Blackface Minstrels' Dialect

Daniel Partner dpmstrel at BAYAREA.NET
Thu Nov 6 18:22:57 UTC 2003

To: American Dialect Society, Email Discussion List

Hello, I am a musician and performer specializing antebellum popular music,
especially the music of the early blackface minstrels (1830-1860). I am
researching the dialect that these performers used in the lyrics of their
songs. Can you direct me to any sources concerning mid-nineteenth century
American phonetics and/or something specific about the language of the
blackface minstrels?

Here is a more specific question: Can it be determined how the minstrels (or
the African-Americans of the era) pronounced the word "de". For example,
Stephen Foster's song, "Camptown Races" begins like this: "De Camptown ladies
sing dis song, Do-Dah! Do-Dah!" Was "de" pronounced with a long "e" or a
short "e", or both? If both, what might the rule be for such usage?

I appreciate your help.

Daniel Partner

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