combine by rules into meaningful structures. Sounds, meaningless in themselves, form meaningful words or parts of words. Words themselves combine by rules of syntax into sentences. Sentences, in turn, combine into discourse. This can be either oral, as in conversation, or written, as in texts. Although we usually think of sentences as having rules of grammar, we shall see that discourse also has rules."

The grammar of discourse is a larger concept than sentence grammar. An individual's knowledge of grammar is manifest in their (personal) language. Personal language is called basilect. In conversation, oral or written, theer is an inverse relationship between the number of shared discourse rules and the complexity of the language system used. In conversation, oral or written, the simplest language systems are used by individuals of the same basilect. In conversation, oral or written, complex language systems are used by individuals without a common basilect. Lingua Franca, Pidgion and Creole are complex language systems in search of a simple language system.
Simple words, such as get , evolve from a search by the speaker for a economic language model. Simple words, such as get , obtain complex meanings out of a listener's need for a rich language environment. So it is that language development evolves out of a dance between speakers and listeners, between writers and readers, between publishers and subscribers.