Choices within the varieties of English have significance; the writer identifies himself through his selection as an individual with a specific identity and as a group member. Discuss this
6 Answers | Add Yours
There is a difference between prescriptive English which is formal and less formal casual use of English. Dialect would be considered less formal use of English, but it is not a wrong application of the English language. Something that would be an interesting discussion is the misconception that less formal use of English is a sign of or lack of intelligence. This is not true, but many perceive it to be so.
Criticized by other African-American writers because he did not employ dialect in his work, Richard Wright may have wished to exemplify that African-Americans can utilize language in other ways, and he probably wanted people to know that he himself had gained great control of English since he was self-taught in many areas.
On the other hand, there is something to be said for works such as Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God or Toni Morrison's novels in which the dialect lends authenticity to her novel. Indeed, the writer's purpose is identified with the type of language one employs.
This has been around forever. For instance, Twain included the following commentary as an introduction to Huck Finn:
In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri Negro dialect, the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect, the ordinary "Pike County" dialect, and four modified varieties of the this last. The shadings have not been done in haphazard fashion, or by guesswork, but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.
I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.
In this, Twain, like Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales, is reporting that he has worked hard to write just what he hears, sees, etc. and to get it right. Dialects, words, phrases, the use of slang or not, accents are all choices people make whether they are aware of it or not. The way people speak tells something about them, which is why dialogue in stories (the words, the pauses, the emphasis, the tone of voice) can tell us so much more about a character than a dry description.
Language is who we are...like clothing, perfume/cologne, jewelry, etc. It decorates and defines us.
In moving back and forth between the North, the South, and Texas, at different times throughout my life, I frequently find myself consciously and unconsiously talking like a northerner, a southerner, or a Texan. Hard to believe, but yes, they are all distinctly different.
In my classroom, my southern students complain that I speak too "proper." When I go home to Washington State I catch myself saying "y'all" (or others catch me). Leaving off the hard "-ing" sound is a typically Southern way of speaking, but I've found myself rejecting it here in NC even though I am surrounded by it daily.
Like post #2 said, the mainland of the United States has a similar attitude to those in Hawaii. Northerners are glad to be considered "elitists" in speech and pick on the Southern drawl or the Texas twang. Southerners complain that up in the north people talk way too fast and are impossible to understand.
When authors choose to write with specific dialect, they automatically geographically place themselves somewhere specific. The attitudes that accompany different ways of speaking are not at all different from the kinds of attitudes that accompany different ways of dressing or eating. Though the southern dialect often comes with a connotation of ignorance or "slowness" there have obviously been many intelligent individuals from the south who have written books and never given up their heritage in speech. There are those who have actively tried to rid themselves of their "accents" in order to be taken more seriously, and those who have embraced accents, demanding to be taken seriously on their merits, rather than what they sound like.
You can see this wherever there is a "proper" English living side by side with an "improper" English. People choose which to speak and their choices say something about who they are.
I know this happens among African Americans, but the place where I have actually lived this is in Hawaii. To speak "proper" English in an informal setting is to announce that you are not a "true" local person. It is sort of like saying that you want to be a member of the elite. By doing so, you are rejecting the mixed race heritage of the islands and are trying to be like the dominant group in terms of economics and social status.
thank you kindly
We’ve answered 319,630 questions. We can answer yours, too.Ask a question