WPA Slave Narratives and spelling

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Fri Feb 10 21:57:56 UTC 2006


Wilson will set us straight, but I related his post to the question he raised some time ago as to whether anybody has ever really said {gwine}. Hence the "Not quite, but close."

  The paragraph beginning with the formulaic "Yeah, yeah" was meant to show my awareness of the problematic nature of linguistic material drawn from the slave narratives, including nonstandard spellings. The transcriptions, however, employ {gwine} sufficiently as to suggest, at least _prima facie_, that it was pretty close to what some interviewers thought they heard.  The preponderance of "gwines" in S.C. and Ark. may reflect sampling errors of various sorts (for all I know only one transcriber is behind all of them), but in the absence of further investigation by us the "gwines" may quite as easily reflect actual usage.

  It's the [w]-glide that intrigues me.

  JL

"Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: "Joel S. Berson"
Subject: Re: WPA Slave Narratives and spelling
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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".

Joel

At 2/10/2006 09:39 AM, you wrote:
>---------------------- Information from the mail
>header -----------------------
>Sender: American Dialect Society
>Poster: Jonathan Lighter
>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 wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the
> mail header -----------------------
>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 [ΓΌ] 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
>
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