17 March 2020

The Law of Mountain Mumble

We all speak English, but that doesn't mean my poor ears will understand all of it. I've known people were speaking English to me and not been able to understand a word they said. And that's after two or three generations all growing up learning Mid-Atlantic dialect through movies and, in more modern times, Basic Midwestern dialect on TV. I'd hate to think how well my ears would have fared in days of yore when the next county over might not have experienced the vowel shift yours did a century back, much less the folks in the next State over who grew up learning English with Polish pronunciations. Anyway, I still have problems some times. For example:

An attorney and I are listening to an audio recording of his client doing nefarious things. It's not great quality and we've run it three times without understanding much at all.

Defense Attorney: "What's he saying?"

Me: "I don't know. I didn't grow up here. I have a hard time with mountain mumble. You're born and bred. You ought to get this easy."

Defense Attorney: "Look, I didn't grow up in Lower Blue Creek Holler. Nobody who didn't grow up there understands them. You can bet somebody on the jury will though. Play the tape again."

We played that tape multiple times. We pretty much played it word for word until we thought we had a translation. Then we checked our translation against the paperwork filed by the police and it matched. BINGO.

Next case.

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