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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Parallelism, Random Examples of; Thoughts on

In a grocery checkout line in Cincinnati with a fellow graduate student, I noticed that the clerk’s curiosity was awakened when she heard my friend’s speech. To American ears, her English—one of two native languages she had grown up speaking—sounded accented.

“Where are you from?” came the inevitable question.

“Africa,” my friend answered laconically.

As we left the store, I asked her why she gave such a vague, general answer, why she didn’t say she was from Ethiopia.

“Most Americans? They don’t care. All they know is Africa.” She was also smiling, I should add. My friend was not a bitter or resentful person.

Over the years, again and again, I have noticed Americans referring to Africa as if it were a country rather than a continent. And yet they would never say of themselves that they are from “North America,” and if their question to a foreigner were answered with the name “Europe,” they would press for a specific country. Only when it comes to the continent of Africa does the parallelism break down, and when I hear examples, I am embarrassed for my fellow Americans.

Climbing and clambering. The ‘b’ is silent in the first, and pronouncing the second with a silent ‘b’ is perfectly acceptable, also. I prefer it that way for the parallelism. (Scrambling, on the other hand, needs its ‘b’ sound because of the ‘l’ that follows.) It wouldn’t surprise me to learn there are differences in the pronunciation of the word clamber from one part of the United States to another, and it may be one of those words (I’m not looking it up, but you are welcome to do so) about which the English apply a rule different from ours. The English so often have their own way of pronouncing words. Schedule, for example. Countries sharing a language, like siblings sharing a bedroom, are in frequent disagreement over what is allowable, sharing and dispute being two sides of one coin.

Foralongtimeinhumanhistorylanguagewaswrittenwithoutpunctuationandwithoutseparationbetweenwords. That we separate words now and punctuate sentences is a matter of convention. Some find the fluidity of language maddening, but one might as well be maddened by the evolution of plant and animal species.

Part of my garden this year is planted in the ground, part in straw bales, and a few items in wooden boxes. In the boxes are chard, spinach, kale and leaf lettuce, the lettuce only in double rows. Parallel rows. The boxes, as you can see, are placed end to end rather than parallel, for easier care, and as the greens have come in, the original seed rows have disappeared beneath the plants. Rabbits—amazingly, incredibly—have not bothered anything in the boxes. Yet!

Very young children are said to engage in “parallel play,” which means that they are playing in solitary fashion in one another’s vicinity—for example, two children in the same room, playing on the floor, each absorbed in his or her own make-believe. Around the yard in summer, David and I often engage in parallel work. When one of us finishes a job, we show off our accomplishment and invite the other’s appreciation.

Teachers of composition and speech are keen on parallelism. I like it, too. I feel in it an aspect of the more general idea of equality, something we feel before we conceptualize it at all.

I was surprised to finish reading Paul Auster's Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure so quickly. There were so many pages left, two-thirds of the physical book or so, but three appendices had swelled the volume. I didn't read the appendices. I did put the memoir on my "Books Read" list. This has nothing whatsoever to do with parallelism. So while we're off the subject, how do you feel about arugula?


BB-Idaho said...

Now there is an attention grabber. A bit more legible than boustrophedon
where we read from right to left alternativley:
reversed with
reversed letters-
-htiw desrever
srettel desrever
..throw in Da Vinci's
mirror writing and we have primitive code.
...English is hard enough!
I still chuckle at the new
newsgirl on our small town
TV news. She pronouced
Episcopal like episodal, replacing the 'd' with a 'p'.
My wife said why are you laughing so hard at a story about a church ice
cream social?

P. J. Grath said...

I would have laughed at the pronunciation, too, but now you’ve got me thinking about ice cream socials, especially those involving strawberries and whipped cream....