A game of confidence : literary dialect, linguistics, and authenticity

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Leigh, Philip John

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A Game of Confidence: Literary Dialect, Linguistics, and Authenticity builds a bridge between literary-critical and linguistic approaches to representations of nonstandard speech in literature. Important scholarship both in linguistics and in literary criticism has sought to develop rigorous inquiry into deviations from standard written language to represent features of nonstandard spoken language in literature. I argue that neither field, however, has fully embraced the idea that, by definition, 'literary dialect' necessitates an interdisciplinary approach. Furthermore, neither has successfully integrated the other's very different theories and methods. As a result, 'literary dialect' provides an exciting opportunity for new scholarship connecting recent developments in literary history, sociolinguistics, and digital humanities. The goals of my project are two-fold: First, to analyze within their own cultural and historical contexts previous attempts by authors, readers, and scholars to fix the supposedly empirical accuracy of literary dialect representations; second, to model what I take to be an empirically more valid use of linguistics for analyzing literary artists' representations of nonstandard speech. My work provides a necessary intervention for literary dialect criticism, particularly for the many arguments that have sought a degree of objectivity for assertions about the artistic or socio-political merits of a dialect text based on vague linguistic generalizations. My dissertation's primary focus is on the period that has served historically as the locus classicus for scholarship on American dialect literature: The second half of the nineteenth century when local colorists, regionalists, and realists used 'real' American voices as the foundation for a realistic American literature. By analyzing the production and historical reception of literary dialect texts from this period I show how assessments of 'authenticity' have been a constant in the critical response to these texts for nearly a century and a half. Having underscored the critical problems inherent in linking artistic and political evaluations of dialect texts to the 'authenticity' of their literary dialects, I then draw on recent developments in the digital humanities, computational linguistics, and sociolinguistics to employ a methodology for generating and interpreting literary-linguistic data on literary dialects.




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