Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Has Boontling Piked for the Dusties?

Boontling, a slang-rich dialect of English native to sleepy Boonville, California, is as incomprehensible as its inventors intended. In Boontling, the nursery rhyme "Old Mother Hubbard" sounds both old-timey and supernatural, almost like a Depression-era incantation or a hobo's approximation of "Jabberwocky":
The old dame piked for the chigrel nook for gorms for her bahl belljeemer.
The gorms had shied, the nook was strung, and the bahl belljeemer had neemer.
Link. You can hear examples of the spoken dialect, too: a local public radio program allowed school kids to interview Boonville natives (.aif audio part 1, part 2), and NPR's All Things Considered travelled to Boonville soon after (.mp3 audio, via Connected Traveller). Both feature interviews with Bobby "Chipmunk" Glover, pictured here, Boontling's unofficial goodwill ambassador to the outside world. In addition to NPR, Chipmunk appeared on Johnny Carson's show a few times to discuss "burlap[ing] a bahl dame—Boontling for making whoopee with a good-looking woman." He was also an EMT and arson investigator for the Anderson Valley Volunteer Firefighters and a trained electrical engineer who developed the first automatic photo enlarger. Chipmunk died at eighty-two in 2003, prompting a tribute in the local paper guaranteeing "We will all deek you later many leagues above old Sol." Chipmunk had been born forty-some-odd years too late to have invented Boontling, but as second- or third-generation speakers he and his peers both enriched the dialect and kept it alive. Chipmunk's death may have marked the begining of Boontling's repose. It will lie in state in Boonville until it is buried in years to come.

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