Thursday, January 6, 2011

Humans and Hamsters

Genetically, each human being is more than 99% the same as any other human being.  That is not true for all species. Two hamsters from the same mother, for example, though they may look alike to us, are more different genetically from each other than any two humans. A person from Ireland, for example, and a person from Japan are more alike than any two hamsters, even two hamsters from the same mother. The reason that a person from Japan and a person Ireland appear so different to us is due to perception--we are overly conscious of small differences.  There are 10 billion different combinations of human genes. There are 7 billion people in the world (and 24 billion people who have ever lived). Genetically, the chance of an actual doppelganger occurring is a realistic possibility. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like humans get along much better than hamsters.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Swing Dancing

We've all seen those old movies showing couples dancing to the likes of Benny Goodman and Paul Whiteman. Years ago, in the office--this would have been in the late 1990's, we had a guy and a girl, both in their twenties, who went swing dancing, and it struck me as rather peculiar and alarming. Swing Dancing was something that my father's generation did.  My father had grown up in the working class neighborhoods of New York City in the 1930's and 40's.  My father was firstly an athlete and an exceptional one, but he was also a great dancer. He once stressed to me that the best dancer was always the most popular guy in the neighborhood.  However, the mentality of the generation from the 60's, which I inherited, was to reject almost everything from the older generation. We know how people danced to Rock and Roll. To me, the thought of people from my generation or later doing swing dancing was absurd. Objectively speaking of course, I realize that I was being ridiculously. Though I am getting used to the idea of young people swing dancing; nevertheless, I have a difficult time imagining myself doing it.  But if you swing dance, God bless you, and keep dancing.

My Accent

Accents intrigue me. When I speak to people on the phone from other parts of the country, they can tell that I am from the New York City area.  But even within New York City itself, people from different ethnic groups, different generations, and different neighborhoods have different accents.  Many of the Irish from Queens have a distinct sound as do many of the Italians with roots in Little Italy.  I wouldn't even attempt to categorize the accents of Blacks, Hispanics, or Asians within New York City.

Yesterday, after my older son heard me talking to my father and mother, he told me that I talk to different people with different accents. He said he noticed this especially when I spoke to my father and one of my brothers. He then imitated how I sounded.  I recognized the voice immediately.  I assume that my father's accent, speaking style, and expressions are representative of the speech of working class Irish and Germans from the Bronx and Queens. When I speak to my father, I do not consciously imitate his speaking style, but I realize that it is something that I do in order to be able to better connect with him. I recall also that whenever my father spoke with his brother, his speaking style changed significantly, to what I assume is authentic from their family background.

My son also told me that I speak with a very hard "r" sound.  He told me that among English speakers worldwide, the hard "r" is only found among the Northern Irish and Americans. He said that the Australians, Scottish, British, etc. do not have a hard "r." Of my immigrant forbears, I do know that one of them was from County Donegal in Northern Ireland. I suspect that I may use a particularly hard "r" when I am trying to either speak clearly, stress something, or give a command. But until my son told me all this, I had ever heard of a hard "r" let alone knew that I spoke with one.