Inquiring Minds

You Say Tomahto

Ayuh, the New England dialect is still "heeyah." But is it disappearing or holding its own? And exactly who is still "pahking the cah in Hahvahd yahd?" Using tape recordings and surveys completed by lifetime residents of Massachusetts and "New Hampsha," Naomi Nagy, linguistics program coordinator and assistant professor of English at UNH, has been identifying and mapping local speech patterns as part of the McGill-New Hampshire-Vermont Dialect Survey. "We wanted to find out what kind of boundaries affect dialects," she explains. "Were they political (borders) or geographical (mountains and rivers)?"

Nagy and her students have talked to people, old and young, from Pittsfield, Mass., to the New Hampshire notches and down to the South Shore. They have found that the New England dialect is still intact in most areas, especially in the cities, but in southern New Hampshire, it appears to be changing. Folks in Boston and northern New Hamphire are still dropping their Rs (saying bahn for barn or cah for car) and broadening their As (ahnt for aunt, glahs for glass) with great regularity. But residents of southern New Hampshire-and young women especially-are doing it less. Perhaps, Nagy theorizes, this reflects "the lack of appeal to New Hampshire residents of the 'big city' life offered by Boston."

Nagy found that in Boston, eastern Massachusetts and northern New Hampshire, most people make a distinction between the words merry and Mary. In southern New Hampshire-Nashua, Concord, Manchester and the Seacoast-people pronounce merry and Mary the same way, like homonyms. In Boston and northern New Hampshire, father and bother sound a bit like fahtha and bawtha. In southern New Hampshire, father and bother rhyme. The closer New Hampshire residents live to Boston, the less likely they are to sound like Bostonians, Nagy says. They could be demonstrating "their independence from the nearby metropolis." Dialect changes of this kind occur in many parts of the country, Nagy says. "Northern industrial cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit and Pittsburgh are undergoing a dialect overhaul that involves almost all their vowels." This so-called "Northern Cities Shift" is making the dialect in those cities more distinct from speech in other parts of the country. "Their cot sounds like our cat, their cat sounds like key-at, get like gut, and gut like got," Nagy explains.

The causes of such a shift can be hard to pin down, Nagy says, because "a dialect normally has several different changes in progress at any one time." Is television a major influence? "Perhaps for vocabulary, but not for pronunciation," she says, explaining that people usually change their speech patterns to illustrate some sort of identity with another person or group. "We don't talk to the TV, nor does the TV care how we talk," she points out.

But southern New Hampshire residents apparently care enough about not living in Boston to carve out a linguistic niche-almost. "People in southern New Hampshire are sort of caught between a rock and a hard place," Nagy says. "Will they stay like Boston or become more like the rest of the country? They seem to have chosen the latter, at least the young women have."

Wildcat Blue

It's a dreary day in early February, but the Research Greenhouse at UNH is vibrating with the indigo blues and warm peaches of Anagallis plants developed by Rosanna Freyre, research assistant professor of plant biology. Since 1998, Freyre has been mixing and matching the genetic characteristics of these plants, trying to create Anagallis that bloom earlier, have larger flowers and sprawl less.

Freyre has worked primarily with Anagallis monellii, or the Blue Pimpernel, which has beautiful deep-blue flowers, and A. tenella Sunrise, which has small orange flowers. The primary reason these and other cultivars of Anagallis are not very popular, she believes, is because they bloom too late. Without blooms, the sprawling, leggy green plants have little appeal in the competitive ornamental market.

"My breeding aims have been to obtain plants with larger flowers, more compact growth habit, earlier flowering and different flower colors," says Freyre, who is using a variety of techniques to meet her goals, including cross-pollination and polyploidization.

Cross-pollinating consists of fertilizing one plant with another plant's pollen, resulting in hybrid offspring. This allows for greater genetic diversity and varying physical characteristics. Freyre monitors the hybrids and selects the ones with the most promising characteristics to be the parents of the next generation. This selection process has allowed Freyre to develop Anagallis plants that flower earlier under natural light periods.

"At this time of the year, I'm in the greenhouse two or three mornings a week, pollinating flowers. In the summer, I evaluate the best hybrids in outdoor trials as hanging baskets and landscape bedding plants," Freyre explains.

In order to produce plants that have larger flowers, Freyre induces a process called polyploidization. Polyploidization occurs when a cell fails to complete the final stage of cell division, resulting in double the amount of genetic material and cell components. This usually creates larger plant organs. Freyre points to two plants on a greenhouse bench. One is Anagallis Sunrise, and the other is a polyploid plant. The flowers on the second plant are about three centimeters in diameter-roughly double the size of those on Sunrise.

Freyre and Amy Douglas '02 are also experimenting with light periods, pruning and growth regulators on selected hybrid plants. Their goal is to develop a "recipe of how Anagallis should be grown, so that we can tell growers how to produce the best-looking plants," Freyre notes.

Floricultural companies have been testing a number of Freyre's hybrids for several years. The companies conduct their own evaluations to see how the plants perform in different environments, whether they are susceptible to pest problems and how visually appealing they are. Freyre's Anagallis Wildcat Blue and Wildcat Orange made their debuts this spring when a commercial grower introduced the two cultivars to the floriculture industry in April. That means the plants could be in nurseries as early as next fall.

Abusing Our Elders

"Of all forms of family violence, elder abuse has received the least attention," says L. Rene Bergeron '73, UNH assistant professor of social work. "We've just started to talk about it."

Bergeron, who has been studying the issue of elder abuse and neglect since 1997, estimates that 5 percent of the nation's elderly are victims of moderate to severe abuse. As the population ages, the incidence is expected to rise.

Old people get overlooked, Bergeron says, and until recently the "caregiver stress" theory excused abusers with the rationale that old people are difficult and cranky, so it's understandable if caregivers run out of patience from time to time. Many professionals don't want to work with old people, and in the United States, only 5 percent of students graduating with degrees in social work choose to do so. As a result, elder abuse has not generated the public outcry that child abuse has. "We expect older people to die," Bergeron notes. "When there is a death in the home it doesn't get investigated. We've missed a number of homicides through sheer ignorance."

Even so, the American public is becoming more aware of the problem of elder abuse, and the number of cases reported to Adult Protection Services has risen dramatically. "We have elder-abuse laws in every single state," Bergeron points out, and most of those laws, including New Hampshire's, contain mandatory reporting provisions. Still, successful intervention can be elusive.

Unlike children, competent adults can refuse help. "States are hesitant to intrude on the individual rights of adults," says Bergeron. Most elder abuse is perpetrated either knowingly or unwittingly by family members: spouses, adult children or in-laws. And contrary to popular wisdom, Bergeron notes, "most elders are victimized because someone is dependent on them for housing or money or family rootedness."

Elders are often reluctant to report abuse or neglect by family members, but when they do, caregiver neglect can be the easiest form of elder abuse to rectify. Other forms, such as self-neglect-when an old person has difficulty doing basic activities-or financial exploitation by someone outside the family, can be more intractable. "Sometimes it's difficult to do what needs to be done," Bergeron observes.

One factor that makes people particularly vulnerable to abuse is isolation, so it is important for the elderly to keep up their social connections. If such connections are tenuous or nonexistent, putting elders in touch with people who are trained to help them can be equally effective. And it's crucially important to report suspected cases of abuse or neglect, Bergeron emphasizes. "When social workers intervene with an elder and enter into the family system, they can make a systemic change. It's very worthwhile."~

blog comments powered by Disqus