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Dialect and Vernacular

Discussion Thread (from T-AMLIT)

Original Query

Subj: Dialect and eye-dialect in AMLIT

Hello List,
While in Israel this summer conducting seminars on variation in American English, I will (at the request of my hosts) give a couple of talks on the use of dialect in American Literature.
I have the usual talk about _Huckleberry Finn_, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Edward H#$%#...
I am soliciting some recommendations for short stories or sections of novels of more recent vintage: something that will demonstrate African American Vernacular English (we used to call it BEV), code-shifting in Spanish English (diglossia, perhaps), and some deomonstrations of regional dialects. Thank you for any suggestions you might have.
Thomas L. Clark
English Linguistics
University of Nevada, Las Vegas 89121-5011

Subject: T/Q: Dialect & Vernacular (I)

***T/Q: TEXT/QUERY*****

We had a robust response to Thomas Clark's request for works of fiction highlighting features of dialect and vernacular, especially African American vernacular.
I've split them into two posts: this first one containing several short items; the second one featuring three slightly longer responses. I omitted one or two duplicate responses. Thanks to all who responded.

Subj: RE: T/Q: Dialect and Vernacular

*The Big Mama Stories* by Shay Youngblood (Ithaca: Firebrand, 1989) for recent African American Vernacular. The stories are set in Columbus, GA, and are narrated by a child being reared by her grandmother in the public housing of a Souther city just after midcentury. Dialog is abundant.

Ken Guthrie
Jacksonville St. U.
Jacksonville, AL

(2) From: IN%""
Subj: RE: T/Q: Dialect and Vernacular

Eggleston, for Hoosier, of course. However, linguistically he is perhaps more accurate than suits the regional genre, and his narratives tend to obfuscation. Interesting polemicist, of course. As to availability, I am not sure.

Adolph L. Soens
University of Notre Dame

(3) From: IN%"" "Timothy Springfield"
Subj: RE: T/Q: Dialect and Vernacular

Response to Thomas Clark's request for fiction that features dialect: "White Rat" by Gayl Jones, anthologized (among other places) in_The Granta Book of the American Short Story._ Story first published in 1971. First person narrative by an unusually light-skinned black man.

Tim Springfield, English Dept.
University of Wisconsin

(4) From: IN%"" "dhfenimore"
Subj: RE: T/Q: Dialect and Vernacular

RE:Examples of African-American Vernacular: some of Toni Cade Bambara's stories are good (I remember one that begins, "Black people got a hummin' jones") and of course Zora Neale Hurston. Although it's not a specifically U.S. American dialect, the dialogue of Peter Mathiessen's _Far Tortuga_ is interesting.

David Fenimore
University of Nevada, Reno

(5) From: IN%"" "Elise Earthman"
Subj: RE: African American dialect

As an addendum to my previous post, there's a fairly recent book by Jess Mowry called *Way Past Cool* that involves young kids in gangs in Oakland, CA. Lots of very contemporary teenage A-A dialect/slang.


(6) From: IN%"" "Patti Schroeder"
Subj: RE: T/Q: Dialect and Vernacular

Zora Neale Hurston's _Their Eyes Were Watching God_ is an excellent example of a polyvocal novel: the frame narrator speaks standard English, while the first-person narrator uses African-American dialect.

Patti Schroeder
Ursinus College
Collegeville, PA 19426
OFFICE: (610) 489-4111, ext. 2347
E-mail: PSchroeder@Ursinus.bitnet

(7) From: IN%"William.W.Cook@Dartmouth.EDU"
Subj: RE: T/Q: Dialect and Vernacular

I would strongly recommend the novels of Ishmael Reed (especially Mumbo Jumbo and Flight to Canada). Ernest Gaines' Blood Line would also work well. Walker's The Color Purple is a direct argument for BEV over standard.[NEXT Walker] Celie's letters in BEV and Nettie's in SE.

Subject: T/Q: Dialect & Vernacular (II)

***T/Q: TEXT/QUERY****

Here are THREE more responses to the Dialect & Vernacular query. These are slightly longer responses with a little more subject variation, including some Asian American and Latino/a American works with dialect and linguistic interests.

(1) From: IN%"" "Elise Earthman"
Subj: RE: T/Q: Dialect and Vernacular

I'm sure people will have many suggestions for African-American vernacular. For Spanish-English switching, try Rudolfo Anaya's *Bless Me, Ultima*, the books of Sandra Cisneros (The House on Mango Street, A Woman Hollering Creek), a number of pieces by Gary Soto (i.e. those in Living Up the Street or A Summer Life, also a couple of young adult novels he has), and Piri Thomas' Down These Mean Streets has enough Spanish in it to have a glossary in the back. Oh, also, if you want something really contemporary there's a fairly new book just out in paperback called (I think) Running Scared, and I can't remember the author's name--I'll try to find it at home. It's about LA gang life, and there's lots of Spanish-English shifting and fairly contemporary slang.

Elise Earthman

(2) From: IN%"" "michelle trusty-murphy"
Subj: RE: T/Q: Dialect and Vernacular

Regarding Tomas Clark's request about vernacular in short stories . . . You will find some excellent use of black vernacular in the works of Alice Walker. Her collections IN LOVE AND TROUBLE and YOU CAN'T KEEP A GOOD WOMAN DOWN are not only beautifully written, but are great commentary upon some of the most serious issues confronting African American Women. For some good examples of code shifting in Chicana literature, try Helena Maria Viramontes's collection THE MOTHS AND OTHER STORIES. Although these stories do not employ a large amount of vernacular, they do show code switching, and there is an excellent introduction by Yvonne Yarbo-Bejarano which is essential for introducing Viramontes to your students.
For an excellent source on the use of vernacular and speech and how they are important to the field of ethnic American literatures, read Bonnie TuSmith's ALL MY RELATIVES.
I hope this is helpful.
Michelle Trusty-Murphy
English Department
Bowling Green State University

(3) From: IN%""
Subj: RE: T/Q: Dialect and Vernacular

Thomas Clark--I upon occasion teach linguistics as well. These are minor suggestions to your interesting query. (I'd love to hear the responses you get--they would help me teach in England this fall.) For a REAL regional dialect, get anything by Daryl Lum in Hawaii. He published with Bamboo Ridge and he, and others, have generated a fabulous pidgin literature in short stories and the like which is truly remarkable. You want short stories--but I think this would work: get the middle chapters of The Color Purple, in which part of the POINT is the difference between the somewhat flat but very "correct" written, educated dialect Nettie has learned, and the Black Vernacular (and highly poetic) language Celie speaks. The SUBJECT of her changing her speech becomes the occasion for one incredibly powerful scene in which speaking what's natural to your mind is the equivalent of love. Hope that helps. Jacque Brogan/ Notre Dame

Jacqueline Vaught Brogan

Department of English
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN 46556

(219) 631-6120 FAX (219) 631-8209

Subject: T/Q: Dialect & Vernacular (final)

***T/Q: TEXT/QUERY****

Here are a few final posts on the thread regarding materials illustrative of African American and latino/a use of Dialect and Vernacular. These 5 posts run a delightful gamut: from a recently completed dissertation on the politics of vernacular to the assignment of writing a vernacular Cinderella in Spanish harlem!

(1) From: IN%"" "E. Shelley Reid"
Subj: RE: T/Q: Dialect & Vernacular (II)

Another fairly recent Chicana text to use not just Spanish-English switching (with a minimum of explanation or translation, and no glossary) but also a "standard english" style that nicely captures Chicano/a rhythms and syntax is Ana Castillo's _So Far From God_. Although it's a novel, its chapters are like Cisneros's fairly independent and could be read as short stories.

Shelley Reid
University at Buffalo

(2) From: IN%"" "Elise Earthman"
Subj: RE: T/Q: Dialect & Vernacular (II)

A correction to my previous post--the recently published book about LA Latino gangs is *Always Running*, not *Running Scared* (my misinterpretation of the title--). Still haven't remembered the author's name.


(3) From: IN%""
Subj: Dialect and Vernacular

Middle School writing project

I am The Assistant Director in a 250 student sized middle school located in Spanish Harlem in NYC. One of the teachers began a project with the 9th grade tracing Cinderella stories in different cultures and languages. This evolved into a project just begun that has the kids rewriting fairy tales using their own dialect and slang words. The students are excited about being able to display knowledge which their instructors do not possess.

(4) From: IN%"LISTSERV@BITNIC.EDUCOM.EDU" 22-MAY-1994 20:37:23.82
From: Paul Lauter

Jennifer Lynn Campbell just completed a dissertation at Brown, part of which focuses on the politics of using dialect and vernacular in fiction, especially dialect spoken by working-class characters. She argues, correctly I think, that generally the narrator or the narrative voice speaks a middle-class standard which has the effect of distancing a reader from the immediacy and often pain of the working-class speaker. Thus the experience of the w/c speaker becomes a kind of "entertaintment" rather than a challenge (I hope I'm representing her argument coherently).
I raise this not only because Campbell's work is interesting but because it places on the table the POLITICS of vernacular in a way rather different from that argued within African-American culture. I think writers like Chesnutt and Jewett, in their conscious deployment of a standard-speaking narrator, and Mike Gold, Anzia Yezierska and Sterling Brown, in their uses of a kind of vernacular, engage these issues in quite intgeresting ways. PL

(5) From: IN%"" "Michael Kischner"
Subj: Hurston's "The Gilded Six-Bits"

New to American literature and to Zora Neale Hurston, I have just read "The Gilded Six-Bits" for the first time (yes, in the non-Heath anthology). It certainly is a good source of vernacular. What I'm wondering is how people read the highly unvernacular diction the narrator sometimes favors: ". . . dying dawn saw him hustling home around the lake where the challenging sun flung a flaming sword from east to west across the trembling water," and "The great belt on the wheel of Time slipped and eternity stood still," and "a lean moon rode the lake in a silver boat." Does Hurston do this a lot? Do the images carry much significance within the story? Might the quasi-Homeric diction function in this particular story as a lightheartedly ironic evocation of Odysseus and Penelope? Or does Hurston just favor this way of putting things sometimes?

Any insights into this, or other, aspects of Hurston's story will be appreciated.

Michael Kischner

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