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6 Comments

  • Stan:
    Speaking from a personal point of view, I find eye-dialectical writing simply annoying. I recently picked up a copy of Huckleberry Finn and read some of Jim’s dialogue. After a moment, I closed the book and walked away. Twain was a master, and his use of dialect has historical-linguistic relevance; that said, and I’m speaking stylistically, a word or two in dialect is sufficient to set the mood and delineate that aspect of the character. Reading a massive dose of dialect is rather like reading a post in IPA. It’s informative, good practice, and very much like remembering to take your meds on time; you feel virtuous when you’re finished. At least that’s MY opinion.

  • That’s fair enough, Marc. The practice doesn’t appeal to every reader, and sometimes a little goes a long way. But done skilfully, it can enhance the narrator’s voice in one’s head, I find. It may take a moment’s deciphering here and there, and slow the reading experience, but these aren’t necessarily demerits. A book such as Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban is as memorable for its unique dialect as for its story; the two aspects of the book may even be inseparable.

  • For me, eye dialect depends a great deal on what I think the author’s purpose is. For instance, quoting someone as saying “I wuz down” is annoying because the author seems to be deliberately stressing the substandard elements – and really, how does “I was down” SOUND any different?

  • Karen: I’m the same. “I wuz/woz down” seems to add little or nothing to how a character’s dialect is transcribed, and may instead indicate laziness or a failure to think things through. Maybe I’ve been lucky in my reading choices, but the eye dialects I encounter tend to be effective and faithful.

  • […] Dialects in dialogue continues the theme, briefly discussing regional variation, how conformity squeezed it out of the emerging standard variety of English, and how authors continued to convey it through the technique of ‘eye dialect’: Variation in language goes beyond inflection and vocabulary, of course. In everyday encounters it is most noticeable in our accents. As children we learn sounds from the people around us, typically our families, neighbours and peers, and we imbue our accent with qualities all our own. The signature sound of our voice is the result of a unique anatomy, personality, and social environment. . . . […]