PUNXSUTAWNEY — Does your grass need cut or does it need to be cut? Is there a difference? There is, and it's one that a Punxsutawney native and linguist is eager to study.
Derry Moore is so interested in the roots of language and its usage that he is conducting a research project in the local area as he pursues his doctorate in linguistics at the University at Buffalo — SUNY, in Buffalo, N.Y.
He is looking for 40 residents in the Punxsutawney area — including Rossiter, Anita, Big Run, etc. — between the ages of 30 and 55 to participate in his research project (see below for details).
"What I'm doing is looking for social factors that correlate with both phonetic variations (pronunciation) and variations in spatial descriptions (how we describe the world around us)," Moore said.
As far as descriptions go, Moore has often had to explain exactly what a linguist is.
"Typically, the first question people ask is, 'How many languages do you know?'" Moore said.
For the record, Moore can read and write Greek and Old English, but he describes a linguist as one who "studies the inner workings of the process of language."
His particular field of study is sociolinguistics, which "looks mainly at how society and culture influence the way we speak and influence the differences in speech that we have."
While linguists study language, Moore said, they do not judge how people speak or assign a "right" or "wrong" way to pronounce words or string together sentences.
"Linguists are very adamant that we are interested in description, not prescription. We are interested in the way people speak, not in the way of judging them," Moore said. "Our goal is to educate away those stereotypes — that the way we speak is something tied to our intellect, which I think is a silly notion."
The son of Dr. Delroy and Sue Moore of Punxsutawney, Derry credits his late grandfather, Dr. Glenis Chester Moore, with inspiring his career path.
Dr. Moore was an integral part of his grandson's home-schooled education.
"I took Greek in high school with him, and just the way he taught me Greek and learning that language just sort of sparked an interest in language," Derry said.
Specifically, Dr. Moore, who was a minister, taught his grandson "Koine Greek."
"Koine Greek is the variety that the New Testament was written in, not the same (as) what (residents of Greece) speak now. It's about as different as Old English is to modern English," Moore said.
After obtaining his bachelor's from Millersville University in Lancaster, Pa., Moore earned his master's degree at SUNY—Buffalo.
He is now working on his Ph.D. and hopes this research project will play an integral role in his dissertation.
Moore's work will narrow the focus of a broader dialect study, "The Atlas of North American English," which was published in 2005 by William Labov, a professor of linguistics at University of Pennsylvania.
"(Labov) created this map, and in this map there is this dialect region called Western Pennsylvania," Moore said, explaining that the region
is centered around Pittsburgh but extents out to Punxsutawney.
With his research, Moore's intent is not to disprove Labov's findings, but instead delve a little deeper into the dialect in the Punxsutawney region.
"I think it's more complicated," he said. "I think there are some social factors that make us distinct and make us tailor our language to be different to some degree."
One of the dialect features Moore will be studying is the "needs X'ed" feature.
For example, Moore said that Western Pennsylvania residents often drop the "to be" from a sentence when saying something needs to be done.
One example would be "My hair needs cut" versus "My hair needs to be cut."
Though the omission of "to be" from the sentence may not be grammatically correct, from a linguist's standpoint, the "'to be' was never being dropped because it was never there" in the first place, according to Moore.
It is why people speak the way they do that Moore finds so compelling.
"My stance is that I'm not interested in judging (anyone's) language at all," he said. "It's a fascination and interest for me. And because it's also my dialect, I like finding out about it. It's like exploring your heritage, exploring the people around you."
Moore will begin his research project on Monday.
Those interested in participating may contact him at 814-952-6732 or email@example.com .
RESEARCH PROJECT DETAILS
Punxsy native Derry Moore is conducting a research project on the speech of Punxsutawney residents between the ages of 30 and 55. The research will include the study of word choice and pronunciation.
Study participants will be asked to take part in several tasks with another participant:
• The first task will ask you and another participant to take turns describing an array of toy animals on the table. You will not be able to see the tabletop in front of the other participant. You will be asked to direct each other in constructing the array of animals in the same way as they are on the table.
• For the second task, a set of three photos will be placed in front of one of you. You will then have to direct each other in picking the correct photos from a stack and placing them in the same configuration as the first set.
• The final task is optional. If you choose to, you will be asked to read a short, one-paragraph passage.
After the tasks, you will be asked to fill out a short survey. Answering any of the questions is entirely voluntary.
Other study details:
• Participation in the study should take approximately 60 to 75 minutes. Participants will be paid $10 each.
• There are no foreseeable risks or discomforts to this research.
• All data obtained during this research will be made anonymous, and identifying material will be destroyed.
• Participation is entirely voluntary.
• To participate, contact Moore at 814-952-6732 or firstname.lastname@example.org .