Gitting it done

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In a comment on "Pawlenty's linguistic southern strategy?", Jonathan Mayhew asked

Does anyone else hear him say "gitting the job done"? Is that a Southern thang?

First, it's certainly true that the stressed vowel in Mr. Pawlenty's performance of getting is higher and fronter than we'd expect for an IPA [ɛ] — and in fact, it's not only higher and fronter than (most of?) his other vowels in the DRESS lexical set, it's higher and fronter than (most of?) his other vowels in the KIT lexical set. Here for comparison are three excerpts from his peroration:

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And a comparison of spectrograms — the stressed vowel in getting has got a much higher F2 than either of the other two vowels, and a somewhat lower F1 than the vowel in settling, so that a greater separation of F1 and F2 is evident in the region between them:

Though one comparison isn't enough to settle the matter, I think it's plausible that in this specific passage, Mr. Pawlenty is fronting and raising the stressed vowel in getting in a special way, for the same reason that he "dropped the g's" in goin', rollin', and plowin', and for the same reason that he used ain't instead of isn't — these choices give the impression of resolute toughness, by evoking the norms of working-class male American speech:

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Valley Forge wasn't easy,
settling the west wasn't easy,
winning World War Two wasn't easy, goin' to the moon wasn't easy –
this ain't about easy.
This is about rollin' up our sleeves,
plowin' ahead and getting the job done.

But as for whether this is a "Southern thang", that's more complicated.  Raising of /ɛ/ has been widespead across places and times in the history of English, as the word "English"  itself illustrates.  Get is sometimes spelled "git" in the records of the Salem witch trials from 1692 in New England (which also have "fitcht" (for fetched), "divell", "blised", "tistimony", "till" (for tell), etc.  The Complete Works of James Whitcomb Riley, an Indianan who wrote poems and stories in 19th-century Hoosier eye-dialect, have 39 instances of "git" and seven of "gittin'", e.g.

Dogs, I contend, is jes' about
Nigh human — git 'em studied out.

And closer to (Mr. Pawlenty's) home, Child's History of Waseca County, Minnesota (1913) has this at the start of its chapter on 1872:

The year 1872 opened on Monday with the usual happy greetings and family reunions. "Josh Billings" once commanded as follows:

"Git out your brand new cutter,
And git your gal's consent,
Hitch up Dobbin or some other kritter,
And let the animal went."

The wheat market opened favorably the first of the year, the price ranging from $1 to $1.05.

So  it's quite possible that the speech community that Mr. Pawlenty grew up in has [gɪt] for get in casual registers, as a lexical feature of that particular verb form if not as part of a more general pattern of /ɛ/-raising. (Someone who knows more about the speech of that community may be able to enlighten us.)  But in any case it's likely that he shares with most Americans the opinion that plain-spoken tough guys, southern or not, aim to "git 'er done".



22 Comments

  1. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 19, 2011 @ 12:30 pm

    Just very quickly skimming the first hundred hits for "git" at COCA, it looks like many but by no means all of the speakers being represented (in eye dialect) are Southern and/or black (modern reprint of a Zora Neale Hurston novel has "Yo' brazen ways wid dese white folks is gwinter git you lynched one uh dese days."; I don't think that's how most people do AAVE eye dialect anymore . . .). And of course an authorial decision not to use eye dialect doesn't mean a speaker in a particular region wouldn't have that pronunciation. I think of the locus classicus as the decidedly non-Southern cowboyism "git along little dogie(s)."

  2. James Enge said,

    March 19, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

    "Josh Billings" isn't great evidence for speech-patterns in urban Minnesota in the 1960s, though–since he wasn't urban, Minnesotan, or (in some sense) an actual person. He's good evidence for a widespread perception of how folksy regular folks talk, though.

    [(myl) Well, Josh Billings wasn't Minnesotan, certainly, but he wasn't a southerner either — that was the pen name of a man who was born in Massachusetts, worked in New York State, and died in California.]

  3. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 19, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

    I remember a Peanuts cartoon in which Lucy produces her 'git list', the list of things she thinks she's going to 'git' for Christmas. Schultz was also from Minnesota, for what it's worth.

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 19, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

    http://www.gocomics.com/peanuts/1961/12/14/ (It's Violet not Lucy, although it does seem to be attributed to Lucy in various secondary internet sources, perhaps because it seems consistent with her character.) There's a little other very mild eye dialect ("gonna" and "grammas") in her lines. Since the "git" list is contrasted with the "give" list, the quote marks presumably aren't indicating the nonstandardness of "git" but rather its specialized use. Whatever the geography of the Peanuts kids is supposed to be, I don't think it's Southern, and not even non-Southern rural/hick. So this is consistent with the notion that "git" is an informal-register usage akin to "gonna" but not with any more of a regional/class marking than that.

    Consider also the stock thing one says to a horse: "giddyup." Internet etymology is hazardous to rely on, and I can't vouch for the scholarly merits of the claim it derives from "git ye [or thee] up," but that doesn't have that inherently-implausible-folk-etymology feel to it.

  5. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    March 19, 2011 @ 6:06 pm

    I grew up in Victoria, BC, Canada and pronouncing "get" like "git" doesn't seem unusual to me. My hypothesis is that this pronunciation is quite widespread.

  6. J. Lee said,

    March 19, 2011 @ 6:25 pm

    i assume this must not be conscious, if only because i cannot fathom how it is worth it for a public figure, whose native pronunciation can be so easily compared, to risk appearing so patronizing. romney was rightfully mocked for trying to boast of being a lifelong hunter and then formulating a hedge thusly: "I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will." he spared us a false 'country' accent, however.

  7. Spell Me Jeff said,

    March 19, 2011 @ 7:06 pm

    Just me:

    "I'm gonna get me some beer!"

    "Git outta here, you stinkin cat!"

  8. Julie said,

    March 19, 2011 @ 7:33 pm

    So far as I can tell, this is the normal American pronunciation of 'get,' and any spelling alteration is strictly eye dialect. 'Get' rhymes with 'kit,' not with 'bet.' For the record, I'm originally from rural Northern California, but have lived in Sacramento for over thirty years.

  9. Valentine said,

    March 19, 2011 @ 10:38 pm

    On the West Coast at least, is /gɪt/. It's not a result of some neutralizing process, since there are plenty of ɛ/ɪ minimal pairs. I've met some native speakers who merge pen and pin, though, and is /eg/.

  10. m.m. said,

    March 20, 2011 @ 12:31 am

    Julie said,
    March 19, 2011 @ 7:33 pm
    So far as I can tell, this is the normal American pronunciation of 'get,' and any spelling alteration is strictly eye dialect. 'Get' rhymes with 'kit,' not with 'bet.' For the record, I'm originally from rural Northern California, but have lived in Sacramento for over thirty years.

    Valentine said,
    March 19, 2011 @ 10:38 pm
    On the West Coast at least, is /gɪt/. It's not a result of some neutralizing process, since there are plenty of ɛ/ɪ minimal pairs. I've met some native speakers who merge pen and pin, though, and is /eg/.

    In coastal southern california, most instances of 'get' are typically either [ɛ] or [ɛ̞]. Something approaching [ɪ] sounds 'rural' 'hick' or 'southern', which gets called out on by speakers [are you from the south??]. Though in rural and especially central california, I could picture it existing to a degree, seeing as the pin/pen merger lives on in the central valley.

  11. John Walden said,

    March 20, 2011 @ 2:58 am

    I don't see "git" as even particularly American: It didn't take long to find "git" being used in H.E Bates:

    "Drop that, Abb, else I’ll git the strap. Stoppit, Cass—any more lip and I’ll mark you. I’ll mark you, by God I will."

    or in someone's idea of a Norfolk (England) accent/dialect:

    “Whoa there, Wi’let, whoa, Gypsy, s’dockey time, here’s yar nosebags tergethar. Now then you fules, wait till I git yar bits out.'

    http://www.norfolkdialect.com/miscellany.htm

    I couldn't say if these are in any way accurate representations of whatever rural accent Bates was after, or of Norfolk speech. It may well be more of how the writers perceive "plain-spoken tough guys", but on the other side of the Pond.

  12. Julie said,

    March 20, 2011 @ 3:56 am

    I'm from the North Coast, not the Central Valley, and no one has ever mistaken my speech for Southern.

    Here in Sacramento, a pin-pen merger is a subcultural variant, not a widespread norm (which it is in much of the Valley). That is, you can hear it here and there, and in some areas it's more common than in others.

  13. John Swindle said,

    March 20, 2011 @ 5:40 am

    Maybe it's Country and Western.

  14. John said,

    March 20, 2011 @ 10:25 am

    My Minnesotan wife isn't surprised at all by "git" coming from one of her fellow Minneso'ans, but definitely rural.

    For this NYer, it's completely hick, and I have, in my misspent youth, mocked Texan friends for their pen/pan/pin mergers. Mea culpa.

  15. Daniel Johnson said,

    March 20, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

    "Git" seems pretty normal to this native Minnesotan. Understand that western Minnesota, where my parents and many relatives live, is right next door to South Dakota, so has a pretty strong rural western influence. A good loud "geht along" just doesn't carry as far as "git along" when you're yelling at a bunch of cows. Try it…

    –Daniel Johnson

  16. Doug said,

    March 20, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

    @J. Lee
    "i assume this must not be conscious, if only because i cannot fathom how it is worth it for a public figure, whose native pronunciation can be so easily compared, to risk appearing so patronizing. "

    I don't think that's necessarily so. The class of people who read thing like Language Log (or who read the sort of news items that might mock a politician for his inept effort to sounds like just plain folks) is certainly smaller than the class of people who politicians suppose are likely to be favorably influenced by folksiness. So even if they're caught occasionally, politicians may find that the folksiness act pays off.

    It would be hard to measure this decisively.

  17. The Ridger said,

    March 20, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

    Given that a certain extent of merging your accent and style of speech with those you are associating with is absolutely normal, both as a sign of solidarity and the desire to belong, I doubt most people even notice it's going on. If you do notice, and you like the politician, I expect you're as likely to conclude that he "talks fancy" the the rest of the time, not that he's patronizing you.

  18. John Thayer Jensen said,

    March 20, 2011 @ 2:38 pm

    This is not a comment about this article but a request. I want to talk to a linguist about some linguistic matters but don't know how to do so. Could one of you possibly e-mail me at:

    j {dot} jensen {at} auckland {dot} ac {dot} nz

    jj

  19. Barry Brenesal said,

    March 20, 2011 @ 5:54 pm

    The thing is, whether it's normal or not for Minnesota residents of the past, "git" isn't normal for Pawlenty. It may or may not be a so-called southern strategy, but it certainly sounds at complete variance from his standard speech patterns in the mouth of the former governor.

  20. Doreen said,

    March 21, 2011 @ 6:45 am

    Erudite LL commenters are apparently unfamiliar with the televisual oeuvre of Larry the Cable Guy, whose catchphrase is "GIT-R-DONE!"
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtAUsVXB9OU
    My dad, a lifelong resident of rural Minnesota and member of the show's target demographic, enjoys quoting that line with tedious regularity.

    [(myl) Those who are unfamiliar with Larry's apothegm were not erudite enough to follow the link on the last phrase in the body of the post.

    But your father's enthusiasm underlines an important point, namely that the "country" demographic is a national one, even if the genre's cultural norms have southern or south-midland roots.]

  21. Matt McIrvin said,

    March 22, 2011 @ 10:14 am

    My mother, who is from Iowa and has a very Midwest US accent, worked as a school psychologist in the area around Manassas, Virginia in the 1980s. I remember noticing that she'd sometimes acquire features of a Southern accent when talking on the phone in a work context. She denied that she was ever doing it; I don't think she noticed.

  22. Phil Youngholm said,

    May 27, 2011 @ 11:12 am

    Just another vote for /gɪt/ as standard Minnesotan. My life partner (born in Fergus Falls and raised in the Red River Valley) still says /gɪt/ after twenty years of living in California.

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