Language and Free Will

Before moving to Texas, I only used “y’all” as a parody of Southerners I had met. Now it’s used daily and without the accent.

It’s been weirding me out lately how speech patterns and word usage, while mainly influenced by a person’s upbringing, are also a result of a person’s environment. The way a person talks is a pretty big part of their personality, so being around a new group of people for extended periods of time can essentially change who you are. Even if you’re aware of this and you consciously try to not be like the rest of the group, your language is still being influenced by the people you surround yourself with.

Sometimes this happens with negative results. A few years ago, conversations with my siblings would start the following way:

ME: “Hey! How are you doing?”

SIBLING: “Not much. How about you?”

I honestly can’t remember which one of my ninety younger siblings started saying this first, but it caught on pretty quickly. Before long, every one of them would respond to that question with that exact answer. It took quite a while to make them realize that “Not much” makes no fucking sense when someone asks how you’re doing. Now we all speak English much many goodly, and things are fine.

When it comes to changes in speech patterns, it’s amazing how efficiently office jobs can strip people of their individuality. I assume it’s because everyone realizes that the work is monotonous, pointless, they’re slowly dying, etc.. Because of this, phrases are repeated ad nauseam.

This has been a common response around my workplace that fills me with sadness:

ME: “Hey! How are you?”

PERSON: “I’m here.”

Fucking wow.

I know that they’re implying a number of things with this response: “I’m bored,” “I hate my life,” “I continue to push forward despite being in the mud at this bore of a job filled with bureaucratic nonsense designed to crush people down into little robotic cubes that get the fucking job done, don’t question the status quo, and continue being just barely satisfied enough with life to not end it prematurely.”

The response still bugs me, though, because only three or four people of the hundreds who work here don’t use it when they’re asked how they’re doing. I know everyone’s here. I can fucking see them all. Just lie like the rest of the world, dammit. Say you’re fine or quit your fucking job already. I’m just gonna’ start saying “I’m in Zimbabwe” any time someone asks me how I’m doing. It might not make any sense, but at the very least it’ll start a conversation.

This is one of those things about people that makes me wonder whether free will has any kind of role in life. Did I have any choice in my induction into the cult of “y’all?” Even if I had actively decided to never say “y’all,” wouldn’t that decision still have been influenced by the past development of my anti-social personality?

I don’t know. Y’all figure it out and get back to me in the comments.


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