Saturday, 23 September 2017

shibboleth, cool whip

 Recently we were introduced to a phonological concept that struck as completely novel though we’d been acquainted with one of its most cited examples for some time: the rhyming passkey—in a sense—Bûter, brea, en griene tsiis; wa’t dat net sizze kin, is gjin oprjochte Fries (Butter, bread and green cheese; who can’t say this is no authentic Frisian) was employed during an early sixteenth century revolt to weed out Danes in their midst, reasoning that only native speakers could pronounce all the words properly.
The term shibboleth is from a biblical battle where accent and pronunciation similarly distinguished friend from foe and can figuratively refer to not just a language test to differentiate in-groups from out-groups—given that scripts are adapted to the set of sounds unique or common to every language—but more broadly to cohesive, meaningful jargon, shared experiences, anthems, prayers or other common cultural touchstones. I suppose the term could further be abstracted into sort of an anti-alphabet or anti-lexicon of limitations, like asking a German to say “squirrel” or any number of tongue-twisters that it would be a challenge for a foreigner to master. Do you know your own personal set of shibboleths? We are all outsiders and misfits to some group and that’s perfectly fine. Why are you saying it all weird?