I Grew Up Speaking Indiana English, Unknowingly

Written by Ralph E. Shaffer

Friday, 28 December 2018

I grew up in a rural part of the state, way out in the country. We moved there when I was three. At five, I started kindergarten at George WaRshington Elementary school. That capital R is not a typo. The R belongs there, but it really should be a small letter r. I capitalized it for emphasis, because, until not long ago, I always pronounced the last name of the nation's first president as WaRshington, and that's the way the name of the school came out of my mouth, too. My brother went to the same school and proudly told everyone he went to WaRshington.

We were consistent. At home each morning we waRshed our faces with a waRsh rag. But it wasn't just variations of the word "wash" that we altered. How about squaRsh? As I said, we lived in the country, on a half acre. Our neighbors raised chickens. We grew squaRsh. Yep, that intrusive R seemed to be everywhere.

Except when the intrusive I replaced it. You had to know whether the word called for an R or an I. Actually, you didn't even think about it when you said the words.

When cars were in a wreck, I called it a "craIsh." A one syllable word became two syllables. I removed the aIshes from the fireplace. An obnoxious guy was braIsh. I caIshed a check. I always lost in the 100-yard daIsh. You get the picture.

I taught at a state university for 30 years, and in the k-12 for 6 years before that. Taught American history, and I'm sure George WaRshington was our first president when I lectured. Until, at some time, without anyone pointing it out to me, I realized that I was garbling names and other nouns. Before I retired - a long time ago - I carefully spoke of General Washington, without the R. But I'm sure that in casual conversation that R is there where it shouldn't be, along with the intrusive I in maIsh, as in squaRshing potatoes.

Only recently did I get a clue as to why I added the R and I. All my life I spoke Indiana English, but I never lived in Indiana. The rural area I lived in was 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles. My parents, however, were raised in Indiana, leaving rural Dana in their early twenties. They grew up with the Indiana dialect, officially called Midland America English because it's found in several states in the heartland of America. I learned to talk from them, and to talk like them, as did my brother. I'm afraid my own kids may have picked up the intrusive R and I from me, but not as completely. I'll have to ask them who the first president was, and what you call a 100-yard race.

At 88, it probably doesn't matter that I still occasionally add that R and I. I'm at the end of a very long marathon and I'm about to make that daIsh to the finish line.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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