Dialect and Dichotomy: Literary Representations of African American Speech

Dialect and Dichotomy: Literary Representations of African American Speech

Dialect and Dichotomy: Literary Representations of African American Speech

Dialect and Dichotomy: Literary Representations of African American Speech

Excerpt

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 language studies and still apply the important theories and methods of empirical and computational linguistics, particularly those of language variation. Additionally, qualitative literary methods allow for linguistic approaches to literature that do not disregard artistic elements in literary works, elements that have sometimes been overlooked in linguistic analyses of literature. Empirical exploration of how authors use literary dialect offers useful opportunities for insight into how authors, audiences, and even characters perceive social and ethnic variation as influencing speech behavior. Employing empirical methods thus offers not only new approaches to the analysis of literary texts using linguistic tools, but these methods also make it possible to use the rich resources of literary texts as data for helping to understand variation and change in, as well as attitudes toward, spoken varieties of American English. Such applications challenge the widely held belief that literary representations of dialect have little or nothing to offer to a study of language variation.

Traditionally, critiques of literary dialect have often been impressionistic reactions to how the representations of speech look on the page. These reactions are understandable in light of Dennis Preston's findings about negative reactions to the attempts of linguists, folklorists, and other researchers to represent nonstandard linguistic features, especially phonological features, in print. In his analysis, Preston does not address authors of literary dialect, but there is no reason to believe that the “affective response” he describes would . . .

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