Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Two working toilets

I get the train to work, and I'm by now very familiar with the various announcements (and the different announcers, some of whom are very funny and all of whom are cheerful and polite) throughout the journey. My home station is at the end of the line, so they do a sort of 'welcome to this service' announcement when we set off. Part of this reveals a funny little quirk of the standard blurb.

On the train I get, there are six coaches and there's a toilet in the first and last coach (or if it's peak time, they combine two of these six-coach units). The conductor says this:
There are two working toilets on this train.
This is an existential sentence, asserting the existence of something (the toilets). This is what we need to know, along with the information that they're in coaches A and F. The extra fact that the toilets are working is also provided, and while it's arguably essential information, it introduces some other implicatures.

Take this alternative wording:
There are two toilets on this train.
Wouldn't you assume that they're both working? OK, previous experience of British railways might make you wary of such an assumption, but the lack of an apology for an out-of-service lav would leave me reasonably confident that the toilets are at least working when we set off, whatever may happen to them later on.

This means that the extra information 'working' is not required: it can be inferred without needing to be explicitly spelt out, along with everything else in the world that is either not relevant or assumed to be true unless otherwise indicated (so, for instance, you don't preface everything you say with the assertion that you are of sound mind, telling the truth, in possession of the relevant facts, and that grass is green and so on). The fact that it's there means that we assume it's relevant in some way. What could it relevantly mean? Well, that there are some other toilets that don't work, perhaps. Perhaps there's a toilet in every coach but only the two at either end are in working order. Or perhaps - and this is more likely - the toilets are often not working, leading to a long walk along the length of the train, so the fact that both are working today is worth knowing.

Either way, it's not giving the right impression of the train's toilets (which are actually clean and in working order most of the time).

Monday, 11 August 2014

Annual check-up on my dialect

I moved to Kent two years ago now, or very nearly, and we've been properly living in Margate for just over a year (I semi-commuted for the first year between Canterbury and Newcastle). Seems about time to do the annual check-in with what language changes I've undergone in that time.
Margate Main Sands
It's notoriously hard to analyse your own speech, but I'll have a go. I do know that the very instant we moved here, I dropped almost all the Newcastle features I'd spent 20 years very slowly acquiring and enthusiastically embraced a southern accent. This is a departure from last year, when I was trying to create an identity for myself and was 'the Geordie', and played up my accent a bit. I suppose now that my partner is also here, who has a much stronger accent than me, I can't be the one with the Geordie accent. Maybe it's also to do with the fact that I'm now settled here, whereas last year I was still not sure I'd be here any longer than that one year.

Some accent features I spotted very quickly were a change in my long vowels, which I can't quite pinpoint but I think it's a slight lengthening and lowering (technical stuff - they're basically very slightly different), and l-vocalisation. This means that your l's sound more like vowels, or w's, so you say 'miwk' rather than 'milk'. In addition, I've been levelling my copulas (oo-er). That means that instead of saying 'I was' and 'we were', you say 'we was' - just using that one form. You can also do it the other way, and say 'I were', but I've not been doing that one. This is funny because they do a similar thing in Newcastle and I hardly picked it up at all, but I got the southern one straight away.