t shirts of dustunction?

February 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Today is the superbowl in the United States in which the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Green Bay Packers. Pittsburghers, it seems,  prides themselves on their American footballing history and it seems their ‘dialect’, Pittsburghese. Sociolinguist, Barbara Johnstone has been tracking what she calls the enregisterment of this urban idalect. That kinda clumsy long word simply means the linking of a variants in ways of speaking or using a dialect with particular places and people. She sees a chain of events happening:

  1. regional variants exist which can be linked to identity features, geographic orgin, age, ethnicity, gender etc
  2. these variants come to do social work, that is they are linked to ideologies about speaking largely about class and correctness
  3. these variants and the class/ideologies are then linked to different elements of identity about the speakers in a sense linking in this final stage to ideas about a place.

So for the example of Pitstburghese, features that were once considered markers of incorrect speech of working class males of Pittsburgh were re-imagined and linked instead to  ideas about that place and the people who live there. Pittsburghers love the Steelers, love to drink a particular beer and use yinz  to create a distinct and distinctive second person plural and say gumban for ‘rubber band’.

One of the interesting elements of Johnstone’s research is how this enregisterment of a local dialect becomes a commodity. In her 2009 article in American Speech (retrievable from here) she discusses the appearance of t-shirts celebrating the identity and language of the city.

What has this got to do with us down here in the South Pacific? Well here at *b-ling* we have often discussed the t-shirt as text and it seems to me we are in the process of commodifying NZ English, and perhaps even more interesting commodifying the intersection of two forms of English here, NZ English and Maaori English. We have already seen here and here the emergence of images of the NZ linguistic landscape in t-shirt form and to update you, here are even more from retrokiwi

Sweet as is a classic piece of NZ English discussed by Massey scholars in Petrucci, P. R., Head, M. G. (2006). Sweet as is cool for New Zealanders. American Speech, 81 (3), 331-336.

Tu meke is a transliteration of the phrase too much!  Interestingly on the t-shirt above this is presented as a two word phrase like the English, however it is most often written as tumeke!  The form is homophonous with an item in the Maaori lexicon meaning ‘to scare/frighten/surprise’. In fact, scholars like Hohepa, (personal communication) argue that the surprise meaning and the transliteration are entwined since tumeke is used as an interjection and a positive evaluative.

Kia kaha, bro is a nice bit of codemixing. The Maaori translates as ‘be strong’ with the addition of the shortened kin term which is commonly used in New Zealand. Originally a feature of Maaori English, this as many other features hasbeen added to the NZ English of young and middle aged Paakehaa speakers as well, further proof of the covert prestige afforded to Maaori ways of speaking?

Chur  or chur chur, or chur bro, though the last seems to be undergoing further change to chur bo are also strongly associated with Maaori speakers of English. It appears to be a remodelled ‘cheers’ widely used as informal expression of gratitude. Chur also seems to have have meanings akin to ‘awesome’ or even a sense of agreement. The phrase chur chur bro is currently being used to connect with young Maaori as the title of a mental health information programme.


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