Speak­ing of fed­er­al­ism

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - Dana D. Kel­ley Dana D. Kel­ley is a free­lance writer from Jones­boro.

Aug. 1 was the des­ig­nated day when the rub­ber starts meet­ing the road for 700 or so new laws in Arkansas. It marked the pas­sage of the 90-day cit­i­zen ref­er­en­dum pe­riod fol­low­ing the end of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion, af­ter which laws without spe­cific ef­fec­tive-date clauses go into ef­fect.

One law that didn’t get passed (or even pro­posed) was to de­clare Tues­day Arkansas Fed­er­al­ism Day. That is, af­ter all, the merit-wor­thy gov­ern­men­tal sys­tem which lends the cre­dence and au­thor­ity to our state motto’s core prin­ci­ple.

Each of the United States is still free and in­de­pen­dent in many ways, de­spite con­tin­ual con­gres­sional en­croach­ment, to en­act leg­is­la­tion gov­ern­ing the broad­est spec­trum of every­day ac­tiv­i­ties. The re­sult­ing bless­ings and curses, silli­ness and se­ri­ous­ness, praises and protests, and all other em­a­na­tions in re­sponse to the as­sorted acts of the 91st Leg­is­la­ture in ac­tu­al­ity serve to strike a cel­e­bra­tory chord.

Fed­er­al­ism not only lives, but thrives, and thank good­ness it does.

It cel­e­brates di­ver­sity at its most fun­da­men­tal core. From the very start, which is to say from the ear­li­est colo­nial times, the peo­ple of the var­i­ous states were dif­fer­ent. The states them­selves were dif­fer­ent, too — to­pog­ra­phy and cli­mate helped cre­ate di­verse dic­tates, man­dates and habits re­gard­ing life­styles, lan­guage and lega­cies.

All those state dif­fer­ences, re­fined through the decades, is what makes and keeps Amer­ica in­ter­est­ing.

Texas has had 75 mph speed lim­its for years. We’re just now get­ting ours.

High school stu­dents in other states may or may not have to take per­sonal-fi­nance classes. It’s the law in Arkansas now.

Not ev­ery state lets suck­ers (mis) use their debit cards to play the lot­tery. It be­came of­fi­cially ac­cepted le­gal ten­der here on Tues­day. Some states don’t even have a lot­tery. And among those that do, they man­age and reg­u­late them dif­fer­ently.

Be­ing united but dif­fer­ent states makes for won­der­ful travel ex­pe­ri­ences, and one of the prime in­di­ca­tors of lo­cal­ity is the way we talk. Dialect is of­ten a dead giveaway pre­cisely be­cause words, pro­nun­ci­a­tions and speech are so re­gion­ally rooted.

A cou­ple of Ph.Ds stud­ied the mat­ter as part of a lin­guis­tic sur­vey project at Har­vard, and then visually mapped the in­for­ma­tive and amus­ing re­sults.

What do you call in­sects that glow at night? the re­searchers asked. Here in the Nat­u­ral State, and across the whole South and most of the Mid­west, they’re light­ning bugs, of course. Get west of the plains of Kansas, how­ever, and folks all call them fire­flies.

Is a pri­vately hosted sale of house­hold items prop­erly termed a garage sale, a rum­mage sale, a yard sale or a tag sale? It de­pends. Arkansas looks pretty split on the map; more along the east­ern Mis­sis­sippi River bor­der fa­vors the “yard” pre­fix, while the North­west Arkansas area prefers “garage.”

There’s a solid South­ern color block on the map for the an­swer to how a group of peo­ple is rightly ad­dressed: We all say “y’all.” But up north and out west, it’s “you guys,” hands down.

When you’re thirsty for a car­bon­ated bev­er­age, where you live col­ors your drink re­quest. Cal­i­for­ni­ans and New Eng­lan­ders will ask for a soda. North­ern­ers want a pop.

In Dixie we’ve turned a brand generic. Give us a coke.

Wa­ter foun­tain or drink­ing foun­tain? The lat­ter in the South and East, the for­mer be­yond the Rock­ies.

A freight hauler is a: (1) semi/ semitruck; (2) trac­tor-trailer or (3) eigh­teen-wheeler. Most of the na­tion falls into camp 1. There’s a camp 2 patch up in the north­east, and most of Louisiana and Mis­sis­sippi and part of Arkansas be­long to camp 3.

Do you lace up sneak­ers or ten­nis shoes? If you said sneak­ers, you ain’t from around here, or any­where even near here.

Caramel is a pretty sim­ple word, but the num­ber of syl­la­bles pro­nounced is com­pletely de­pen­dent on ge­og­ra­phy. The syrupy, three-syl­la­ble vo­cal­iza­tion is lim­ited to the lin­ger­ing vow­els of the Deep South.

An­other drawl­ing di­vide: the sec­ond “a” sound in “pa­ja­mas.” North of the Ma­son-Dixon they all in­cor­rectly rhyme it with “jam.” Ev­ery­body knows it’s an “ah” sound, like “fa­ther.”

And hard as it is to be­lieve, most Amer­i­cans ver­bally man­gle the ob­vi­ous sound­ing out pro­scribed by the spell­ing of the word “lawyer.”

If you thought the “loy-er” pro­nun­ci­a­tion was lim­ited to New York­ers and their neigh­bors, think again. We who say “law-yer” be­long to the rapidly shrink­ing mi­nor­ity.

The map de­pict­ing what minia­ture crus­taceans are called looks like a col­ored layer cake: red across the south­ern bot­tom for craw­fish, green in the mid­dle for craw­dad, and blue all along the Cana­dian bor­der states for cray­fish.

Ide­cided to test the va­lid­ity of an in­ter­ac­tive graphic quiz pub­lished by the New York Times fea­tur­ing 25 ques­tions from the orig­i­nal Har­vard Dialect Sur­vey (which had more than 100).

The on­line exam claimed it would pro­duce my per­sonal dialect map from my an­swers.

I du­ti­fully replied to each query, and af­ter the fi­nal sub­mis­sion, the map popped up as promised.

It’s un­nerv­ing to seem so eas­ily pre­dictable that a mind­less tab­u­la­tion tool can peg you.

But there it was. The dot for the city named most sim­i­lar to me was sit­ting smack-dab in the Arkansas cen­ter.

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