Date: Thu, 11 Aug 1994 10:20:10 CDT


Subject: Re: Of Cats and Eye Dialect

As used by Sumner Ives and others who have done research on literary use of

dialect, 'eye dialect' is spelling that is not "standard" but represents a

"standard" pronunciation. Thus, 'wuz' and 'whut' are eye dialect if one

considers these pronunciations "standard." What pronunciations? What about

the h-less pronunciations of 'what'? I'd wager that some of you who've

said 'whut' is eye dialect to you do not say the h' -- and so your eye

dialect form should be 'wut'. Even in eye dialect a writer can't stray very

far from the standard form. That's why I referred to "standard form of eye

dialect" in a previous note. Of course, eye dialect does more than represent

pronunciation (i.e., a non-stigmatizing pronunciation). It implies that the

character might misspell the word. Or it's decoration, in that some markers

of rusticity might be desired and the writer has available a limited set of

"standard" eye dialect spellings that his/her editor will accept. In a given

literary context the eye dialect may just mark informal conversation. An

eye dialect marker here and there may do the trick without in a story. It

doesn't take much dialect marking to slow down reading. In the preceding

sentence where I said "can't stray" I should said "can't afford to stray

very far from the standard form without overdoing the marking." If you're

doing a Jim, you must use certain forms, and if you're doing a Huck or a

Tom or a Becky you do others -- in varying denisities. And if you want

to show that Huck has learned a lot, you reduce the dialect and eye dialect.