"eye dialect"

Virginia P. Clark Virginia.Clark at UVM.EDU
Tue Apr 27 00:46:54 UTC 1999

I believe that you will receive many responses to your request for the
meaning of "eye dialect," and I hope that they will clarify the meaning of
the term.

"Eye dialect" is used in wrting, usually fiction, by an author who wants to
show by his/her spelling how the speaker supposedly sounds.  For example,
in the first chapter of Zora Neale Hurston's novel "Their Eyes Were
Watching God," the following exchange occurs:

                "Humph! Y'all let her worry yuh.  You ain't like me.  Ah ain't got her to
study 'bout.
                If she ain't got manners enough to stop and let folks know how she been
                out, let her g'wan!"

                "She ain't even worth talkin' after," Lulu Moss drawled through her nose.
 "She sits
                high, but she looks low.  Dat's what Ah say 'bout dese ole women runnin'
                young boys."

Hurston's characters are uneducated, rural African Americans, and she uses
"eye dialect" to suggest how they would actually sound.

There are also many examples of "eye dialect" in Mark Twain's novels.  In
general (but not always), "eye dialect" is used to portray the speech of
non-standard speakers.

Virginia Clark
Professor Emeritus of English
University of Vermont
Burlington, VT 05405

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