Twain the Linguist

It is not out of line to categorize Mark Twain as an linguist.  He obviously had a fascination with the dialects of Southern culture.  He uses them to not only show difference in class/education, but also difference in culture.  He purposely gives some characters written dialects and does not to others.

It is clever that he does this.  Not only is the language documented, but it can help linguists to see the transitions and progressions in the English language in the south.  Granted, Twain writes his version of what it is he is hearing so it is a biased historical representation.  However, Twain was not the only author documenting language-refer back to the Uncle Remus stories to see another author’s opinion.  Also take note that both are representations from different regions.

The only downside to these types of texts is how to translate a dialect into another language so other cultures can read the works.  Since English was the dominant language, these authors must not have been to worried about that factor.

This website discusses a bit more of how Twain uses dialect:

2 Responses to “Twain the Linguist”

  1. meganne says:

    I have never actually thought of Twain–or any author, for that matter–in this way. It seems that this kind of attention to dialect and linguistics is exclusive to the slave narrative (and its parodies), but it would be interesting to see how other Southern writers use dialects, even though Faulkner might be the only other writer we study who pays such attention to linguistic detail (basing this on “Sanctuary” and the short story about escaped convicts and Mississippi River floods). Perhaps it could even be argued that such linguistic detail is another way in which Southern culture is stereotyped/identified and another way that the slave narrative becomes formulaic.

  2. RhinestoneintheRough says:

    I always associate Twain with dialects. I like that he uses them (and with such great detail) because I think it expands on the realistic feel of his works. That being said, sometimes I don’t like reading his novels because I find the dialect tricky, particularly if I’m sleepy or distracted. But I really thought your point about translating the dialect into other languages was interesting; that problem had never occurred to me before