What is the dialect in Toni Cade Bambara's "Blues Ain't No Mockin Bird"?    

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Toni Bambara's "Blues Ain't No Mockin' Bird" is apparently set in the South as the dialects used are reflective of this geographical area. These dialects are African American Vernacular English and Southern American English.

Ms. Bambara, who was born in Harlem in 1939, probably had ancestors (possibly parents) who were part of the Great Migration from the South, which begun in 1916. Also, Ms. Bambara lived in Georgia when she attended Spelman College in Atlanta. She would then be familiar with what is now called African American Vernacular English because she would have heard it both in Harlem and in Georgia.

The language of the Cain family of "Blues Ain't No Mockin' Bird" is a patois, now termed African American Vernacular English. The dialect of the white men, known as Southern American English, is similar to that of the Cain family except that the Cains' dialect has the added influence of the Creole language, a mixture of English and a native African tongue spoken by slaves.

Because of the strong historical ties of African Americans to the South, the dialect that developed in their English is not dissimilar from that of the poorer whites who came from the British Isles. For these men worked on the plantations as overseers and other jobs on the land; thus, they had close contact with the slaves. These lower class British people would have spoken English that was removed from the standard, unlike the plantation owners. Since the South was an area that did not have the influx of other European immigrants, much of the English grammar and vocabulary used did not change as it did elsewhere. Consequently, some archaic verb forms and words were retained. Two examples are the word yonder and the use of archaic English past participles. (e.g., the use of saw rather than seenHave you saw him? This usage is in Romeo and Juliet: Romeo's mother asks Benvolio, "Have you saw him today?").

Without a doubt, Bambara's skillful use of these dialects enriches her story and makes the telling of the narrative more effective. 

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Though the setting of Toni Cade Bambara's "Blues Ain't No Mockin Bird" is not fully identified, we can tell the story takes place in the U.S. South due to the two dialects found in the story. One dialect found in the story was named Ebonics by African-American linguists in 1973 and is also often called African American Vernacular English (AAVE) by other scholars today ("What is Ebonics (African American English)?," Linguistic Society of America). The second dialect is Southern American English. There are a lot of distinguishing characteristics of both dialects, such as dropped letters and changes in grammar.

In the short story, the Ebonics dialect is clearly depicted in the narrator's drop of the letter g in words with -ing endings, as we see in the following:

Similin man was smilin up a storm.

The dialect is also depicted when the narrator and the characters use nonstandard grammar. For example, Grannny uses the word ain't for the verb phrase are not in the following:

Go tell that man we ain't a bunch of trees.

The two obviously white men in the story use their own dialect, and it actually sounds very similar to the Cains' dialect, as the story is set in the South. Just like the Cains, the two white men, whom the narrator calls "smilin man" and "camera man," also drop the letter g from words with -ing endings:

We're filmin for the county, see.

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