22 September 2007

Divided by a Common Language in Lionboy, books 2 and 3

Back in May I discussed how in Zizou Corder's Lionboy a circus impresario from the "southern Empire" of America uses "y'all" incorrectly. Major Thibaudet doesn't use "you-all" any more correctly on page 29 of the second book. But that's just the start of the problem.

Accents usually reveal where you're from, not just in geography but also in class. The British are usually thought to be experts in this sort of assessment. But Corder has trouble sorting out the accents on this side of the Atlantic.

In the trilogy's later books Corder again tells us how Major Tib "drawled in his lazy southern Empire voice." Usually he sounds like a Louisiana gentleman, but he can suddenly drop a few pegs on the class scale and say, "that ain't a problem, don't ya think?" Or turn British by telling an employee, "You're creakin' sacked." Or pull out the Yiddishism "no-goodnik."

Then there's the Head Chief Executive, another American. He sounds like this:

"Good to see ya, good to see ya. . . . And the football team--well, wow! All a' them! But of course the prize of the lot--Maccomo, you pulled it off! The Catspeaker! What can I say? You prarbly know we had a little trouble over in Yurp with the parents. . . But thanks to you that's all over. They'll be here licketysplit I'll bet, and we'll have all the ingredients we need for a fine a profitable noo season a'research."
The HCE says "y'all," too (correctly), and "ain't."

But every so often the HCE's folksiness sounds forced, like Fred Thompson playing a presidential candidate, and out comes a clunker like, "He can join the program along of all the other folks, and I daresay he'll be far the better man for it." In the end I decided the HCE's lines are best read the way the Monty Python gang used to do outrageous Amurkan accents, all Rs and round vowels.

There are no real Americans in the Lionboy books. In the final scenes, Sally Ann from Tennessee, working on an Atlantic island totally run by the American-rooted Corporacy, offers everyone "biscuits" instead of cookies. And all those folks, not just the ones from Yurp and Africa, want tea instead of coffee, Coke, or sweet tea.

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