AMERICAN TALK: The Words and Ways of American Dialects by Robert Hendrickson

AMERICAN TALK: The Words and Ways of American Dialects

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This claims to be the ""first full-length book on American dialects for the general reader."" Using Hendrickson's own very broad definition of dialects, however, he was preceded over 30 years ago by H. L. Mencken's far superior series The American Language. Hendrickson has drawn from a variety of writers, voyagers, and other sources. Yet even to the amateur reader, his judgment on linguistic matters can seem shaky. He is admirably concerned with variant pronounciations, but his phonetic spellings of the same can make tough reading. Quoted are such queries as ""Ahdya gettuh Rootwun?"" (sic) presented as Brooklynese. Of course, he aims to amuse with such unscientific spellings. But do long lists of variant pronunciations of words in ""Nee Yawk"" style really constitute a separate dialect, as the author claims? When he goes further afield than New York, Hendrickson runs into more trouble. In his chapter on black dialects, Hendrickson's statements about the languages spoken by slaves are in need of revision. He's mistaken, for example, that as a rule the slaves could not understand each other. He also incorrectly places an etymology of ""mumbo jumbo"" using an old book by an explorer as his source. Ishamel Reed's novel of that title should have made it clear that these words are a variant of the Swahili greeting, ""mambo jumbo."" In sum, the great range of this book is not matched by authorial acumen. The interested reader will find gold in the volumes by Mencken, instead.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Viking