Here and There


HAHD OF HEARING?

The request was zany and tantalizing all at the same time. Could Assistant Professor Cheryl Zoll of linguistics and philosophy demonstrate a Boston accent for a TV show to air on Canada's Life Network? No problem, replied Professor Zoll, not realizing how it would play out.

Professor Zoll, whose specialty is phonology, immediately enlisted the aid of her 90-year-old grandfather to demonstrate the speech pattern. She lost her own accent in Harvard Yard as an undergraduate.

Prepared to explain the difference between the Kennedy/Brahmin way of speaking and the true Boston dialect (which actually is more regional than urban), Professor Zoll showed up at the appointed time for the taping accompanied by grandpa Philip Waldman of Swampscott.

"He had a great time doing it," said Professor Zoll. Mr. Waldman, who lived in his native Lynn until he was 42 years old, said, "Of course I enjoyed it. It's something I never did before."

Following orders, Mr. Waldman and TV personality Rick Bronson took their seats in the classroom while Professor Zoll was given an oversized eraser and asked to write three words on the chalk board. Grandpa and Mr. Brunson were told to read the three words out loud. Professor Zoll was instructed how to react. "Corn," said Mr. Brunson.

"Cahn," said grandpa.

Professor Zoll whacked Mr. Brunson with the eraser.

"Park," said Mr. Brunson.

"Pahk," said grandpa.

Whack!

"Milkshake," said Mr. Brunson.

"Frappe," said grandpa.

Whack!

"They told me to say it that way," Mr. Waldman confided afterward. "Normally, I'd say milkshake."

Ba-boom.

OY VAY!

Cynthia Ozick, essayist, novelist and author, dedicated a recent evening to reading excerpts from her own work and to bantering with astanding-room-only crowd in Wong Auditorium on topics ranging from galoshes to God.

Ms. Ozick read excerpts from an essay, "Lovesickness," and from her latest novel, The Puttermesser Papers, which was a 1997 National Book Award finalist. She peppered the mostly student audience with asides, among them:

"You don't know what galoshes are, do you? They're boots."

"You don't know who Flash Gordon is. You only know Superman and Seinfeld."

On Boston University's John Silber: "I said, 'In writing fiction, the imagination is free. You can put Napoleon at the head of the army of Sparta.' He disagreed. I told him there is such a thing as ironic play. He never spoke to me again."

On Monica Lewinsky: "What do you think she'll do when she's 72? This is the high time of her life!"

On the secret meaning of paradise: "It, too, is hell."

WORKING PAPERS

Professor Dora L. Costa may be America's foremost clock-watcher.

The Ford Career Development Associate Professor of Economics has studied customs in the US workplace since 1888 and discovered that the highest-paid workers now work longer hours than the lowest, reversing the trend of the late 19th century.

"This gives new meaning to the term 'bankers' hours,'" said Professor Costa, who is also a faculty research fellow of the National Bureau of Economic Research, which recently published two of her papers, The Unequal Work Day: A Long-Term View and The Wage and the Length of the Work Day: From the 1890s to 1991.

According to her research, the lowest-paid workers put in 11 hours a day in 1888 compared to nine for their bosses. By 1991, people at the bottom rung were working 7.5 hours while their managers were spending 8.5 hours a day cooped up in their offices.

Professor Costa, an economics historian who earned a PhD from the University of Chicago before coming to MIT in 1993, reasons that the lower-paid workers' real income has increased dramatically in the past century, reducing the need to produce more cash by putting in more hours. She also notes that increased and less expensive entertainment options make free time more attractive and more valuable.

"Although the rich and the poor will always differ in terms of income," she says in both papers, "income differences no longer mean that the poor have less time for fun."

In real life, Professor Costa doesn't watch the clock at all. There is no clock in her office and she rarely looks at her wristwatch.

"I spend a lot of my time writing papers," she said. "That isn't work. I have more fun at work than most people do when they're having fun."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 18, 1998.


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