Friday, April 11, 2008

Boontling for bloochin' harpers

The next notable brewfest of Northern California, the Boonville Beer Festival, is nearly upon us, which is good enough reason to comment briefly (and shaggishly) on the near-extinct dialect of the region, the somewhat disputed* language of Boontling. If you're a come-on boy looking to barney an apple-head while tasting aplenty bahl steinber horn come this May, it would pay to bone up on your Boont yebbelow lest you want to look like a real tally-whacker.

The Anderson Valley, a bucolic, pastoral appellation that runs east to west through southern Mendocino county near the coast, was historically isolated enough that it harbored its own unique character, as well as a contact language that's been described as a pidgin-English reputedly borrowing from Scottish Gaelic and Irish, and some Pomoan and Spanish. The irony won't be lost on devotees of Hop Ottin' IPA that some believe this language developed likely while locals did business with the Native Americans and other European settlers while establishing their hops farming industry. The other (and probably more plausible) origin story of Boontling ascertains that it was a sort of pig Latin for the kids of the area, a highly stylized slang used to speak in code around adults (ignited by a dude named Squirrel, nonetheless). This would explain both the short lifespan of the language as well as its popularity amongst the contemporary anti-establishment counterculture that pervades this part of the world.

Sadly, the most thorough chronicler of the language may have taken the unpublished secrets of Boontling with her to the grave, as Myrtle Rawles passed away in 1988, and her husband, Austin, a noted source for her book on the subject, died in 1969, just three years after Boontling: The Strange Boonville Language ($42, anyone?) was published. Thankfully, copies of her writings still exist, and the Anderson Valley Museum and Anderson Valley Brewing (not to mention Mendocino Middle School!) are doing their part to ensure that we pickem ups can sharpen our noch harpin'.

Here's wishing you all a slow lope'n a beeson tree Friday!

* The whole "beer" thing is a total prank, though.

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Blogger JJ said...

So it is real, then?? I've been trying to get to the bottom of this (albeit not too hard) for a while now. I'm so glad it actually exists because I'm not sure I'd like AVBC as much if I thought they were trying to fool me with a sham language.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

I wouldn't call it anything other than real, lest I want to tempt a haunting by old Squirrel's ghost...

7:40 PM  

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