Re: The March - Part 1 (pages 42 - 85)
Chris OConnor: I was wondering what you called that style of writing. So "phonetic dialect" is the name.
Ooh, don't go around using that confidently. I made that up to describe what I saw in the book. There may be a more academic name for it, and I wouldn't want you to go making a fool of yourself just because I didn't know the right word.Sadly enough today's ebonics hasn't much improved.
I take a more relative point of view. The dictionary is written to accord with usage. So if everyone spoke ebonics, that's what would eventually start showing up in the dictionary. The biggest sin of ebonics is that it isn't as widely used as Standard American English. Education in that sense is the defense of the status quo. Ancient Romans could have just as easily complained about rudimentary French -- from their perspective, it was a corruption. From our perspective, it was the beginnings of a language that is beautiful in its own right.
That said, 80-90% of "The March" is written in SAE. Doctorow is clearly not appealing to ebonics as a first language. And his intent in writing dialect phonetically is to mark the difference between educated whites and uneducated, newly freed slaves. All good and well, I just think that the effect has already been achieved grammatically, and that the phonetic emphasis distracts more than anything else.
AnnetteS: My opinion is that it is often the best way to insert realism into dialogue. The reader may have to work a little harder, but the character's voice is more authetic.
The test, for me, is this. Take any line of dialogue spoken by Pearl in the opening chapters. Rewrite it with all of the standard American spellings of the words. Now read it out loud. Does the structure of the sentence suggest the dialogue on its own? I think it does, and I think that anyone familiar with the sort of speech Doctorow had in mind would have recognized it even with the proper spellings. Anyone not familiar with that sort of speech was unlikely to benefit one way or the other. Of course, you may still disagree, and I guess it ultimately boils down to personal preference.