I've been thinking recently that North Americans must have been particularly interested in dialect during the late '20s...then what should I read this morning but a fun New Yorker piece called "Mammy!"
In the piece, Robert M. Coates is planning to visit the south, so he takes "Southern accent lessons." When he arrives he tries out his accent on a black man.
"Hiyah, yo bleck reskil," I hailed him, pitching my voice to a mellow, throaty drawl. "Whah yall gwine gwine?"After similar problems communicating with a waitress, Coates decides that the problem is one of education: the southerners were never taught to understand their own language.
"I beg your pardon?" he replied.
"Ah sade," I repeated, "de mos thing Ah is wantin' is tuh diskiver whah-all de Mainshun House Hotail is a-locatid et, an' ef yall is a-gwine in that dee-reskshun, Ah'd be raight smaht obleeged ef yall ud..." I paused, for an expression of bewilderment had crossed his otherwise placid features.
"I'm sorry," he said, "but I haven't the slightest idea what you mean."
If these people don't know the right way to talk, the only thing is to teach them. It might come hard at first, but we could soon have them saying "Suh" and "Ah raikin" almost as well as our own character actors do.Beautiful sting at the end, and it makes me wonder if the dialect prevalence in books -- assuming it existed and isn't just due to the books I'm sampling -- was due to the character actors and songwriters of the time.
(The New Yorker, February 6, 1929, page 59)