An Examination of Southern Dialect
Word Count: 2928"This site is hellacious and outstanding!!" An Examination of Southern Dialect An Examination of Southern Dialect as Seen in the Works of William Faulkner In the writings of William Faulkner, the reader may sense that the author has created an entire world, which directly reflects his own personal experience. Faulkner writes about the area in and around Mississippi, where he is from, during the post-Civil War period. It is most frequently Northern Mississippi that Faulkner uses for his literary territory, changing Oxford to â€œJeffersonâ€ and Lafayette County to â€œYoknapatawpha County,â€ because it is here that he lived most of his life and wrote of the people he knew. Faulknerâ€™s stories focus on the Southeastern United States at a time period when old traditions began to clash with new ideals. This is an era in American history with which most people can quickly identify, whether they are Southern or not. The South in Faulknerâ€™s works are complete with all the expected features: an agricultural society, Southern belles and gentlemen, racial tensions, and especially the common characteristics of Southern speech. Faulkner strays from the normal customs of Northern literature to present a realistic portrait of the South that he grew up in. In doing so, he comes up with an excellent sample of the Southern language, including linguistic qualities of both black and white speech. Faulkner establishes a unique literary voice which is recognizable due to variances from standard English in vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammatical form, while juxtaposing speech elements foreign to anyone not familiar with Southern heritage. The works of William Faulkner succeed in creating a literary dialect which is relatively consistent throughout all of his stories. A literary dialect is best defined as an â€œauthorâ€™s attempt to represent in writing a speech that is restricted regionally, socially, or bothâ€ (Ives 146). In Faulknerâ€™s writing, this can be described by such traits as an intentional misspelling, like â€œmarsterâ€ for master, or in the use of â€œMissâ€ along with the given first name of a female, as in â€œMiss Corrie.â€ These, amongst countless other examples, are distinctly Southern speech traditions. Anyone not from the South may need explanations of much of Faulknerâ€™s pronunciations, words, usages, and language customs which the author himself takes for granted. Because Faulkner has employed such a vast and complex Southern dialect in his stories, the language he uses has become a microcosm of Southern language as a whole. As one critic has noted, â€œlocal forms of speech maintain oneâ€™s individual dignity in a homogenizing worldâ€ (Burkett vii). In Faulkner, this local speech is a mixture of â€œSouthern American and Negro dialogue with all the folklore from Virginia to Louisiana, Florida to Texasâ€ (Brown 2). Faulknerâ€™s dialect is effective both as a literary device and as a link between the American English language and American culture and history, specifically in the Southeast. The South is probably the most linguistically diversified part of the nation. Blacks and whites from Atlanta to Charleston to Nashville speak a different form of standard English in a different version of the Southern accent. Part of this linguistic diversity is reflected in the way that the Southern aristocracy can â€œshift not only vocabulary and pronunciation, but even grammar, according to the audienceâ€ ((1)McDavid 219). This
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technique is very much alive in Faulknerâ€™s work. For example, in The Reivers, the upper-class grandfather character Boss is an educated man of high social standing in the community. Yet, when he is in the company of only his grandson Lucius, as part of a lecture, he says â€œthe safe things ainâ€™t always the best thingsâ€ ((2)Faulkner 117). Throughout the book, Bossâ€™s speech moves from the formal to the informal, largely depending on the intimacy he feels with the person or persons to whom he is speaking. Such a case illustrates that Faulkner is well aware of the prestige norms that exist in Southern speech, and he takes advantage of this knowledge. As Feagin points out, in the Southeast, the way in which â€œnonstandard English is employed demonstrates a symbol of intimacy and local loyalty, as well as a gauge of the level of integration into a close-knit networkâ€ (Feagin 222). Faulknerâ€™s characters reveal a tendency to speak in a slang-like or non-prescriptive grammar when they converse with other characters that they know well, often apparent in the form of jokes and metaphorical language. Similarly to the aristocratic speaker, the less educated Southern speaker often attempts to improve his or her speech when in a formal setting. McDavid asserts that the common way to do so is by â€œusing bigger words and longer sentences, sometimes resulting in the ridiculousâ€ ((2)McDavid 265). A good example of such in Faulkner occurs in As I Lay Dying when Anse, a rural, farming man, attempts to sound eloquent at a time of utmost solemnity. During a funeral speech, Anse states the following: The somebody you was young with and you growed old in her and she growed old in you, seeing the old coming on and it was the one somebody you could hear say it donâ€™t matter and know it was the truth outen the hard world and all a manâ€™s grief and trials ((1)Faulkner 511). It is obvious that Anse intends to speak formally in this situation, thus Faulkner follows McDavidâ€™s rule of Southern speech about the elongation of sentences and its irregular result. This passage is successful in two ways. First, it reveals a realistic trait common in the Southeast, reflecting the solidarity norm based on local non-standard speech (Feagin 219). Second, it serves as a very powerful literary technique because the oration captures the high level of sincerity in the speaking character. Another highly common form of Southern dialect which is often seen in Faulknerâ€™s writing is the presence of African American speech features. There are numerous examples of black speech in Faulkner that follow linguistic patterns. However, it is the purpose of this essay to view only a few of the most common. Alphonso Smith defines the most general rule of Southern Negro speech as the tendency to pronounce words like more, store, four, and floor without the /r/ sound, as in mo, sto, fo, and flo (Smith 365). Faulkner holds true to this generalization by narrating similar speech from the black characters in his books. For instance, in As I Lay Dying, the character Cash offers a statement which proves Faulknerâ€™s conformity to this black English norm when he says, â€œI ainâ€™t so sho that ere a man has the right to say what is crazy and what ainâ€™tâ€ ((1)Faulkner 221). Further, linguists such as Raven and Virginia McDavid have gathered that the oldest and least educated, as well as many Negro informants in their Southern language studies have demonstrated dominant usage of such ungrammatical verb past tenses as div for dive, growed for grow, and riz for rise ((3)McDavid 264-280). Accordingly, in Faulknerâ€™s The Sound and the Fury, there is an immense sign on the Negro Second Baptist Church which reads â€œHe Is Ris.â€ Faulkner also depicts the vernacular of Southern blacks in his opulent use of repetition and Biblical allusion. It has been noted by researchers of Southern linguistics that a strong relationship exists between the rituals of black churches and everyday black speech customs. Examples of this relationship include religious reference, long pauses, swaying and gesturing, and repetition (Jones-Jackson 115-124). Although it is impossible to identify with many of these aspects of black speech while reading words on a page, it is clear that Faulkner takes advantage of those aspects that the readers can detect. For instance, all of his works display abundant uses of the words Jesus, heaven, and crucifixion, and sometimes choir hymns such as â€œall folks talkinâ€™ bout heaven ainâ€™t gwine darâ€ appear in the speech of black characters (Brown 19-222). Other Negro language features common in Faulkner are loss of /r/ at the end of words as in â€œbettaâ€ for better, use of be substituted for all tenses of the word be, as well as the â€œzero copula, or possession indicated without a possessive morphemeâ€ (Stewart 57). Much of Faulknerâ€™s writing has viewed blacks humanely, giving them a significant voice in the Southern American culture. However, for the most part, the literature reflects the general social attitude towards blacks at the time, which renders their language substandard and basically inferior to that of most whites. In the stories of Faulkner, the author writes in his natural language which he learned growing up in Mississippi. This language, obviously, is what constitutes his literary dialect. Nevertheless, a closer observation of the linguistic style of his writing reveals exactly how he establishes this unconventional dialect. Primarily, Faulkner utilizes the technique of intentional variation of words from standard English orthography or, to be more specific, he purposefully spells words incorrectly. The examples of this in his works occur on a page by page basis. Some of the more common and peculiar, occurring in more than just one of his stories, are â€œFerginnyâ€ for Virginia, â€œricklickâ€ for recollect or remember, and â€œgwineâ€ or â€œghyâ€ for going to (Brown 19-222). Another similar pronunciation feature of Faulknerâ€™s work is the combining of two like words to create a new word with a new spelling. Two examples of this action are â€œaggravoke,â€ a blend of aggravate and provoke, and â€œagoment,â€ used as a combination of agony and torment (Brown 19). In addition to these, Faulkner also plays on language variation by exhibiting words or expressions to which the average English speaker cannot possibly know the meaning. Words like â€œjumperâ€ for denim jacket and pants or â€œdragonâ€ for a Ku Klux Klansman, and expressions such as â€œstruck and jumpedâ€ to signify picking up the scent of and then killing a deer, fall into this category (Brown 19-222). Finally, to establish his literary dialect, Faulkner ensures that â€œgrammatical forms are used that do not appear in the textbooks - except as awful warningsâ€ (Ives 147). Many of these have already been discussed above, but several others appear in the writing as in the multiple cases of double negatives, eliminating the /g/ from words ending in -ing, and placing the word â€œlikeâ€ at the end of adjectives for emphasis (as in â€œproper-like,â€ and â€œquick-likeâ€). In short, most of these features, and the local dialect as a whole, can be seen in such passages as the following from As I Lay Dying: â€œI know that Old Marster will care for me as for ere a sparrow that fallsâ€ ((1)Faulkner 440). This quotation is grammatically unsound, it contains unusual word spelling and pronunciation, and it also makes use of a seemingly foreign phrase or saying. From the start, what almost all of these characteristics have in common is that they are chiefly reflections of the Southern Lowland dialect, and therefore they make Faulknerâ€™s literature a symbol of that geographical region and culture as a whole. Some important questions arise when examining the language of Faulkner or any similarly dialect-oriented author. These questions surround the actual nature of a dialect, and the way in which it is manifested by the writer on to the page. Dialects are patterns of communication by which all people in an exclusive region recognize. People, even without a written language, understand â€œthese speech conventions, or patterns to which actual noises conformâ€ even though they may not be â€œsystematically analyzed and recorded in a grammarâ€ (Ives 150). A group of people who speaks a dialect will commonly have uniform variations from other dialects that are noticeable by people outside their speaking class, as in the differences between black and white Southern English. A writer like Faulkner, then, presents a very special affinity with his own dialect because he writes in it without having to rely on research or background study. His storytelling language is pure, â€œwhen he needs something, he searches the lumber room of his head for something to serve his purposeâ€ (Brown 4). The literary dialect in the works of William Faulkner is almost a carbon-copy of the Southern dialect he truly speaks. Moreover, although Faulkner is not commonly regarded as a great historian, his writing reveals a great deal of Southern history and culture.Though probably not all of these accounts are entirely accurate, it is quite possible that Faulknerâ€™s descriptions of historical events alight directly from his own experience with the Southern tradition of oral storytelling. Faulknerâ€™s representation of Southern speech in his writing, follows the actual linguistic parameters of the Southern Lowland dialect very closely, or Southern Proper by Raven McDavidâ€™s classification. Faulkner makes a strong effort to display the various facets of this dialect even though many of them cannot really be sensed through writing alone. For instance, the only true aspects of language that are excluded in writing are facial and bodily expressions accompanying speech, pauses and changes in pitch or volume, and speed of articulation. Generally speaking, however, these features are secondary in comparison with pronunciation, grammar, and word usage. Faulknerâ€™s literary dialect is consistent with several of the prevailing trends of Southern speech. For one, it supports the theory of Southern language diversity due to the fact that Faulknerâ€™s is a distinctly Southern dialect, yet has many differences from other Southern dialects, including the use of phrases like â€œtrade daysâ€ (days set aside for auctioning) only used in the immediate area (Brown 202). Also, Faulknerâ€™s writing presents the large quantity of archaic and folk utterances in the Negro dialect, which are the result of years of insufficient educational opportunity. One other trait of Faulknerâ€™s language that is common to the popular conception of Southern dialects is the occasional loss of postvocalic /r/, as in the words â€œbaunâ€ for born, and â€œbastudâ€ for bastard. These words, along with dozens of others appearing in many of Faulknerâ€™s stories. Faulkner, quite simply, delineates a place rich in the tradition and pride of the average Southerner. Consequently, the speech in his text also carries some of the stigmas attached to Southern life itself. First and foremost of these blemishes is the pervading tone of racism, automated by the appearance of the word â€œniggerâ€ in practically all of Faulknerâ€™s works. Although the word does represent the authenticity of Faulknerâ€™s dialect, it will always carry with it an arresting level of shame and disgrace. The feeling of racism is perpetuated by the fact that most of the Negro speech in Faulkner is slightly less standard than white speech, giving it a hint of inferiority. Although Faulkner explores the issue of racism with an open mind and even attempts to repudiate some of the negative connotations associated with blacks, his genuine Southern tongue cannot completely detach from the very real evils of racial injustice in Southern American history. Finally, the dialect in these stories, in all of its originality, continues to uphold the popular belief that Southern English is, in many instances, bad English employed by less intelligent speakers. This setback is mainly attributable in Faulknerâ€™s writing to the double negatives, use of ainâ€™t, and use of third person donâ€™t. Contrary to these negative opinions however, most of the cases of bad grammar here are actually remnants of archaic proper English rather than unintelligent corruptions of modern English. Thus Faulknerâ€™s storytelling dialect creates a lasting impression of his Southern world, encompassing both the common and unique, the positive and the negative. In demonstrating his ability to author such a realistic, yet original world, drawing on his own natural dialect, â€œFaulkner insists that life is narrative, based on the preeminence of language in our livesâ€ (Lockyer xii). By: AdamVanDeVeire For: Mrs. Mackey ENGH 250 November 27, 2002 Works Cited Brown, Calvin S. A Glossary of Faulknerâ€™s South. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976. Burkett, Eva M. American English Dialects in Literature. London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1978. (1)Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury. New York: The Modern Library, 1966. (2)Faulkner, William. The Reivers. New York: Random House, 1982. Feagin, Crawford. â€œCompeting Norms in the White Speech of Anniston, Alabama.â€ Montgomery and Bailey, 1986. 216-234. Ives, Sumner. â€œA Theory of Literary Dialect.â€ A Various Language. Ed. Williamson and Burke. New York: Hold, Rhinehart, Winston, 1971. 145-177. Lockyer, Judith. Ordered By Words: Language and Narration in the Novels of William Faulkner. Southern Illinois University Press, 1991. (1)McDavid, Raven I., Jr. â€œDialectology: Where Linguistics Meets the People.â€ The Emory University Quarterly XXIII (Winter, 1967), 219. (2)McDavid, Raven I., Jr. â€œGo Slow in Ethnic Attribution: Geographic Mobility and Dialect Prejudices.â€ Varieties of Present-Day English. Ed. Richard W. Bailey and Jay L. Robinson. New York: Macmillan Company, 1973. 258-270. (3)McDavid, Raven I., Jr., and Virginia McDavid. â€œKentucky Verb Forms.â€ Montgomery and Bailey, 1986. 264-293. Smith, Alphonso. Cambridge History of American Literature. New York: Macmillan Company, 1951. Stewart, William A. â€œObservations on the Problem of Defining Negro Dialect.â€ The Florida FL Reporter IX, Nos. 1 and 2 (Spring/Fall, 1971), 47-57.