Authentic Dialect and Dialogue

Dialogue is important, but it needs to fit the story as scene setting and dialogue tell the story in literature. While movies use visuals to set the scene, the writers use vocabulary and writing techniques to do the same thing. What I learned about dialogue is to use it sparingly so that it does not seem superfluous. No one would want to read a story with he said she said all the way through. If all a writer used was dialogue, he or she would not have the opportunity to fill in details because it would not be authentic to how people speak. Using a narrative story line allows the reader to tell the story by using either a first or third-person narrative, and the dialogue allows the characters to fill in the more important parts as a way to provide variety to readers. I also found that using a dialogue to start the story is a great technique to introduce characters and story lines. That is something I struggled with in how to start my book, but this is one of the important things I learned in getting started. I also found that dialogue is the way to differentiate my characters. As a person who writes historical fiction, the dialect is important to bring my characters to life. If everyone spoke perfect English in 1862, no one would believe it. But the narrator can be modern while the dialogue fills in the dialects to differentiate my characters by class, race, and region. This is where the characters can be authentic.

One of the things I have learned by studying Mark Twain is that he was a master at studying dialect. He traveled to study people and their speech patterns as a way to prove we were not all the same because of how we informally adopted the English language into our communities as a way to represent the speakers.  Twain did not seem to create characters to validate his beliefs in regional dialects or to create an argument against uniformity by grammarians. Our textbook says, “Diversity may be more desirable, a greater asset, than uniformity. Perhaps unity from diversity is more like working from a bag of wooden blocks than from molten culture: we build our culture and our political republic from a miscellaneous array of blocks, but the blocks retain their colors and shapes” (Curzan & Adams 382). Twain created his characters using the same principle based on the people he met in the various regions to validate his findings.  His readers were able to compare, perhaps for the first time in literature, that the dialogue of the characters had significant differences based on where they lived. He used two primary influences in his literature: 1) regional dialects 2) class and race within a specific regional dialect. I can not think of any one example more defining than Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

Twain’s characters each represented a part of the Old South that he felt embodied the Southern dialect as a whole. Twain’s example of a God-loving English speaker who were in the south can be found in chapter one, “Her sister, Miss Watson, a tolerable slim old maid, with goggles on, had just come to live with her, and took a set at me now with a spelling-book” (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). These characters represent the people in society who conformed to the ideology of uniformity, but it also reflects a deeper belief in religion with these characters that defined many a community in the south. Twain uses dialogue to differentiate his characterizes as well.  He uses an old South African American dialect with his character Jim in chapter two, “Say, who is you?  Whar is you?  Dog my cats ef I didn’ hear sumf’n. Well, I know what I’s gwyne to do:  I’s gwyne to set down here and listen tell I hears it agin.”  (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). Twain also documents cultural and and social  issues in the Old South which charged language like, “Niggers would come from all around there and give Jim anything they had, just for a sight of that five-center piece; but they wouldn’t touch it, because the devil had had his hands on it.  Jim was most ruined for a servant, because he got stuck up on account of having seen the devil and been rode by witches”  (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). The language today is highly offensive and controversial  (well, that could be debated based on region), but it was normal in the 1800s which authenticated social and cultural beliefs in the old South. One issue writers must get over is using language we find offensive today, but was a part of the society in history. This can be a struggle, but it also is why people remember your work because it did hit home the emotions society today tells us to disregard. Kind of like the uniformity that has been put on society over the century. Not talking about the language has not made it go away. By studying this language, we can realize why we should not use it today. Slavery was not pretty, and no one should use sweet words to describe it. By forcing Twain’s work out of libraries today , it gives a false narrative that his work is dirty. It is anything but that for an up and coming writer.

Twain uses a first person narrative to tell the story through Huck’s eyes with language like, “I was pretty hungry, but it warn’t going to do for me to start a fire, because they might see the smoke” (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). Warn’t is an example of a regional dialect, but it also shows that Huck’s speech pattern is different than the widow, her sister, Jim, or the various other characters in this book. A reader can start with regional dialects and then break then down further to see how a person’s beliefs (religious, social, political, academic, class, gender, or age) can further affect speech patterns. Twain understood his motives when writing, so it created authentic dialogue because they represented real people in real locations around the world. He also used the languages to show how diversity will always be a part of every society because it goes beyond race and class. But more importantly, he created scenes that complimented the dialogue to validate the people who lived in a specific region which made him important to sociology and language studies.




Curzan, Anne, and Michael Adams.  How English Works: A Linguistic Introduction. Boston: Longman 2012. Print

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Gutenberg Project. 2006. gutenberg.org/files/76/76-h/76-h.htm. Accessed 3 Aug 2017.


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