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Dialect and Dichotomy

Literary Representations of African American Speech

Written by Lisa Cohen Minnick

Publication Year: 2009

Applies linguistics methods for a richer understanding of literary texts and spoken language.

Dialect and Dichotomy outlines the history of dialect writing in English and its influence on linguistic variation. It also surveys American dialect writing and its relationship to literary, linguistic, political, and cultural trends, with emphasis on African American voices in literature.

Furthermore, this book introduces and critiques canonical works in literary dialect analysis and covers recent, innovative applications of linguistic analysis of literature. Next, it proposes theoretical principles and specific methods that can be implemented in order to analyze literary dialect for either linguistic or literary purposes, or both. Finally, the proposed methods are applied in four original analyses of African American speech as represented in major works of fiction of the American South—Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Charles W. Chesnutt's The Conjure Woman, William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, and Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Dialect and Dichotomy is designed to be accessible to audiences with a variety of linguistic and literary backgrounds. It is an ideal research resource and course text for students and scholars interested in areas including American, African American, and southern literature and culture; linguistic applications to literature; language in the African American community; ethnicity and representation; literary dialect analysis and/or computational linguistics; dialect writing as genre; and American English.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. x-xii

A preliminary version of chapter 4 was originally published in Language and Literature in May 2001 under the title "Jim's Language and the Issue of Race in Huckleberry Finn" and is included here by permission of SAGE Publications. Also, an earlier version of chapter 6, "Representations of Speech and Attitudes about Race in The Sound and the Fury," first appeared...

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pp. xiii-xxi

Analysis of authorial representation of spoken language variation in literary works constitutes an important linguistic application to literature as well as a literary approach to language study. The studies of literary dialect in general, and literary representations of African American English in particular, offer opportunities to go beyond traditional areas of English lan ...

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1. A Brief History of American Literary Dialect

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pp. 1-27

Everything scholars know about Old English, they know as a direct result of written sources. One thing we know from these sources is that for as long as there have been literary texts 'written in English, there has been written representation of variability in spoken language. The oldest surviving examples of Old English are literary texts dating as far back as...

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2 . Linguists, Literary Critics, and Literary Dialect

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pp. 28-41

Returning to our earlier discussion, there is no question that everything that is known today of older forms of English and of other languages and varieties no longer extant comes from written sources. Thus, literature has long been companion to linguistic study. But despite this long relationship, considerable scholarly conflict exists between proponents of literary...

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3. Methodology

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pp. 42-58

The methodological and theoretical principles developed and advocated here have been informed by several interconnected approaches. Experimentation with quantitative methods borrowed from empirical and computational linguistics, in conjunction with qualitative critical analysis, has made it possible for me to develop a unique approach to analyzing literary...

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4. Articulating Jim: Language and Characterization in Huckleberry Finn

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pp. 59-76

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) remains an icon of American literature in part because of its standing as a flashpoint for debates about art and about politics, especially the politics of race, in American life. While no single analysis can hope to address every level of complexity embodied in the novel itself as well as in the discussions and debates...

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5. “A High, Holy Purpose”: Dialect in Charles W. Chesnutt’s Conjure Tales

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pp. 77-98

For Charles W. Chesnutt, the questions of whether and how to in corporate African American dialectal speech into his fiction were complicatedby artistic, political, and commercial tensions imposed by the interrelations between post-Reconstruction social conditions and Chesnutt's personal goals as a writer. Publishing during the last decades of the nineteenth century and...

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6. Representations of Speech and Attitudes about Race in The Sound and the Fury

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pp. 99-121

The subject of William Faulkner's attitudes about race has been widely debated, with Faulkner lauded by writers such as Ernest J. Gaines and Toni Morrison as "an excellent observer, who, despite the limitations of his vision, refuses to lie about the realities of the Southern past or present" (qtd. in Werner 40). Others criticize the representations of African American characters in his work, as in James Baldwin's charge...

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7. Community in Conflict: Saying and Doing in Their Eyes Were Watching God

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pp. 122-147

For all literary authors, it is axiomatic that their linguistic choices create plot, evoke setting, and define characters. In Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), the author's linguistic choices are particularly striking, especially in terms of the language and speech produced by the characters who people the text. Henry Louis Gates Jr. ...

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8. Conclusions

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pp. 148-153

From the humorist traditions to local color to twentieth-century realistic fiction, representations of dialect in American literature have evolved into a complex array of meanings, both linguistic and artistic, and those meanings have only rarely been without political and social underpinnings. This is especially true in the case of representations of African American...

Appendix A: Phonological Data for Jim in Huckleberry Finn

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pp. 155-157

Appendix B: Speaker Data from The Sound and the Fury

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pp. 159-167

Appendix C: Speaker Data from Their Eyes Were Watching God

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pp. 169-172


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pp. 173-174

Works Cited

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pp. 175-181


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pp. 183-194

E-ISBN-13: 9780817380151
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817354237

Publication Year: 2009