Date: Mon, 6 Oct 1997 10:45:44 -0500 From: "Salikoko S. Mufwene" Subject: Re: dialect in literature This past summer, I taught a pilot course titled "Dialect Voices in Literature." We covered authors such as Mark Tawin, William Faulkner, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, and Chinwa Achebe. I got the idea for this from reading a book by Albert French, titled "Billy", three summers ago and being shocked to notice that the "dialect" attributed to White characters should have been associated with Black characters and that what was put in the mouths of Black characters was just fiction. Or at least Black and White characters in this book could have been assigned very similar varieties. In covering the literature this past summer, I was shocked by the extent of stereotyping in the works of especially Twain and Faulkner, and Richard Wright--often exarcerbated by the merciless use of eye dialect for Black characters. I thought Morrison and Hurston are rightfully acclaimed as excellent writers, not only for their outstanding skills as writers and plot-builders, but also for their ability to codeswitch--and they capture variation within the nonstandard dialect very well too. I found Chinwa Achebe very impressive too, but I'll need the assistance of somebody that is fluent in Nigerian Pidgin English (relative to stereotyping--which I could not verify; but then I have this prejudice against too much basilect in the mouth of any pidgin/creole speaker). The purpose of the class was to figure out how knowledge gained from studying AAVE and White nonstandard dialects could be used in literary criticism. (I had training in literary criticism years back in college!) My students and I enjoyed the class. I'd like to teach it again before I write a syllabus or any academic paper on the subject matter. But there is a lot of interesting research out there that graduate students may be encouraged to do, especially if they are going to work in English Departments. I also thought that people specializing in African-American literature should be offered courses on AAVE and White nonstandard dialects (any kind of introductory course)--excuse my patronizing. Some of the students who took the course told me that the experience was like learning to read a book twice, focusing once on the story/plot and then focusing again on language, but the details gained from both readings are mutually enriching. I tried to combine both techniques in my single readings and often focused too much on language, missing some relevant aspects of the story--shame on me. Anyway, I have now forgotten what point I wanted to make--probably just wanted to voice my raw impressions that pertain to the original query on dialect in literature. There is an interesting book that John Rickford brought to my attention, after I had started the class: "Down Home and Uptown: The representation of Black speech in American fiction," by Sylvia Wallace Horton, 1984, Associated University Presses. I have mixed feelings about the parts of it that I read and did not finish reading it. I had a problem with the direction some of her discussions take. Nonetheless, you may find it worth checking. Thanks for your attention. Sali. ******************************************************* Salikoko S. Mufwene s-mufwene[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] University of Chicago 773-702-8531; FAX 773-834-0924 Department of Linguistics 1010 East 59th Street Chicago, IL 60637 *******************************************************