Dialect Voices in Literature

      This course is a “hands-on” application, to literary criticism, of findings in the study of nonstandard language varieties. Students are taught to evaluate the accuracy of nonstandard-speech representation in fiction, in an effort to determine whether a particular author commands it well, and whether the representation matches characters and contexts. In other words, how much stereotyping is there and to what extent does the representation diverge from the real “dialect”? We go from the entertaining aspect of “dialect” representation to its emblematic/indexical function, assessing particular authors’ artistic skills, in more or less the same way an art critic would be assessing, say, a classical painter’s skills, analyzing, for instance, the way he/she uses his/her brush and combines colors and lighting to produce specific effects. It is usually also useful to invoke history in order to have an idea of the writer’s intentions, which can shed light on his/her decisions. Students learn to do both library and field research to find information about the relevant “dialect.” This term is used loosely here to apply also to what some linguists would treat as separate languages, such as creoles and pidgins. Yes, it is an indirect way of teaching dialectology to literary critics and make them aware of the relevance of research in dialectology to their research area. Students are encouraged to work on books of their own choices. Some students have also proposed to apply the techniques they learn to cinema.

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