I have been assigned to explore how dialect impacts dialogue and how character vernacular influences narrative.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some of the best ways to explore how dialect impacts dialogue is to find literary examples.  One example where dialect impacts dialogue can be seen in the works of Tennessee Williams.  In A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche's dialect and Stanley's dialect have a direct impact on the formation of dialogue. Blanche's traditional Southern dialect is a reflection of a world that has passed, something that she clings to as a reflection of her identity. This dialect becomes evident in the earliest portion of the drama:

Stella, oh, Stella, Stella! Stella for Star! Now, then, let me look at you. But don’t you look at me, Stella, no, no, no, not till later, not till I’ve bathed and rested!... Turn that off! I won’t be looked at in this merciless glare! Come back here now! Oh, my baby!  Stella! Stella for Star! I thought you would never come back to this horrible place! What am I  saying? I didn’t mean to say that.

Stanley's dialect is a reflection of an immigrant background, a new vision of America, and something that counters Blanche's vision of reality. Stanley's dialect reflects a stark difference:"She didn’t show you no papers, no deed of ale or nothing like that, huh?" Dialogue emerges from the collision of different dialects. The ornate and elaborate dialect that Stella offers is contrasted with the double negative, curt, and informal dialect that Stanley displays. In this example and throughout the drama, dialect clearly impacts narrative in A Streetcar Named Desire. It reflects how different visions of American identity are revealed patterns of speech. For Williams, the use of dialect is a way to enhance a Realistic style of narrative as well as enhancing the themes of the drama.

Character vernacular and dialect can impact narrative in a profound manner. For example, in Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, the use of vernacular that reflects the life and times of African- Americans is vitally important to the narrative's development.  Scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has argued that Hurston's narrative voice "echoes and aspires to the status of the impersonality, anonymity, and authority of the black vernacular tradition, a nameless, selfless tradition, at once collective and compelling." Vernacular impacts the development of Hurston's work.  An example of this is when Jody undercuts Janie in denying her voice:  "...man wife don't know nothin' 'bout no speech-makin'. Ah never married her for her nothin' lak dat. She's uh woman and her place is in de home." The local speech vernacular helps to illuminate thematic importance as well as capturing the voice of the community.  Like the example with Williams, the use of vernacular helps to enhance the thematic meaning of the work.  Vernacular and dialect impact the narrative as it depicts the life and culture of African- Americans who struggle to establish their own identity. Hurston's use of vernacular is able to reveal this condition of being. Vernacular impacts narrative in Hurston's desire to tell the story of the African- American community.

Dialect impacts dialogue because it is a means by which the writer can illuminate the reality of characters. Vernacular and localized form of speech influences the growth and development of the narrative.  The author understands a particular purpose and reason behind employing specific dialect and vernacular.  Such a use is deliberately designed to enhance and develop the narrative and the characterization within it.

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