House of Earth Question #16: Use of Dialect

by Woody Guthrie

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fireflydances
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House of Earth Question #16: Use of Dialect

Unread postby fireflydances » Fri Apr 12, 2013 9:33 pm

The wind knocked the door open again at Tike's back. He kicked it shut with such a bang that the draft of air blew the lamp out.

"See what you have done," Blanche spoke out in the dark when she sat down on Ella May's bed to keep her from tossing herself onto the floor. "See? Be still."

"Ya got us all so dadblamed scare that th' light's jumped clean outta th' lamp globe. Why'ncha talk? Make some sense? Darkest dern dark I ever seen in all my put togethers. Cut it with a knife." Tike felt about in the room for the orange crate just above the eating table and Blanche sighed with relief when he rattled his fingers in the match box. "Matches. There. Whooapp. Dropped'em. God blame it all ta th' devil nohow, Lady. Look what'cha made do. Talk up. Come ya ta pull any such a stunt anyway?"
(pg. 158)

The heavy use of dialect in a piece of fiction isn't something that's done much anymore. In the US there is a long literary tradition of using dialect. Anything by Mark Twain for example. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird is also heavily laced with dialect. However, both dialect and the more informal slang continue to be important story elements on stage, in movies, music videos etc.

Do you think the use of dialect in House of Earth helped describe the characters or not? If there is anyone out there that listened to House of Earth rather than read it, we'd love you to weigh in on this. What was it like to listen to the dialogue?
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

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Re: House of Earth Question #16: Use of Dialect

Unread postby Gilbert's Girl » Sat Apr 13, 2013 3:27 am

I think it can be overused to try and make the characters believable but to read it is very hard becasue you can't get a sense of it or whats been said at least thats my veiwpoint of it, the use of some slang words when they talked would have been fine I think but if you want people to read a story and understand it I think its not really a good idea to put in too much dialect, or what they think is dialect. The problem is you can read it but you can't hear the dialect so it doesn't read how it should sound, especially if you're not from that part of the world. I think this was another problem I had with geting to grips with the book.

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Re: House of Earth Question #16: Use of Dialect

Unread postby shaman-art » Sat Apr 13, 2013 10:55 am

I think it's a walk on a very fine line. It may illustrate the characters, but also it makes it hard to read and so maybe some of the content is lost to a reader who's not familiar with that dialect. I had to re-read a lot of pages at the beginning and some things I did not understand before I started to imagine what those words would sound like. That helped me a lot.

There's also the problem when it comes to translations. Most writer do not only write for the audience in the certain country or for example English speaking readers in general. It's pretty hard to translate dialect into another language and find a working equivalent to that dialect without losing to much. For example I'd have no idea how to translate the book into German, because any dialect a German reader would understand is clearly linked to a certain area and that would for example turn the characters into Bavarians or Saxons which doesn't make sense at all.

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Re: House of Earth Question #16: Use of Dialect

Unread postby fireflydances » Sat Apr 13, 2013 3:01 pm

Gilbert's Girl wrote:
shaman-art wrote:I think it's a walk on a very fine line. It may illustrate the characters, but also it makes it hard to read and so maybe some of the content is lost to a reader who's not familiar with that dialect. I had to re-read a lot of pages at the beginning and some things I did not understand before I started to imagine what those words would sound like. That helped me a lot.


shaman-art wrote:I think it's a walk on a very fine line. It may illustrate the characters, but also it makes it hard to read and so maybe some of the content is lost to a reader who's not familiar with that dialect. I had to re-read a lot of pages at the beginning and some things I did not understand before I started to imagine what those words would sound like. That helped me a lot.


I agree with both of you. For me the value of dialect lies in hearing it. When we read it -- whether we are from the US or not--we can't help but put our own spin on the words. It's almost necessary to say the words out loud to truly get what the writer was suggesting by writing in dialect.

Please excuse me, but I want to tell a story to make my point. So, there's a movie I've seen several times over the years, Coal Miner's Daughter. In it, Sissy Spacek, stars as a young Loretta Lynn. the famous country music performer who was born in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky. Every time I've seen that movie, I've found myself drawn to the sound of Sissy's voice, and particularly to the way she drags out certain words. One word stuck in my head is Sissy's "pulllay" (i.e. play, as in play the song, play the guitar). She says that one a lot, which makes sense, and it's probably why I can call it up instantly in my brain.

In any case, I was reading House of Earth one night, the scene where they are trying to make the radio work, and Ella says it -- pulllay! And I heard it, heard her in my ear all of sudden because I had that mental memory of the word being pronounced. Just hearing that voice caused my sense of Ella to blossom out, expand.

So, what am I saying then? That it is a good idea to use dialect, because it does create a much fuller image of a character, but...we need to be able to press that button and HEAR the dialect.

I can't believe I am actually suggesting a use for the electronic book. I am so committed to my paper pages! But, here is a use that expands our understanding of a novel or even a non-fiction book in which a character's peculiarities of speech are important.

There is a lot of House of Earth that needs to be heard rather than just read.
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

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Re: House of Earth Question #16: Use of Dialect

Unread postby ladylinn » Sat Apr 13, 2013 4:31 pm

I agree it would have been easier to hear the dialect opposed to reading it. Alot of the passages I had to read over several times and at times reading it out loud helped me to understand. And I come from an area that has alot of dialect. For example - "jeet"!! :perplexed: Meaning " Did you eat yet?" Seems as though many areas have their own way of commucating. I think we could have figured out Tikes character without the dialect.

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Re: House of Earth Question #16: Use of Dialect

Unread postby nebraska » Sat Apr 13, 2013 5:30 pm

I agree the dialect was hard to read, but I do think it lent some authenticity to the characters. The only novel I ever finished writing was filled with dialect and I realize now that would probably make it unpublishable just because, as everyone has pointed out, it can be very difficult to read. But Woody was writing for his time, and back then I don't think dialect was frowned upon as much.

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Re: House of Earth Question #16: Use of Dialect

Unread postby fireflydances » Sat Apr 13, 2013 6:03 pm

nebraska wrote:I agree the dialect was hard to read, but I do think it lent some authenticity to the characters. The only novel I ever finished writing was filled with dialect and I realize now that would probably make it unpublishable just because, as everyone has pointed out, it can be very difficult to read. But Woody was writing for his time, and back then I don't think dialect was frowned upon as much.


You are absolutely right nebraska. It occurred to me when Liz and I discussed this question that, by rights, we should have done a tidbit on use of dialect in fiction. Hindsight is twenty twenty they say.

So you write? No wonder you are such a diligent reader. :-)
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

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Re: House of Earth Question #16: Use of Dialect

Unread postby FANtasticJD » Sat Apr 13, 2013 6:05 pm

Slightly off topic but here is a fascinating analysis of the various regional dialects in the U.S.
“Who wants to be normal when you can be unique?”
Helena Bonham Carter

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Re: House of Earth Question #16: Use of Dialect

Unread postby fireflydances » Sat Apr 13, 2013 10:27 pm

FANtasticJD wrote:Slightly off topic but here is a fascinating analysis of the various regional dialects in the U.S.

Perfectly "on topic" and fascinating. Nothing like picking up peculiar expressions. It's still possible to visit some places in the US and wonder at what the folks are saying. Which is nice. I hope we keep that, don't blend ourselves so completely that we don't have things to still discover. Thank you for the contribution. :hatsoff:
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

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Re: House of Earth Question #16: Use of Dialect

Unread postby Liz » Sun Apr 14, 2013 12:38 am

I actually like the idea of writing in dialect. I think it makes a story more realistic. I find that writing in dialect makes the story more colorful or interesting.

There are a couple of books that come to mind. One is Shantaram. Loved Prubaker. And the other that sticks out in my mind is One Hundred Secret Senses. These characters speaking how they would typically speak made the stories more alive to me.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

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Re: House of Earth Question #16: Use of Dialect

Unread postby Gilbert's Girl » Mon Apr 15, 2013 5:35 am

We have some very interesting dialects over here in the UK

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Re: House of Earth Question #16: Use of Dialect

Unread postby Buster » Mon Apr 15, 2013 3:21 pm

I felt that the use of dialect really enhanced the book - it gave it an unmistakable time and place. Woody's ear and sense of language shone through and really nailed the moment. I do agree, shaman-art, that dialect makes translation difficult, if not impossible...for the exact same reasons that it places the story so firmly in a specific historical place and time.

And firefly, while I understand your point:
There is a lot of House of Earth that needs to be heard rather than just read.
, it doesn't really work that way in my own reading experience. I do "hear" the characters in my head, and I often find hearing someone else's version of their voices to be very distracting....sort of the equivalent of a bad voice-over.

It can take me a minute to get situated when reading dialect - sort of like going to a play. I have to change gears and move into that specific space, and then allow myself to be transported.


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