Sunday, July 23, 2017

Who Fears the Language?

For my money, nobody writes natural dialog better than Ring Lardner.  Some folk set store by Mark Twain, but his gimmicky over-use of apostrophes reminded me a city man trying too hard to sound country.  His characters all talked with a sort of conscious drawl that works for the sort of tale he was telling, but came off as forced and mebbe a bit ironic.

Then there’s old Manly Wade Wellman.  Lemm tell you about ol' Manly.
“Law me,” said the farmer.  “I ain’t even now wanting to talk against Forney Meechum.  But they tell he’d put his eye on Lute himself, and he’d quarreled with his own son Dexwood about who’d have her.  But next court day at the county seat, was a fight betwixt Jeremiah Donovant and Derwood Meechum, and Jeremiah stuck a knife in Derwood and killed him dead.”
That’s some natural talk right there.  It rings with the sort of earnest appreciation for the Ozark patter and the casual flow of the way a man speaks his mind.  Plain and simple, but poetical nonetheless.

They call smoked sweet meat “bobbycue”.
Who Fears the Devil is no New York City -  
- or Hollywood version of the dialects of the Ozarks, Appalachians, and other tucked out of the way places in flyover country. 
Can you imagine a TV script introducing it's main character whittling a stick into something other than a pointier stick and saying, "Hidy."  Yet that's how Silver John meets the romantic couple in Nobody Goes There.  From the same story:
Well, now, a couple-three has gone, one time or another...from here, and a hunter or so a-cooning over Music Mountain from the far side.  But air come back no more.  Only them policemen that drives over quick and comes back quick - always by daylight, always three in the car, with pistols and sawed-off shotguns.  Boy," said Mr. Glover, "folks just takes off from that there place, like a-staying off from a rocky patch full of snakes, a wet bottom full of chills, and a fever.
Count the number and styles of affectations in that paragraph and you see a man with an easy command over the language of the forgotten parts of America. 

Speaking as a corn-fed mid-Western boy, I have to say that I've always had an affinity for the rhythms and casual formality of southern speech.  At the same time, I've had an aversion to the lazy caricatures that have been dominant in media.  Even ostensibly sympathetic representations always seem to have a wink and a nod and an ironic, "Isn't this cornpone stuff silly," undertone that grates on me.  I'm not one of them, but these are still my fellow countrymen, and they have a dignity and charm that folks north of the Mason-Dixon line could take a few lessons from.


1 comment:

  1. As a native of rural, southern Appalachia, I can say that Wellman gets the language pretty much perfect.