Saturday, April 26, 2014

Eye dialect and Cliven Bundy

'Eye dialect' is using non-standard spelling to try and convey features of how somebody speaks. It's often colloquial stuff, like talkin' instead of talking, but more typically strong stuff, sociolinguistically speaking, and it's often used to represent people negatively, e.g. Sarah Palin. In fact, AP represented an Obama speech with this 'g-dropping' and there was discussion of whether that was racist, as laid out here on the Log. In that post, Mark Liberman wrote this:

"Eye dialect" in transcriptions is a questionable journalistic choice, whether the speaker is Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, or Barack Obama; but it's not necessarily a racist choice, and I don't think that it was a racist choice in this case. However, there are a lot of racists out there; and many of them use eye dialect as a focus for their feelings of disgust and hat[r]ed.
The New York Times occasionally uses eye dialect, though I've never tried to track how often or exactly when. Still, I was surprised yesterday to read this story about Cliven Bundy, containing these quotes from Bundy (talking about himself):
“Cliven Bundy’s a-wondering about these people, now I’m talking about the black community, I’m a-wondering, …
It's rare to see that in contemporary print media - startling, in a way. The story continues:
He questioned whether African-Americans were “happier than they was when they was in the South in front of their homes with their chickens and their gardens and their children around them …"
Here's the clip in question with the relevant stuff starting around 1:15. Bundy speaks an emphatically non-standard English, and really does use a-prefixing and was with plural subjects, as well as negative concord ("they didn’t have nothing to do"), set for Standard sit, and so on. My immediate reaction was to wonder if this distracts from the substance. Why not write it in more standard spelling and let the content make the point?

On Saturdays, I always look forward to Charles M. Blow's editorials and today he tackles the core substance of Bundy's "fantasies" and "projections". It's not hard to devastatingly deconstruct this stuff, I suppose, but Blow lays it out nice and clean. 

1 comment:

Valency said...

The issue is how often is non-standard English 'cleaned up' grammatically in this fashion? (This has nothing to do with spelling, as you imply, but rather the non-standard features of Mr Bundy's dialect)

If this is a one-time-only thing aimed at making Mr Bundy sound like a rustic hick, that's one thing. OTOH if this source frequently quote people using non-standard English directly without editing their speech into the standard mould, I can't see the issue.