Wednesday, June 08, 2011


I'm reading a short story called "Tomorrow's Dead" by David Dean. He's a writer from Georgia now living in New Jersey, and his protagonist, who also lives in New Jersey, goes back to his home town of Columbus, GA. He has a conversation with the police chief, who gets down to business like this:
"So then, what is it we can do for you?" he asked in the gently tumbled grammar of the Piedmont.
I have no idea why that question is being singled out as odd in any way, let alone as "gently tumbled" (whatever that is supposed to mean). Is this just because I grew up in Tennessee? Nowhere near the Piedmont, of course, but ... No. It sounds perfectly standard to me.


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At 8:24 PM, June 08, 2011 Blogger AbbotOfUnreason had this to say...

I wonder if it is the "is it" part of the sentence. When I first read it, the sentence seemed fine to me, but when I read it out loud, the "What is it" had a rude feeling to me with a natural pause before the rest. I think I'd normally just say "What can we do for you."

At 8:27 PM, June 08, 2011 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

"What is it (that)" is certainly an emphatic, focusing structure - shifting the conversation from "what high school did you go to?" and so on to the business at hand - but it doesn't strike me as "tumbled grammar" in any way.

At 9:23 PM, June 08, 2011 Anonymous Mark had this to say...

I'm from Rome, in NW Georgia, where we probably talk close to the way you do, but I spent a few years in Augusta. Wikipedia places the Piedmont Plateau in north central Georgia, from the fall line up to the foothills. Augusta and Columbus are both on the fall line, the southern border of the Piedmont, so I am not certain that the Columbus accent would be particularly of the Piedmont. Not far south of that the accent is noticeably different, at least in the eastern part of Georgia. I didn't find much difference between Augusta and Rome, other than a perhaps flatter, more nasal accent in the Rome area. I have no idea what "tumbled" would mean. It suggests something more like what I might associate with speech of the coastal plain, which I find broader and less rhotic. In that sense, it seems tumbled, as if rough edges were worn off. I don't know how speech in Columbus would sound, but I suspect that it is now influenced by a less local population brought in by the presence of Fort Benning. If it's like other towns with military bases, there is probably a fairly significant population of military retirees from all over the country, and a fairly large population of non-transient military and civilian personnel as well.

At 11:29 PM, June 08, 2011 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

The construction "[W]hat is it [that...]?" brings to mind a literal translation of a similar inquiry in Portuguese and French (and, for all I know, other Romance languages):

PORT: O que é que... ?

FR: Qu'est-ce que c'est que...?

Don't know if there's any significance to this, but just thought I'd toss it into the mix.

At 11:39 PM, June 08, 2011 Anonymous Mark had this to say...

A comment seems to have disappeared. Excuse me if this ends up being a double comment. I was trying to say that I realize that your question and the quote had to do with "tumbled grammar" rather than accent. The expression sounds normal to me, too. It might be used in the Columbus area, but it's certainly commonly used outside that area, too. Also, I have never heard anyone refer to the Piedmont area of Georgia as "the Piedmont." I associate that term with the Carolinas.


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