Tuesday December 05, 2017

Tuesday December 5, 2017 Full Episode Transcript

Note: Transcripts may contain errors. If you wish to re-use all, or part of, a transcript, please contact CBC for permission. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. Copyright © CBC 2017

The Current Transcript for December 5, 2017

Host: Anna Maria Tremonti

STORIES FROM THIS EPISODE

Listen to the full episode

Prologue

[Music: Theme]

SOUNDCLIP

A shrewd and unprincipled politician someone who would do anything to achieve public office. It comes from the name of a monster that's supposed to live in the hills around Maryland and Washington D.C.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: That is the definition of the word 'snollygoster' an old English term reintroduced, essentially re-friended by a word nerd. I'll tell you now if you are 'Niffy Naffy' on the English language you will likely 'perhorresce' and 'bruzz' today. And to that we say 'LOL' because we are talking about evolving language today; old words, new words, words born of technology and texting. We are not looking for a 'whipmegmorum' we don't want to 'foiter' you with 'psilology' but we will be talking to the man behind Haggart Hawks. The woman who longs for a 'world without whom'. And the researcher who says our Canadian vowels are shifting. Hear all of them in an hour. Also today she was a gestational surrogate mother delivering identical twins.

SOUNDCLIP

And I saw a picture of them and I said 'Wow! They look different". I had just thought of it as "Wow! you learn something new every day" because I didn't even know identical twins can come out not look identical.

AMT: What began as an easy pregnancy would become a troubled saga of surprised parents, an aggressive agency, money owed, hearts broken. In half an hour with our project adaptations, Alison Motluk brings us the story of what happened when no one was expecting the unexpected. But we're starting with the story out of Yemen.

SOUNDCLIP

[Crowds cheering in indistinct language.

AMT: The rebels he once fought then joined then betrayed a celebrated the murder of Ali Abdullah Saleh yesterday, the former president destroyed by his own political strategies. So what happens now to the people of Yemen terrorised by brutal civil war? I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.

Back To Top »

What's next for Yemen after killing of former president?

Guests: Iona Craig, Rasha Muhrez, Barbara Bodine

SOUNDCLIP

VOICE 1: The clashes were going on the entire night until the morning. If someone stepped out into the street and fled, he would have had a bullet hit him in the chest or the body.

VOICE 2: He was injured this morning at 8 a.m. when he went out from his shop. A random bullet came at him after it hit a wall and struck his hand.

AMT: That is just a slice of the chaos and violence that is life in Yemen right now. Those two men you just heard were recorded inside a hospital in the capital Sana'a describing how their friend had been shot. Outside, a civil war continues to rage. The conflict took a dramatic and deadly turn Monday when the country's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed. Mr. Saleh had ruled the country for more than three decades. He had stepped down as president in 2011 but never truly left power. For the past three years he's formed an alliance with the Iranian backed Houthi rebels. They had been fighting together against a Saudi backed coalition until this weekend when Mr. Saleh appeared to switch allegiances, a calculation that apparently cost him his life. Iona Craig is an independent journalist who's been covering the civil war in Yemen. We've reached her today in Cheltenham England. Hello.

IONA CRAIG: Hi there.

AMT: What was your reaction when you heard that Ali Abdullah Saleh was dead?

IONA CRAIG: Shock and disbelief. I think even in talking to Yemenis in the last few hours, everybody still in shock and can't quite believe that his life has ended in this way in what looked like a Gadhafi style killing really. I received the news with a bit of skepticism to start with because I couldn't quite believe that it was true.

AMT: And it really was Gadhafi style. Describe to us how he died.

IONA CRAIG: Well certainly from the images that have been put out by the Houthis, it appears he was captured whilst leaving the city in an armoured vehicle and he was shot dead along with the secretary general of his political party the GPC, who was also killed alongside him. So the indications are that he was fleeing the city where the fighting had been raging for the last five or six days between his loyalists and the Houthis.

AMT: And so they actually tracked him down once he changed sides.

IONA CRAIG: Well yes there had been fighting going on since the middle of last week between the Houthis and loyalists to Ali Abdullah Saleh. It appears that he may have done a deal with the Houthis for him to be able to escape the city when it was clear his loyalists were going to be overrun. And in the process of leaving the city he was then in fact captured by the Houthis who he had turned on and was killed.

AMT: Now he had been allied with the Houthi rebels until recently. He surely knew their capabilities. Did he miscalculate?

IONA CRAIG: Yes I think it was a miscalculation in the end. Although Saleh had been allied with them since 2014, he'd actually previously been enemies of them. And this was a classic Saleh move really. He switched allegiances with many tribes and many groups and individuals over the decades he ruled and again he turned on them in the last few days. And it appears that relationship was inevitably going to come to an end at some point. But I think miscalculation was on the timing and the support that he thought he could get from the tribes around the capital Sana'a to support him and his loyalists and rising up against the Houthis and fighting them.

AMT: Now you were the first foreign journalist to interview him after he stepped down in 2011. What was he like?

IONA CRAIG: Well he was still recovering from injuries sustained in an assassination attempt in 2011 when there was an explosion at the mosque in the presidential palace. So when I met him in fact the subject of his death came up in that interview. He had claimed that he was retired from politics at that point and that he was staying at home to write his memoirs and tend his garden. So I asked him when his memoirs would be published. He said to me that they wouldn't be published until after he died because they contained many secrets about a lot of people. So I responded to him "Does that mean people many people should be afraid, the day that you die?" And he looked directly at me and he gave out quite a chilling cackle and said "Inshaallah" which means God willing. So I don't know if those memoirs are now going to materialise. But it was an indication to me really that not only had Saleh enjoy the seat of power for so long and wanted to hang onto it, but really his enjoyment was in the game of politics that he had created. And he died by those rules in the end. It was always a violent and vicious game that he played in Yemeni politics and that was how he met his demise.

AMT: What happens in the dynamics of the war in Yemen now?

IONA CRAIG: That's the question that everybody's asking. And I don't think anybody really knows the clear answer to that other than the fact that things are likely to get worse. They're certainly not going to get better. The Coalition had this window of opportunity to get out of the conflict by doing a deal with Saleh and getting him to turn on the Houthis. That is all to be spectacularly backfired. Now the Houthis will be seeking to hunt out all of those people who remain loyal to Saleh and had fought against them over the last few days in Sana'a. So it's only going to be met with more violence. The conflict is not going to end it's just going to move into a new phase and change, now is the as the fight becomes a more direct one between the Houthis and the Saudi led coalition. And of course the impact on that is going to be on the civilian population in a country where the humanitarian crisis has been worsening over the last few months and has been getting increasingly worse over the course of the war.

AMT: Well Iona Craig thank you for your perspective and your insights.

IONA CRAIG: Thank you.

AMT: Iona Craig is an independent journalist she's been covering the civil war in Yemen. We reached her today in Cheltenham, England. Tens of thousands of people have been killed since the Civil War broke out and Yemen has been faced with mass hunger and a cholera outbreak. Last month's Save the Children said it believed as many as 50,000 children could die this year from hunger and disease. This is how one mother described her daughter's plight to the BBC.

SOUNDCLIP

She had diarrhea and vomiting when we first came to the hospital. Now they feed her through a pipe. There seems to be nothing we can do. Who can I blame? I don't Know.

AMT: Well Rasha Muhrez is the director of operations in Yemen for Save the Children. Hello.

RASHA MUHREZ: Hello.

AMT: Can you tell us where you are at the moment?

RASHA MUHREZ: I'm in Sana'a now. I'm in Yemen, Sana'a the capital. We're here. It's the fifth day since the escalation of violence.

AMT: Are you able to move around the city right now? Or are you waiting for the fighting to stop or have a lull?

RASHA MUHREZ: Yes it's very it's very difficult to tell right now whether we're able to move around the city or not. The fighting is still at a critical stage yet. And we're calling for a cease fire and allow us, to allow aid agencies to start mobilizing our needs and our supply to reach out to the children. They need it on time before it is too late.

AMT: So where are you physically in the city? Are you in a basement? Where are you?

RASHA MUHREZ: Well we are we are basically hibernating in our safe rooms or basements of our buildings somehow. So Save the Children, we do have our kind of guest house next to our office. This is where we are now physically sitting and working from there and communicating remotely with our colleagues as well. I mean our main concern here is the safety and security of our Yemeni colleagues who are also very vulnerable to this war. They also have their families to look after and their children to feed and to care about their mental and psychological situation during this war. I mean you mentioned the cholera on your introduction. Now we also witnessing outbreak of diphtheria. And as well, like this escalation of violence on the ground just came right after three weeks of blockade and also the blockade continued not just on humanitarian aid which was lifted two weeks after the [unintelligible] of blockade on commercial supplies. So, all of this is added to the deterioration of the situation in Yemen land and preventing people, preventing Yemenis from accessing basic supplies.

AMT: So what are you hearing and seeing around where you are right now?

RASHA MUHREZ: From where I am I can't see much actually, but what I'm hearing there was a lot of - the violence was quite heavy. There was a lot of course gunshots. There was bombardments and then there is also airstrikes. For us, we cannot say we are used to it, we are trained to deal with situations like that. We are trained to maintain some kind of sane mental state and to stay and deliver. Because we're here for certain mission and it is to basically to deliver aid and to the lifesaving mission we're here in Yemen to do. But then, what I'm worried about the children in their houses. I have a colleague of mine. He has a daughter. She is two years old and he said she doesn't understand why she has to locked [unintelligible], why he can't go outside, why he can't have her candy. And every time there's air strikes she starts screaming and crying, because she's born in the war, but still it's not easy to say 'children get used to it'. No they don't get used to it. They get traumatized. And the longer the longer wait the harder it becomes to deal with these cases. We've heard about people injured. We've heard about a woman, a pregnant woman she got killed. She got a shot on her way to the hospital. We don't know why and who. I mean it's not really what we [unintelligible] in our concern. But we're concerned about that this is a life - two lives - that were taken by like stray bullets in the streets just because he has to deliver at this time.

AMT: So you're describing the situation in the capital where people can't move around and can't get help. How bad is it outside of the capital then? Do you have any idea? Can you give us a sense of what civilians might be going through in other parts of the country?

RASHA MUHREZ: It differs from one place to another obviously. But Sana'a is the lifeline basically of the country. So because sometimes locked or it stopped somehow operating, so others are also not fully kind of functioning. So we have operations in [unintelligible] for example, that is talking about already there was an increase in prices of basic commodities in the market. They're talking about hospitals running out of fuel and running out of medical supplies. In Hajjah city that was also intense violence there as people got killed as well. And the whole city is completely paralyzed. Hodeidah, we're expecting tension as well. So across the country it's just unstable for now. Of course it's not the level of violence that is in Sana'a but it's also affecting the population there, especially we're talking about already deteriorating situation. For example in Hodeidah and in [unintelligibe] we're expecting at least 10,000 to die by the end of the year out of acute malnutrition. It's not treated. And this is the highest level of acute malnutrition in the country in [unintelligible] and Hodeidah.

AMT: So in other words a situation that was already unconscionable is now worse. Rasha Muhriz thank you for speaking with me.

RASHA MUHREZ: Thank you.

AMT: Rasha Muhrez director of operations in Yemen for Save the Children. She's in Sana'a Yemen. My next guest is a long-time observer and commentator on the politics of Yemen in the Persian Gulf region. Barbara Bodine served as U.S. ambassador to Yemen from 1997 to 2001. She's now a distinguished professor in the practice of diplomacy and concurrent director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University. Barbara Bodine is in Washington D.C. Hello.

BARBARA BODINE: Hello. Good morning.

AMT: How surprised were you when you heard that former President Saleh had been killed?

BARBARA BODINE: Like your previous guest I my first reaction was disbelief. I think my second reaction was disbelief. It wasn't until somebody told me that they had seen the video which is probably why the Houthis released it. There have been previous attempts on Saleh and they all proved false. This is a major shock to an already untenable situation and how it's going to play out is anyone's guess at this point. I agree that the first reaction is going to be a strong uptick in violence between the Houthi and those loyal to Saleh. But it's what happens next. And the question that we don't know the answer to yet, is that how many of those forces loyal to Saleh will move over to the Houthi side as part of their anti-Saudi sentiment. And how many of them might move over to the Hadi government side. And we really don't know how those forces will break. And that could very well determine the balance of power. I would note that Saleh's outreach on Saturday to the Saudis - He's made those kinds of offers before. He's tried to position himself as the peacemaker. I think the Saturday effort was a desperate attempt as he saw his forces losing the week long violence and I'm not sure how sincere it was, but I do think that it was an effort on his part to regain the upper hand and further what has always been his fundamental goal which was simply to regain power.

AMT: And so if he saw them if he saw them being weak then that could mean that even if there's an escalation they won't last long that side.

BARBARA BODINE: It possible. The hussies are at this point pretty battle hardened. There was a 10 year war with the Houthi run by Ali Abdullah. And then there's been this three years. Originally Saleh's value to the Houthi was that he brought in a significant portion of the Yemeni military at this point. It may be a question as to how much value added they are to the Houthi effort. And we always knew from day one that the alliance between the Houthis and Saleh was deeply flawed and probably fatally flawed. They had no common agenda except to keep the Hadi government out and to fight the Saudis. But their endgames were totally different and most of us believed that one side or the other would throw the other one under the bus at the earliest opportunity. And I think most of the money was that despite Saleh's extraordinary dexterity as a politician that ultimately the Houthis would get the upper hand.

AMT: Is there more the international community, including the Trump administration, could be doing to help broker a political solution?

BARBARA BODINE: Yes. I think because the Trump administration is doing nothing that there is always room for it to do more. I think there's two things. One is to use this perhaps as an opportunity to really push for a meaningful cease fire, not the six day cease fire that was recently announced, but a meaningful cease fire that allows the humanitarian assistance to get in. Right now we have a population roughly the size of Canada's under siege and trapped in the mountains of central Yemen. There is a naval blockade and it's very long standing. There is an air blockade and the land borders are also sealed. And so you have 20-25 maybe 30 million people trapped in highlands and with no food, no medicine, no water, no fuel, with a humanitarian catastrophe. So the first step for the international community is to push for enough of a cease fire to actually start relieving that. The second question I think for some elements of the international community is whether we should continue to support the Saudi military campaign the way we have. The United States provides refuelling capabilities for the Saudi air campaign. We've resupplied their munitions. We support the blockade and as long as we, and a few other countries, provide this level of military and political support and cover there's no particular reason for the Saudis to support a peace settlement.

AMT: Well these are all questions we need to put to our governments, then. Barbara Bodine, thank you for your time today.

BARBARA BODINE: My pleasure. Thank you.

AMT: Barbara Bodine served as U.S. ambassador to Yemen from 1997 to 2001. She is now a distinguished professor in the practice of diplomacy at Georgetown University. And she spoke to us from Washington D.C. Well the CBC News is next. And then when Jessica Allen gave birth to two healthy baby boys last year she thought it was the end of her journey as a surrogate. It turns out it was just the beginning. We've got a documentary on her story: Expecting the Unexpected. That's up in our next half hour. In our last half hour we're talking words and also people have been lining up outside the U.S. Supreme Court today, actually since Saturday morning, for the case of a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same sex couple. Those in line, we're going to get our last word today so you hear from them a little later. I'm Anna-Maria from Auntie. This is The Current on CBC Radio One, Sirius XM, online on cbc.ca/thecurrent, on podcasts and on your radio app.

[Music: Theme]

Back To Top »

How a surrogate twin pregnancy turned into a custody battle over unrelated babies

Hello I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.

[Music: Theme]

AMT: Still to come raising awareness about the all too common condition of 'shivviness'. And if you've never heard that word before you're not alone. 'Shivviness' is defined as "the uncomfortable feeling of wearing new underwear". Who knew. It's is just one of many lost or forgotten words in the English language that Paul Anthony Jones is on a quest to rehabilitate. He will join me in half an hour to explain. But first, Expecting the Unexpected.

[Music: Theme]

AMT: For women who have had uncomplicated pregnancies of their own, the prospect of being a surrogate can seem fairly straightforward or even easy. And that's exactly what Jessica Allen thought when she signed on with an agency to carry a child. She was 29 years old, a mother of two. Her partner was on board with the idea. Jessica Allen lives in California where surrogacy is not just legal, it is commercial, meaning a surrogate can earn money for doing it. And as far as the pregnancy went she was right. Everything went smoothly and uneventfully. She gave birth to two healthy boys last December. But in ways she never could have anticipated Jessica's surrogacy story was about to get very complicated. As part of our season long project Adaptation, Freelance contributor Alison Motluck brings us her documentary: Expecting the Unexpected.

SOUNDCLIP

JESSICA ALLEN: It was basically a way to give back you know and to just be a great way to bless someone with a child and in return get my family blessed financially.

ALISON MOTLUK: In 2016,Jessica Allen agreed to help a couple from China have a baby.

JESSICA ALLEN: We only had two kids. My oldest was 5 then and our newest was only six months.

ALISON MOTLUK: She would be what's known as a gestational surrogate meaning she would be carrying a baby made from someone else's sperm and egg. They would be the intended parents. All the arrangements were made through a surrogacy agency.

JESSICA ALLEN: I only agreed to get one embryo transferred. When I was about six seven weeks pregnant they saw another embryo in. They told me that I was pregnant with twins that the first embryo that they transferred, the only embryo that they transfer split into twins. I was completely shocked.

ALISON MOTLUK: It can happen. A single embryo can split into two. Jessica had been warned of this possibility. Now the doctors told her she was carrying twins, identical twins, two babies with the same DNA.

JESSICA ALLEN: After every doctor's appointment. I would text her or let her know the babies are great. I'm doing well. I would send her a picture of every ultrasound that I get. I even made videos of the babies moving. I recorded them moving for her so I sent her everything I possibly could and just try to someway somehow allow her to feel comfortable and connected even being so far away.

ALISON MOTLUK: At the same time she and her family made sure not to get too attached. Here's her husband, Wardell Jasper.

WARDELL JASPER: I tried to distance myself. I didn't why to get some type of emotional connection because I know the kids in the belly was not mine. I did not rub her belly. You know I didn't feel when the baby was kicking. You know the national things I kind of just didn't want to. I was like "those are not my babies. I know they're not so I just didn't want to do it."

ALISON MOTLUK: Towards the end of the pregnancy the babies were both in breech position. So Jessica was told she'd have to have a c section at 38 weeks.

JESSICA ALLEN: They put something in front of you to block you cannot see what's going on down there. I had he intended mom come in with me and she was a nervous wreck [laughs]. I felt so bad for her poor heart she was a nervous wreck you know and I was the one laying on the table, and I just grabbed her hand and I just told her it's going to be okay. And when they were getting ready to pull the babies out, they you know hollered at her "Get your camera ready." She stood up, snapped a picture. And they put the babies in a little rolling bed and rolled them off right past me and she went with them and they went to their room.

ALISON MOTLUK: A few hours later when Jessica was recovering in her room. The intended mother stopped by with the caseworker from the surrogacy agency. They wanted to see how she was doing.

JESSICA ALLEN: Right away. You know I said "did you get some pictures of the babies did you get some good pictures?" and "can I see the picture?" and she hand me the phone. And I saw a picture of them they had beanies on with their head turned to the side. So it was just a side shot. And I said "Wow they look different" then my caseworker said that she also carried a set of identical twins that came out not looking identical but as they got older they started looking the same. I just thought of it as "well you learn something new every day" because I didn't even know. Identical twins can come out not looking identical so I didn't think anything of it at that time.

ALISON MOTLUK: Jessica wanted to see the babies for real.

JESSICA ALLEN: And then the last day I knew it was going to be her last visit and I said "So are you going to bring the babies by with you before you leave so I can say goodbye" and then that's when she stated "probably not" in this when it gets hard. She just gave me a hug and I said "okay take care." As I'm crying you know she saw I was crying in the end. That was it. Last time I saw her. I didn't see them at all.

[Music]

JESSICA ALLEN: Until this day I have no idea why she did not bring them to me. That really Broke My Heart.

[Music]

JESSICA ALLEN: When I came home, the only thing I could think of was to recover from my surgery get well and just get back to my life. You know get back to my kids, get back to my husband and just move forward with just life in general.

WARDELL JASPER: Our part was done. They got their babies. You know we got to bless them, they bless us and we're done.

ALISON MOTLUK: But they weren't done.

JESSICA ALLEN: About a month later she texts me and she started sending me pictures she sent me a picture of the babies by themselves and she sent me one of them together. I just thought she was being nice just saying "Hey. Here they are you know they're doing fine."

ALISON MOTLUK: This is the text exchange from Jessica's phone. The intended mother did not get back to us so another person is reading her side of the conversation.

JESSICA ALLEN: She sent a message stating that have I thought about "why they look different?"

VOICE: Why they are different. I have been waiting for you to be well. Now I think you are well enough to think about something. They're not the same, right?

ALISON MOTLUK: True. Jessica had noticed differences in the photos. The baby's complexions, their nose shapes, their eyes but she had taken the original explanation at face value. Sometimes identical twins just look different at birth.

JESSICA ALLEN: She stated that she's having doubts that one of the babies don't belong to her. I said I don't think that's possible. And as she stated she is waiting for a DNA, for her embassies that she go back home.

ALISON MOTLUK: The Chinese embassy wanted proof that the babies were genetically related to the intended parents before they would issue the infant's passports.

JESSICA ALLEN: About a week or so later I get a text message and it's just a picture of the results stating that one baby is not genetically related to the dad. And I immediately started freaking out like "what do you mean?" I call my caseworker I'm like "How is the baby not bears not genetically related to the father? What does that mean?" You know and of course she has no answers like how is this possible. Like the IVF center messed up? Did they transferred two instead of one you know did they mix up the embryos? Like I had no idea what's going on.

WARDELL JASPER: And my wife is like "Babe. They're saying babies look different and they want to do DNA testing" and all this time I'm like "okay go ahead. Why not. Do whatever they need you to do". You know like what are you trying to say. "There is any possibility this be our.." "No. No Jesse come on. No these are not our babies." I just literally threw it off. No it's not our baby. We know that for sure. So they just going to find maybe with some mix up at IVF or something. I did not even give thought to it.

ALISON MOTLUK: But Jessica did. She took the DNA test and while she waited for the results she kept looking at the photos. There was no denying it. The two babies were not identical but did the smaller one look like her or her husband? The intended parents are Asian. Jessica is white. Wardell is black. Finally, a week later, Jessica got a text message from the agency caseworker asking to talk.

JESSICA ALLEN: I just knew it. She had the results and my husband and I found you know a quiet area in her house and did a video call with her. And she goes "well and the results came back and Jessica definitely is the mother of Max". His name was Max, that she gave him. Our hearts dropped, you know.

WARDELL JASPER: Wait a minute. I have.. I have.. I have another son. I have another son. So those pictures, that I was seeing, is our son? It was like everything in the world stopped.

JESSICA ALLEN: How can this even be possible? How can one of these babies belong to me?

ALISON MOTLUK: Jessica and Wardell never got a full explanation. Was she already pregnant when she had the transfer? Did she conceive naturally after she was already confirmed pregnant with the other couple's embryo? It's called 'superfetation' a rare but not unheard of event where a second pregnancy takes place after a first one is already established. However it happened. The two babies, one made from the intended couple's egg and sperm and one from Jessica and Wardell's ended up just dating side by side in her uterus.

JESSICA ALLEN: The next day I text her and I said when can we meet up to discuss the next steps for him to come home.

ALISON MOTLUK: She was texting the agency caseworker at some point after the intended parents learned that the baby wasn't their own. They had handed him over to the agency. At this point, Jessica didn't know exactly where her son was.

JESSICA ALLEN: The agency wanted to meet up with us and sign an agreement before they handed over my son. They also said that the intended parents wanted money back about 20 to 22 thousand dollars.

ALISON MOTLUK: Jessica had been paid twenty seven thousand dollars U.S. for the surrogacy but she got five thousand extra for carrying twins, and another 3500 for undergoing a C-Section. She also got a small top up on the clothing allowance. Now the agency informed her that she had to pay all these extras back to the intended parents, along with what was now considered a month of round the clock childcare for her son.

JESSICA ALLEN: One thing on the list is the return twin compensation $5000, you know returning clothes allowance for the twins $200.

WARDELL JASPER: This is agreement basically stating that "hey you're going to pay back the intended parents this amount. You're not going to be able to talk about this. You're also not going to sue us. You can't come after us. You can't come after the company and you're admitting fault."

JESSICA ALLEN: [Reading] $840, formula $400.

WARDELL JASPER: They wanted us to sign that.

JESSICA ALLEN: [Reading] Clothing, diapers, car seat, stroller, wipes etc. of for one month $550.

WARDELL JASPER: No.

JESSICA ALLEN: [Reading] DNA tests $450. Child care for Max for one month $5000.

JESSICA ALLEN: Then the caseworker states that she was reimbursed for the money she paid out of her own pocket for taking take care of him.

JESSICA ALLEN: [Reading] $24, diapers and wipes $110. A photo of the baby for the DNA test 62 cents. The newborn care $1800.

WARDELL JASPER: No. Not happening. I want my son now.

JESSICA ALLEN: [Reading] Circumcision $384. Who told you to go get him circumcised. So she racked up a total of $7308 and 63 cents.

WARDELL JASPER: So what do we do? We knew that we needed to find help. When I say help; a lawyer.

JESSICA ALLEN: At this time it was just a roller coaster where calling all these attorneys trying to find help nobody knows what to do. The civil attorney saying this is a family law case. The Family Law saying this is a civil case. You know they're both saying this is a surrogate Attorney case. So we're basically getting thrown all over the place and nobody can give us any answers or anything about what to do because we never heard of this before.

ALISON MOTLUK: So this is not the first case that's raised difficult issues in California. Lisa Ikemoto is a professor of law at UC Davis. She has a special interest in law that relates to assisted reproductive technology. She says there's just one scant law in California governing surrogacy.

LISA IKEMOTO: So the legislation itself was passed in 2012 and it does just two things. It authorizes surrogacy, it makes it permissible and it also authorizes the courts to issue pre-birth orders in gestational surrogacy arrangements and that's about it. It leaves many other issues unaddressed.

ALISON MOTLUK: A pre-birth order is almost like an adoption that's set in motion before a child is born. The pre-birth order. In Jessica's case was signed several weeks before the babies were born. The order meant that the instant the babies came into the world, the Chinese couple where their legal parents. The problem is pre-birth orders in California only pertain to babies who are created through assisted reproduction and are not related to the surrogate.

LISA IKEMOTO: I think it's confusing. I think the statute does not apply to one of the twins, in this case. The twin is genetically related to the surrogate. It only applies to surrogacy when the embryos that have been transferred to the woman's womb are not genetically related to the woman who carries the pregnancy to the surrogate. But the pre-birth order becomes a judgement about parentage upon birth. And so that means that legally names the intended parents of the children who were born and that basically establishes legal parentage.

ALISON MOTLUK: In other words, the pre-birth order shouldn't have been applied to the second baby but it was and so on paper at least, the intended parents were the legal parents of the naturally conceived genetic child of Jessica and Wardell.

LISA IKEMOTO: You might be able to challenge it but there's no clear path to doing that. And I think that's why when this couple tried to find a lawyer. The lawyers all said "we don't know what to do."

ALISON MOTLUK: The surrogacy agency declined to be interviewed for this story citing confidentiality concerns. A statement sent through the company's lawyer did say that Jessica's version of events distorts the truth. The letter also says the company adheres to all professional, ethical and legal guidelines. In an e-mail to Jessica earlier this year the company's lawyer accused her of failing to take the drugs that were prescribed and having sexual intercourse when she wasn't supposed to. Jessica denies that the drugs were ever prescribed and she says that she and her husband abided by the contract only having sex after the surrogate pregnancy was confirmed. The day after Jessica found out that the baby was hers she was texting back and forth with the agency caseworker who's represented by someone else's voice here.

JESSICA ALLEN: She was checking with me to see what I wanted to do. At this point I am in church and I said "I am truly lost with this situation and heartbroken. I don't have the funds to give back nor pay for a birth certificate. Everything is about money and because of that we are being forced to give up a child that belongs to us." She said "I understand this is very difficult, I hate ..

VOICE: I hate to think this is about money. My only objective is to get Max in a stable home sooner than later.

JESSICA ALLEN: If you have your concern you would gave him to me the second he went and picked him up from the intended parents, not take him in your own care.

VOICE: Now that we're getting to the point of major decisions I want to be very clear that there are financial burdens that need to be paid to make things right for Max. Clearly I should not be out of pocket for care and expenses for Max.

JESSICA ALLEN: How is paying all this money back to other people make things right for my son? Making things right for my son would have been bringing him home to me the second we found out he belonged to me.

[Music]

VOICE: To let you know that if you don't keep Max I will need to come to meet with you and Wardell to get a statement from each of you signed and notarized, indicating that you are giving up your rights to Max. This is needed while all the other legal paperwork is processed. There would be no expense to you for this. It'll all be paid by me and reimbursed with the other expenses. There's no easy decisions or solutions to this very difficult situation.

[Music]

JESSICA ALLEN: But who are you to come get a notarized statement saying that I give up my rights. It's ridiculous. Uh.

[Music.

VOICE: For the sake of Max it would be best if a decision can be made today.

WARDELL JASPER: No decision. I'm sorry. Didn't you just say the DNA test came back positive that he's our son? Give us our son. Of course we want him back.

ALISON MOTLUK: But it wasn't that simple. The problem was the money, the money to pay back the intended parents. The money to pay back the caseworker who was taking care of the baby and the money to pay lawyers to have the legal documents changed. They simply didn't have it.

WARDELL JASPER: Then they wanted to present to us an option. What's the option? "Oh well the option is if you put your son up for adoption..." Wait a minute what? You want me to put my son up for adoption? "Well if you put your son up for adoption then do you know that the actual parents that take him home - by the way we do have someone in place to take him - will actually pay these bills. And sure. If you want to get rid of these bills give up your side." You got to be kidding me. So then the battle just got more intense because now they're holding our son hostage.

JESSICA ALLEN: After a million phone calls and a lot of turndowns, my husband found our attorney through Craigslist.

WARDELL JASPER: I would be lying to you if I told you it was easy for us to get this money for this lawyer. We just got the house. We sold TVs, instruments, clothing, shoes like just to give to her to get our son back.

ALISON MOTLUK: Jessica and Wardle's lawyer sent one e-mail.

LAWYER: [To company] Respectfully after speaking with my client they do not believe that they owe anything. They would like to have their son returned immediately and to deal with the civil indications immediately thereafter. The power of attorney and the…

LAWYER: [To Alison] At that point in time you know certainly as as a matter of decency it was wrong that the agency was holding the child, but as a matter of law it's not perfectly clear. Who should have been taken care of the child.

LAWYER: [To company] Looking at pictures of the babies it is obvious that Max was not their baby. Max needs to be immediately returned to his mother. And this should not be hindered by a paper settlement agreement, $10,000 in payments and efforts to limit liability on your company's end.

LAWYER: [To Alison] Linking the reimbursement money to the establishment of parentage is muddling the issues. Just as a matter of principle the legal status of the child and making sure that the parentage of the child are clarified should have been addressed first.

LAWYER: [To company] Please advise no later than the end of today. My clients want their child back immediately.

ALISON MOTLUK: The e-mails seemed to work. They heard back from the agency that same day.

JESSICA ALLEN: We got a phone call that we could get him in the morning, Sunday morning. We were instructed to meet up with the caseworker at a Starbucks parking lot. When I got there she was not there and waiting and waiting. She late and I see her finally pull out and she put the car seat down, unbuckles him. And before she can hand him to me I just grabbed him and said "give me my baby." I just grabbed him and was just kissing him just wanting to see his face. You know want him to look at me. [Sobbing] You know this is the first time I've seen my own child that I gave birth to and he's already 2 months old.

WARDELL JASPER: I remember getting the text, Jessy said "We got them", rushed home. When I opened the door I mean I started sweating. Is he going to know me? Is he going to connect with me? And I see his face and it is bright and it is warm. He looks at me and I look at him and I just hold him so gently and I started kissing him on his hands, and just like "daddy's here.

JESSICA ALLEN: At this time we're finally home. I have my son.

[Chatter and laughter]

ALISON MOTLUK: They named their baby Malakai.

[Noises of Wardel playing with baby Malakai.

JESSICA ALLEN: Malakai is just like his brothers. Just like his daddy, silly.

WARDELL JASPER: Da da

MALAKAI: Daaa.

JESSICA ALLEN: He brightens up our world just by the smile when he's walking with his arms out reaching out to us. You know I call them my trio. You know my three princes. [Malakai moans] You know we did not expect to have a child so soon.

WARDELL JASPER: [To his son] All of a sudden you want to play now. We wills sing A B C [sings A B C].

WARDELL JASPER: [To Alison] Not saying we don't love our son and we're grateful, he is beautiful, he is loving you know he has everything that we would want in a son and more. But it's like this was not our plan. [Sings to his son].

ALISON MOTLUK: Almost one year later Jessica and Wardell are still not recognized as the legal parents. The pre-birth order still stands. They have no birth certificate, no Social Security card. They do finally have a new lawyer and are trying to set things straight.

JESSICA ALLEN: He came home from the hospital with me and on my chest and my arms and in daddy's arms, not a bunch of strangers, not a bunch of changes being handed around like an item.

ALISON MOTLUK: As far as we know this is the only case of its kind in the world but there's no way to be sure. Babies are not routinely DNA tested upon birth. As far as Jessica is concerned they should be.

JESSICA ALLEN: This is a type of pain that you're never going to get over. Because they stole something from me that I can never get back.

[Music]

AMT: We have been listening to the documentary expecting the unexpected produced by Alison Motluk with Liz Hoath, The Current's documentary editor. Stay with us. In our next half hour, the case of 'Snollygosters' another wonderful words from the English language that have sadly fallen into disuse. It's part of a wide ranging look at the lexicon, coming up next, including a look at why we Canadians may be slowly but surely changing the way we pronounce our vowels. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. You're listening to The Current.

AMT: [Music: Theme]

Back To Top »

Meet the author on a mission to rescue 'lost' words

Guests: Emmy Favilla, Paul Anthony Jones, Paul De Decker

AMT: Hello I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.

[Music: Adaptation theme]

AMT: As our lives and culture change so does our language and it adapts in many wonderful ways, although waning word use may be tinged with nostalgia. So it's time to dust off some long forgotten .

SOUNDCLIP

[Music]

VOICE 1: Oaf-rocked - Definition: Weak as an adult due to a sheltered or pampered childhood.

VOICE 2: Schnapsidee - Definition: A crazy or impractical idea that seems ingenious when you're drunk.

AMT: Ohnosecond - Definition: The moment between making an irreversible mistake and realizing you've made its.

VOICE 2: Agerasia - Definition: A more youthful appearance than one's true age.

VOICE 1: Proditomania - Definition: The irrational belief that everyone around you is a traitor. The unnerving feeling that you're surrounded by people out to get you.

AMT: Well in a language as rich as English with a quarter of a million words it is inevitable that a few will fall out of use. Those were just a few of the many words from the distant and recent past that have been all but lost. My next guest is on a mission to bring them back with the help of social media. Paul Anthony Jones blogs and tweets about language under the name Hoggard Hawks. He says there are plenty of words that should be resurrected because they still mean something no other word can quite capture. Paul Anthony Jones is the author of the Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities: A Yearbook of Forgotten Words. And he joins us from Newcastle, England, hello.

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: Hello. How are you?

AMT: I'm well. How are you?

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: I'm very well thanks.

AMT: You tweet out a new old word every day. So what's one of your favorites, one that perfectly captures what you're doing with your project?

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: The words I like to pick up on are words that, are kind of there to fill in the gap. So word that fills in the gap that you didn't know existed in the language. And one of my absolute favorites is 'shivviness' which is a word that comes from the English dialect dictionary. It's a Yorkshire Dialect word, and it's the uncomfortable feeling of wearing a new undergarment.

AMT: [Laughs.

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: It comes from 'Shive' which is an old word for like a splinter of something. It's the idea that if the something between your clothes and your skin that's just going to get in there and get really itchy. But shiftiness is this word that someone at some point in history has come up with. It's found its way into the dictionary and no one knows it's there. That's exactly what I'm trying to do with Haggart talks is just to rescue these words from obscurity.

AMT: Okay that's great I've got another word that I know that you've got: 'Snollygoster.

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: Yes 'Snollygoster' won the word of the website last year. It's a shrewd and unprincipled politician someone who would do anything to achieve public office is a 'Snollygoster'. It comes from the name of a monster that's supposed to live in the hills around Maryland and Washington D.C. So it's the idea of something kind of creeping its way into power.

AMT: I mean and you can even geographically located how about that. [Laughs]

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: Yes that's got a good story behind it.

AMT: So how do you find these old words?

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: I have a huge bookcase at home that is just full now after about five or six years research. It is full of old books that I've tracked down in markets and in second-hand stores and now eBay and Amazon. They're all slang dictionaries and dialect dictionaries idiomatic language all sorts of things. So I just sit and go through those and pluck something out of obscurity and post it on social media, blog about it and hopefully rescue it.

AMT: And I bet there are days when you just want to yell to somebody 'hey look what I found'.

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: Yes the Haggett Hawks project, the Twitter account and the website just seems to have really found a niche. I don't think it was anything like it on Twitter until I started about four years ago. So now it has this audience.

AMT: So new technology is important in helping you bring these old words back to life.

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: Absolutely yea. You know there might be someone sat on the train on the way to work and they'll just check the Twitter feed, and they'll just find something that maybe hasn't been seen by anyone apart from the people who own this obscure dictionary that went out of print 150 years ago, and it suddenly got this audience.

AMT: How did you become a word geek as you call yourself?

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: I was given a dictionary for a Christmas present when I was about 8 or 9 by my grandparents and I sat and read it cover to cover. Like you would read anything else. I was just obsessed with it. And from there it just grew and grew. I used to make lists of words that I didn't know if I read a book. I came across something I would have to look it up and then I studied it at university and did a master's in linguistics. So it kind of grew and grew and grew.

AMT: What was the dictionary they gave you?

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: It was an old kids’ Oxford English Dictionary. It was illustrated I should point out it wasn't sort of 20 volumes of the OED. It was the kid's version.

[Laughter]

AMT: What did we lose when words of the past disappeared do you think?

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: It's always a bit of a tragedy when it a word sort of fall so use but all that it does really is proof that the language is constantly changing. Something might have falled out of use 200 years ago and I might post on social media. It's not going to fall back into everyone's vocabulary again but they're all words that are being invented today, tomorrow, last week and they will come back to us.

AMT: Can you give a few more examples of words you particularly love.

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: There's a fantastic one which I keep - this probably doesn't say very much about my friends but it is the word 'Lanspresado' which is 16th century slang for "the person in a group of friends who never has enough money with them". So yeah it crops up every so often my vocabulary. But then there's another one 'vestry' which is, as well as being he name of a part of a church, there is a cornish dialect words for 'the smiling of children while they sleep.

AMT: Oh.

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: Which I think is really nice that someone's thought that that needs its own word in the language. I've tried and failed to track down where that might come from. There's a great pair of words 'Euneirophrenia' and 'Malneirophrenia', which is 'a good feeling and the bad feeling that comes from waking up from a good dream or a nightmare.'

AMT: We heard the word 'Ohnosecond', am I saying that right? Remind us what that means.

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: That's a split second between doing something irreversible and realising that you shouldn't have done it; badmouthing someone in a text message and then sending it to that person. It's that sort of pit of the stomach feeling.

AMT: Well that's a great word when did you post that?

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: I actually posted that last year when the Brexit results came through. One thing that I like to do about Twitter is to rescue these words and maybe post them at timely intervals to say the least so yes. It's sort of divided opinion. I lost a few followers with that one I have to have it, but it shows that these words, no matter how obscure they are, are still useful.

AMT: They have meaning.

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: Absolutely absolutely.

AMT: Are there any other old words have gained a particular currency with recent events?

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: Yes during the presidential debates in the US last year, I did a sort of Twitter storm really. I was tweeting about every 10 minutes. There's great word 'Heterogenium' which is a term from rhetoric where you avoid answering a question by changing the subject completely. So you get all of the argument and say "well that's a good point but how about this?" That turn of phrase is a 'Heterogenium'. There's another brilliant word which is 'Abydocomist' which is a liar who brags about their lies. And I tweeted that during the presidential debates and again that kind of devided...

AMT: I can imagine why, but keep going. Another one and I'm going to mangle with 'Whipmegmorum' what does that mean?

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: That's a Scottish dialect words. It's a noisy quarrel about politics.

AMT: They fit all right in there with 'Snollygoster' don't they?

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: Absolultely yes.

AMT: Oh I can't wait to make a sentence out of those.

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: [Laughs]

AMT: So what does bringing these old words into a modern context tell you about the evolution of language then Paul?

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: A word might not have been used for two, three, four centuries. It might only have been used in one dialect, in one region. In some instances it might only have ever been used in one book by one author. But you bring them back up today and it shows that they're still useful. There is still an audience for them. I think that's what this kind of project brings out.

AMT: Well it's great to talk to you. Thank you.

PAUL ANTHONY JONES: My pleasure. Thank you.

AMT: Paul Anthony Jones is a language blogger and the author of the wonderfully titled The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities: A Yearbook of Forgotten Words. He's in Newcastle England. Now let's go from old words to brand new ones.

SOUNDCLIP

[Music]

VOICE 1: Breadcrumbs. Definition: A means of giving back to a previous Web page without having to use your browsers 'back' button.

VOICE 2: Shippers. Definition: Fans who yearn for a fictional couple's romance.

VOICE 1: Celebricat. Definition: A famous feline.

VOICE 2: Amirite. One word. Spelt A M I R I T E.

AMT: Well for every old word that is lost. The internet seems to coin a new one and send the new vocab viral. Online speakers forging a new style of language with its own rules or lack thereof. For five years Emmy Favilla was the copy chief at BuzzFeed a website that publishes everything from news journalism to listicles such as "19 cats who made poor life choices". She developed the site's first language style guide trying to set a tone that would work for that broad range of writing. Now Emmy Favilla is advocating for wider acceptance of the language of social media. In her book A World Without Whom: The Essential Guide to Language in the BuzzFeed Age and she joins us from New York. Hello.

EMMY FAVILLA: Hi Anna Maria thanks so much for having me.

AMT: So what's wrong with 'whom'?

EMMY FAVILLA: You know what, there's nothing wrong with 'whom', per se. You know I'm not advocating for the total eradication of the word, as some people might assume by the title of my book, but I just think that there is a time and place for a word like 'whom'. We are just seeig that word not used as often in conversation. And I think that if someone were having that conversation with me, just you know walking along, and they inject the word 'whom' into a sentence. It's kind of distracting. It can come up as a little pretentious. The New York Post had just published a story called This Is Whom Single People Will be Hooking up with over the Holidays. It's kind of sounds awkward. You know we kind of just have to be a bit more adaptive to the fact that our language is shifting. It doesn't mean that it's deteriorating and just changing.

AMT: Well I agree with you, you know 'whom' among us really needs it [Laughs].

EMMY FAVILLA: Exactly.

AMT: So how have social media and Web sites such as Buzzfeed changed the English language, do you think?

EMMY FAVILLA: BuzzFeed, specifically, whether it's light hearted content about you know celebrity, even with our hard news our bread and butter is that we try to avoid that stilted wooden language that has traditionally been abound in print newspapers, in other news sources. We try to take a more relatable approach to be very clear. That doesn't mean click bait but it just means for instance a headline that synopsises a story the way that your friend might explain the nut shell of the story, and anything that's more conducive to sharing on social media. And in that you know we've seen a lot of just organic shifts because of technology. One of the most prevailing trends is the lack of a period at the end of text messages and tweets.

AMT: Because then you lose a character. You need that character.

EMMY FAVILLA: Exactly. You lose a character. And on top of that because things are being sent piecemeal it's no longer a necessity. And now a lot of, I would say you know mostly millennials, have a tendency to take a text for instance with a period at the end as being kind of overly formal or serious or aggressive.

AMT: That is interesting a period becomes an aggressive punctuation. Don't need an exclamation mark just a period will do.

EMMY FAVILLA: Exactly. And you know it's kind of what you put in the extra effort to punctuated with the period so it kind of comes across as like 'oh you know this is a serious sentence'.

AMT: This is full stop.

EMMY FAVILLA: Exactly.

AMT: I have to ask you you know we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first taxed. There's been a lot of hang wringing in certain circles about how technology has damaged language starting with LOL and OMG, emogies to just plain terrible spelling because people are reducing things or they're just spelling fast with their thumbs. Should we be concerned?

EMMY FAVILLA: I honestly don't think that we need to be concerned about our language falling apart at the seams because people are using LOL or OMG. We've been using these abbreviations on the Internet and there's a time and a place for certain types of communication and I think that is a really cool thing that needs to be celebrated. And I think that it's really cool that social media is making room for nuances whether it's by use of newfangled punctuation marks, or new words and abbreviations and things like that. I'm not sure if you're familiar with David Crystal. He's a linguist and he focuses a lot on internet linguistics. He said that for the most part you know 90 percent of the English that we're using is still standard English.

AMT: You did write a style guide for BuzzFeed even as you advocated against many of the rules why?

EMMY FAVILLA: Prior to that BuzzFeed had been known for being the site with cat memes and hamsters wearing hats and so forth. And then we started to publish hard news and I think just like any other news outlet it was really important to have guidelines, because when you are publishing news your integrity is at stake and regardless of whether it was lighthearted content or more serious pieces there is something to be said for consistency. And I think that seeing that things are consistent and things are spelled correctly really says something about the effort that you're putting into your work. It's sort of like if you can't be trusted to pay attention to the small things how are you to be trusted with the more important things you know getting your facts straight. But it was also really fun to have a style guide that touched on the nuances of communication on the Internet specifically because that really hadn't been done before.

AMT: And I'm just looking at some of the words that are in your style guide. 'Refriend', 'SBD' - meaning silent but deadly. [Laughter] 'Bro-down' which I love. I like 'refriend' too. And 'Bro-down' a drinking session with no women around, all in your style guide. Would somebodies grandmother - and I don't want to say anything disparaging about grandmothers - would they understand what they are reading on your site?

EMMY FAVILLA: It depends. They may not. Your grandparents may not necessarily know what the word 'BAE' means but that's the beauty in a language that's alive.

AMT: They could look it up.

EMMY FAVILLA: They could look it up exactly and it's the same way that your prior guest. It's so cool to be able to look back and say "oh wow this was a word that was used 100 years ago" and that's you know it's just it's a cyclical thing. And I think it's something that's really beautiful and it's something we should be celebrating. And every generation has their slang of the era. And I think every older generation looks upon the younger people with the sort of 'get off my lawn' type attitude with respect t their slang. You know I'm sure the 'bees knees' when people started saying that, I am sure parents thought that was really silly slang too. And it [unintelligible] all this time but we're just seeing things at a turbocharged rate because the internet is such a breeding ground for slang and we're seeing things happen in real time.

AMT: So what do we still need to be sticklers about in our writing?

EMMY FAVILLA: Pretty much all words do have a hard and fast correct spelling and I think the most important things that we should really be mindful of are using respectful language, inclusive language, using the pronouns that people prefer, talking about race and ethnicity and LGBT centric topics appropriately. So I think you know just really being mindful of the most respect for language choices is something that should be top of mind and they will continue to change. And that's great.

AMT: Okay, well Emmy, good to talk to you. Thank you.

EMMY FAVILLA: Thank you so much for having me.

EMMY FAVILLA: Emmy Favilla copy chief - She was copy chief at BuzzFeed for five years. She is now their senior commerce editor and she's the author of A World Without Whom: The Essential Guide to Language in the BuzzFeed Age. Emmy Favilla is in New York City. Now from social media speak to 'Canadianisms.

SOUNDCLIP

[Music]

Keener. Definition: Someone who is overly eager or enthusiastic, has a derogatory connotation.

All-dressed. Definition A food with all top ends or 'the works'.

Bunkie. Definition: A building on the property of a summer home that provides additional lodging for guests.

Cube-van. Definition: Cube shaped trunk, like a moving or delivery van.

AMT: Oh it's true. Bunkie, all-dressed, Keener and even cube-van are all English words specific to Canada. But the way Canadians speak is adapting and changing as well. It's called the Canadian vowel shift and it's happening all around us that we may not even have noticed. Paul De Decker is an associate professor in linguistics at Memorial University in Newfoundland and he studies this phenomenon. He's joining us from Fredericton. Hello.

PAUL DE DECKER: Hello Anna Maria.

AMT: What's the Canadian Vowel Shift?

PAUL DE DECKER: The Canadian Vowel Shift is a change in the pronunciation of three vowels in our variety of English. So we have vowels like in the word 'pit', for example the 'ee' sound that's becoming to sound a little bit more like the vowel in 'pet', and then 'pet' the 'e' sound is sounding a little bit more like the vowel in 'pat' and then the 'a' sound is sounding a little bit more like the vowel in the word 'pot'. So we have a change shift of three different vowels sounding a bit differently.

AMT: Can you give us some more examples of how we would hear this site in words that we hear all the time that we maybe haven't noticed the shift?

PAUL DE DECKER: Sure. So for example the word 'plan' might sound a little bit more like 'plon', 'disc' might sound like 'desk', 'desk' might sound like 'dask’.

AMT: And you can even hear it sometimes now I guess in the way people say 'Air Canada' or they say 'Canada'?

PAUL DE DECKER: That's right. There is an interesting series of videos that showed safety demonstrations the Air Canada uses before takeoff. In the early days they would say Canada with what we call a tensed 'a'. So it come out sounding like 'Canada'. You look at more recent videos and it sounds a bit like Air Canada.

AMT: Interesting you can actually track it when that when the words stay the same and the videos change. So where's the shift in language coming from?

PAUL DE DECKER: This is a shift that's happening all across the country. It's not alone. There are also other shifts happening in the United States, some of them similar some of them different. But right now it's just happening in Canada because it happens to be Canada's time.

AMT: Are we trying to sound more like Americans in what we're doing or is it separate from them?

PAUL DE DECKER: It is an issue of identity I think. Not too long ago, the critique would have been 'Canadians don't have a definite identity like the way the United States do'. So perhaps there's something in the last 30-40 years where that identity is emerging and taking on a stronger role in everybody's lives. But these values shifts have been happening across languages, every language and across time, every language in history has always undergone some type of change, either in the vowel pronunciations or consonants or as we've heard before in your previous guest, with new words coming into the language.

AMT: So how do you test this? What's the academic cum system of testing how the values are shifting?

PAUL DE DECKER: We take what we call an apparent time study. We look at a broad age range of people. Let's say right now we go out to history we'll get to 20 people who are in the teenage years, 20 people who are in the 30s-40s and maybe out of 10, 20, 15 people in mid-life range. We would record them. We need to be able to listen to these vowels and scrutinise over them, and then we just compare across the age groups and say 'Okay well there's something going on in the youngest age group that the oldest age group doesn't exhibit' then that might be evidence for what we call a change in progress.

AMT: And is there one group that's at the forefront of that shift?

PAUL DE DECKER: Yes it's usually the younger generations that are leading that sound changes and progress and often they come from below our awareness. They just slowly enter into the language and after a matter of decades or years we say 'oh there is something going on here.

AMT: And can you pinpoint who they? Are they urban or is there anything about them?

PAUL DE DECKER: Typically these sound changes start out in urban centres. There might be something to do with an urban identity, perhaps upwardly mobile identities and it's usually women who introduce these changes, too. Men tend to be more conservative in their language use.

AMT: Interesting. And does this replace regional dialects?

PAUL DE DECKER: It doesn't have to. You can have regional dialects running alongside. So a lot of my work is done in Newfoundland English and so the Canadian vowel shift has also been identified out there in St. John's. And yet the Newfoundland dialect is still fairly strong and active. What's happening perhaps as these younger speakers are adapting to the situation and acquiring two dialects, so they become bidialectal and they know when to use one dialect and when to use other forms that contain the Canadian bells shift.

AMT: How long have you been working on this?

PAUL DE DECKER: It was actually one of my first projects I started as an undergraduate student and that was back in '99.

AMT: And how did people react when they hear about this change and how Canadians are speaking?

PAUL DE DECKER: A lot of people tend to deny that it's happening. I might mention it to them and the like say 'I've never heard of that before. I don't hear that in young people's speech' and in other people on the other hand will say 'Oh yeah I'm familiar with that'. And they tend to resist any type of change at all when it comes to language and they'll wonder like 'Why? Why are people doing that? It just sounds different' and that's I think the point.

AMT: Are we losing something through this change in language?

PAUL DE DECKER: We're perhaps losing the old vowel system. If it's a change that takes off and comes to completion meaning everybody in Canada, but that's not the first time this has happened in English. Old English has a different vowel system than Middle English and Middle English is different from modern English.

AMT: I wasn't thinking about that as I was listening to you. If we look back at old English it's almost unrecognisable. So that really is an evolution of language.

PAUL DE DECKER: That's right.

AMT: It's interesting because people want to keep it the same they say that everybody else is killing it but to allow it to live you have to let it evolve.

PAUL DE DECKER: Absolutely. First of all I don't think you can stop the language from changing it just out of our hands. People want to carve out their own knishes they want to use the language for their own purposes. So with all these forces it's almost surprising that language isn't constantly changing or changing more than it is in the small ways that we're observing now.

AMT: And what does this change in how we speak tell you about how Canada itself is changing?

PAUL DE DECKER: Perhaps we could look at the variation across the country and we see that there is something that unites people in Victoria - B.C. with people in St. John's - Newfoundland. That's a fascinating saying because it's a huge stretch of land to go across that really isn't much of a connection between Victoria and St. John's, other than belonging to the same country. So perhaps there's a sense of unity that exists now that wasn't there in the past.

AMT: It's an interesting way to think of it . That's a very positive note to end on. Thank you.

PAUL DE DECKER: You're welcome. Thank you.

AMT: Paul De Decker an Associate Professor in Linguistics at Memorial University of New Finland. He studies the Canadian vowel shift. He spoke to us from Fredericton - New Brunswick. Have you noticed this vowel shift? What do you think of how the English language is adapting and evolving? Let us know if you've noticed it. What you think of what he's saying, what you think about the rest of what we talked about. Tweet us @TheCurrentCBC, find us on Facebook. Email us from our website cbc.ca/thecurrent. Just click on the contact link. That is our program for today. Stay with radio 1 for Q. Comedian John Hodgman stops by to talk about his new book Vacation Land. Remember you can take The Current with you to go on a CBC Radio app free from the App Store or Google Play. Now today in Washington D.C. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a much anticipated case. It pits a same sex couple against a Christian baker in Colorado who refused to bake a cake for the couple's upcoming wedding. The case is being watched by some as an important test of LGBTQ rights in the US. People have been lining up since the weekend, since Saturday morning, to get a seat inside the court for those arguments. So we asked freelance producer Lizzie Peabody to drop by that line and bring us some of the voices and opinions of those waiting to get in. We'll leave you with that. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. Thanks for listening to The Current.

SOUNDCLIP

MARTIN NOWNOV: Martin Nownov. I've been here since Friday but I came from New York. I was expecting that I will basically you know spend the weekend with my friends, like going out and going that I will line up Sunday evening but people thought it like the sun on Friday. So I basically just came here unprepared. I didn't even have a sleeping bag. I didn't have anything. so I had to go to Wal-Mart and buy all of that. I don't think that the baking a cake constitutes speech within the meaning of the first amendment. And that means that I hope that the same sex couple well win.

ALEX MASFIELD: My name is Alex Mansfield. I'm from Maryland originally I live in D.C. now. I think it's a fascinating case. His freedom, his speech, the fact that you know it's an expression on his part in creating this masterpiece and the fact that it's being used in this contextually expressive event. You put those things together and you have a very compelling interest on the cake makers side that needs to be protected.

PETRA BURGMAN: Petra Burgman, Cincinnati - Ohio. I arrived Sunday at 5 p.m. One more night. Being in a same sex relationship, I could be turned down by any number of providers should this case come out against us. I do see both sides. And I think - I think it would be a nice compromise, I suppose that you shouldn't have to do something that for example you know make a cake that says 'I support gay marriage' or you know 'homosexuality is a sin'. But with this case that not being the type of cake that was asked. It was just a generic wedding cake. I think if you're going to serve the public you should serve the public.

[Music: Theme]

Back To Top »

CBC would like to acknowledge the support of the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund.