WPA Slave Narratives and spelling

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Fri Feb 10 16:29:15 UTC 2006

A caution here:  the narratives were transcribed
by whites, probably mainly middle-class and at
least some from the North (in addition to the
obvious problems of constructing spelling from
utterances).  A very interesting chapter on the
issues posed to historians who use these
narratives is in "After the Fact: The Art of
Historical Detection", by James West Davidson and
Mark Hamilton Lytle (McGraw Hill, 1992), Chapter
Seven, "The View from the Bottom Rail".


At 2/10/2006 09:39 AM, you wrote:
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>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>
>Subject:      Re: Not quite, but quite close
>A quick search of the WPA Slave Narratives here:
>   http://rs6.loc.gov/ammem/mesnquery.html
>   reveals 100 interviews featuring the spelling
> "gwine."  The interviews were carried out in
> most of the Southern states, but the majority
> of the "gwines" seem to be from South Carolina and Arkansas.
>   Yeah, yeah, the spelling may have been
> influenced by literary stereotypes, but the
> continued exisence of [gwOin] as documented by
> Wilson (and maybe DARE - I haven't had a chance
> to look) strongly suggests that at least some
> of the former slaves really did say "gwine" or something like it.
>   JL
>Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
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>Sender: American Dialect Society
>Poster: Wilson Gray
>Subject: Not quite, but quite close
>A black woman on this morning's Springer:
>"We _[gwOin]_ through the same thing."
>This woman also pronounced the second syllable of "confuse" as though
>it was the second syllable of French "confuse." I.e. she pronounced
>[yu] as front rounded [ü] or as German umlaut "ue." I've also heard
>many, many, many instances of [Cyu] > [Cru], e.g. [k at nfyuz] >
>[k at nfruz], in BE.
>This is quite interesting, given Portuguese "frasco" vs. Italian
>"fiasco." Although there's no reason to doubt that Late Latin (or
>Proto-Romance, etc.) /ClV/ went directly to Portuguese [CrV], /ClV/ >
>/CyV] > [CrV] is now seen as a possibility.
>-Wilson Gray
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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