Posts Tagged ‘philadelphia’

Something fun from Studio 360: the mystery of the Toynbee tiles.

“For more than two decades, an unknown artist has been leaving a message in the streets of Philadelphia. The message is has been cut by hand into a linoleum tile, and pressed into the asphalt by the weight of passing cars. There are dozens of these around the city; old ones wear away, and new ones appear. The message is the same:

IN Kubrick’s 2001

“The Toynbee tiles, as they’re called, have become a thing in Philly — you can even buy a t-shirt (the tiler isn’t getting royalties). For artists, the cryptic message inspires far-out forms of creativity, but perhaps nothing as ambitious as the ten-minute work by the rapper and ‘bedroom composer’ Raj Haldar, who performs as Lushlife.

“The work is in four parts, one for each line of the tiles’ message. By the end, the ‘Toynbee Suite’ has left behind anything resembling hip-hop, going out on a two-minute clarinet solo.

“But what exactly is the Toynbee message? Alfred Toynbee was a historian and philosopher of the 20th century, known for the 12-volume A Study of History. …

“A documentary film speculated that the tiler remained unseen by dropping the tiles from a car with cut-out floorboards.”

More on the mystery here, where you also can listen to the rapper’s tile-inspired music and check out a map showing where Toynbee tiles are located around Philadelphia.

Photo: Kimberly Blessing/flickr
A Toynbee Tile at 9th and Market Streets in Philadelphia, Pa.

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Though I can’t say I’m crazy about the Philadelphia accent — or, for that matter, the accents of other places I’ve lived, like Boston’s, Minnesota’s, and Rochester’s — I really would hate to see it go.

I do like trying to identify where new acquaintances might be from. And the homogenization of regional accents just seems a loss. Maybe not a loss on the scale of endangered languages, but a part of a regional culture we’re likely to miss once it’s extinct like the heath hen.

This was in the NY Times recently: “The Philadelphia regional accent remains arguably the most distinctive, and least imitable, accent in North America. Let’s not argue about this. Ask anyone to do a Lawn Guyland accent or a charming Southern drawl and that person will approximate it. Same goes for a Texas twang or New Orleans yat, a Valley Girl totally omigod.

“Philly-South Jersey patois is a bit harder: No vowel escapes diphthongery, no hard consonant is safe from a mid-palate dent. Extra syllables pile up so as to avoid inconvenient tongue contact or mouth closure. If you forget to listen closely, the Philadelphia, or Filelfia, accent may sound like mumbled Mandarin without the tonal shifts.

“Some dialects can be transcribed onto the page, but the Philadelphia accent really has to be heard to be believed. And when an accent goes silent, so do its speakers. A recent study out of the University of Pennsylvania reported that, like many regional phenomena, the Philly sound is conforming more and more with the mainstream of Northern accents. And that’s a shame.

“The beauty of the Philly accent, and I should point out it’s mostly to whites that these sweeping statements apply, is its mashing-up of the Northern and Southern. Nowhere but in the Delaware Valley can you hear those rounded vowels — soda is sewda, house is hay-ouse — a clear influence from Baltimore and points south.”

More at the NY Times, here. The article is by Daniel Nester. (Nester? Not related to I.H. Nester, my Philadelphia father-in-law’s long ago employer? Now, that would be a small world.)

By the way, if you are interested in the Penn study, check out the National Public Radio interview: “Students of Penn linguistics professor Bill Labov have been walking around some 89 Philadelphia neighborhoods for four decades. At the school’s linguistics lab, they have shelves and shelves of recorded conversations from Philadelphians born in 1888 all the way to 1992.” More here.

Graphic: Jennifer Daniel
Can you identify the sawf pressel, the wooder, torsts (as in ” ‘Lannic city is too torsty ennymore”), a samalem, arnj juyce, a sennid cannle, a miskeeda, and the tayyin rowll (Italian roll)?

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Here is another great music outreach to kids: the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra’s Tune up Philly initiative.

“The mission of Philadelphia Youth Orchestra’s Tune Up Philly program is to nurture urban children in challenging social and economic conditions by keeping them engaged in success through weekday out-of-school hours music instruction.  Through its Tune Up Philly program, Philadelphia Youth Orchestra organization believes that music education is a powerful vehicle for children to master skills that will enable them to acquire valuable tools for cooperative learning, teamwork, academic success and self-esteem.” More.

The Inquirer classical music critic Peter Dobrin wrote at Philly.com that an important goal of the initial program was to show the rest of the city what is possible.

“The brain-child of 24-year-old Curtis Institute of Music graduate Stanford Thompson … and adopted by the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, Tune Up Philly started at St. Francis de Sales … with the aim of replicating itself at other sites …

“Modeled on the widely praised and emulated El Sistema program that has educated millions of children in Venezuela, Philadelphia’s upstart is already gathering considerable support. Since initial coverage in the Inquirer and subsequent media attention, the program has received donations of cellos, clarinets, double basses, flutes, saxophones, trumpets, trombones, violas, violins and other instruments, plus about $13,000 in cash and $10,000 in in-kind services.” More.

Photograph: First graders exploring xylophones in the 2012 summer program.

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