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You Use Your Words as a Weapon, Dear: An Examination of African American Linguistic Deviance in White- Authored American Literature

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Dissertation Winner of the 2017 Claus Toksvig Prize
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    You Use Your Words as a Weapon, Dear: An Examination of African American Linguistic Deviance in White-Authored American Literature. Francis Gervaise J Gunther McMahon 719940 Bachelor of Arts (with Honours) American Studies University of Portsmouth School of Languages and Area Studies Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Supervisor: Dr Lee Sartain, FRHistS Word Count: 10,979 2017  ii Abstract African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is derived from Standard American English (SAE) to create a linguistic class dependent upon deviations often associated with subculture. This derivation should be considered a productive process of language formation, though it remains unincorporated into the mainstream American lexicon, and unaccepted by the white majority. Indeed, this sublanguage is often perceived to be inferior and/or incorrect, with many individuals associating linguistic bastardisation with wider societal unrest. Due to this misunderstanding, white authors who choose to implement AAVE do so while wielding significant rhetorical power. By inducing their black characters to speak in a manner different from the dominant white audience, the author can reinforce the belief that African Americans exist not as part of an American tradition , but as ‘other’.  This dissertation examines the  presentation of AAVE within three pieces of white authored American fiction  –    Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or Life among the Lowly (1852), Gone with the Wind (1936), and The Help (2009)  –   and concludes that regardless of the changes that have taken place within African American education, culture, and society between the years 1852 and 2009, these changes are not reflected within white-penned fiction. Simply, it is this dissertation ’ s thesis that the presentation of black speech remains unaltered by the purpose of the text, the background of the author, or the function assigned to individual African American characters.  iii Acknowledgments   “The birds did not understand Snowball’s long words, but they accepted his explanation, and all the humbler animals set to work to learn the new maxim by heart.”  Animal Farm Dr Lee Sartain Dr Helen Ringrow & Dr Thomas Rodgers Dedications “If   they give you ruled paper, write the other way.”   Fahrenheit 451 Kathryn Gunther Aynsley Robertson Paige Beauman Emilie Smith Ria Yabsley Bethany Frost Bethan Evans James Gibbons & Rhiannon McEvoy    iv Contents Abstract Page ii Acknowledgments / Dedications Page iii Contents Page iv Glossary of Featured Characters Page v Glossary of Terms Page vi List of Figures Page vii List of Tables Page viii Chapter 1 Introduction Page 1 Data Page 1 Speech Page 2 Scope Page 2 Methodology Page 3 African American Vernacular English Page 5 Characteristics Page 5 African American Vernacular English in America Page 6 African American Vernacular English in Fiction Page 6 Chapter 2 [g]-dropping Page 8 Uncle Tom’s Cabin   Page 8 Gone with the Wind Page 12 The Help Page 16 Chapter 3 [s]-addition Page 21 Uncle Tom’s Cabin   Page 22 Gone with the Wind Page 24 The Help Page 27 Chapter 4 Contractions Page 30 Uncle Tom’s Cabin   Page 30 Gone with the Wind Page 33 The Help Page 36 Chapter 5 Conclusion Page 40 Concluding Remarks Page 42 Appendices Appendix A: A visual depiction of a ‘minstrel’   Page 43 Appendix B: Corpus Data, Chloe Page 44 Appendix C: Corpus Data, Tom Page 49 Appendix D: Corpus Data, Sam Page 58 Appendix E: Corpus Data, Dinah Page 63 Appendix F: Corpus Data, Mammy Page 65 Appendix G: Corpus Data, Dilcey Page 75 Appendix H: Corpus Data, Prissy Page 76 Appendix I: Corpus Data, Jeems Page 79 Appendix J: Corpus Data, Aibileen Page 80 Appendix K: Corpus Data, Minny Page 99 Bibliography Page 118 Declaration Page 122  v Glossary of Featured Characters The following characters are referenced within this dissertation.   †  represents a character who is subject to linguistic analysis. Uncle Tom’s Cabin :   •   Tom, a Christian slave belonging to Kentucky slaveholder Mr Shelby. †   •   Chloe, a cook. †   •   Sam, a field hand. †   •   Dinah, a cook. †   •   Eliza Harris, a ‘ mulatto ’  slave. •   George Shelby, the son of slaveholders Mr and Mrs Shelby. •   Mr Haley, a slave trader who purchases Tom from Mr Shelby. Gone with the Wind  : •   Mammy, an elderly slave tasked with caring for Scarlett O’Hara, her white mistress. †   •   Prissy, a seemingly inept slave. †   •   Dilcey, a servant and midwife. †   •   Jeems, a field hand. †   •   Scarlett O’Hara , a white southern belle. The Help : •   Aibileen Clark, an elderly caregiver and a gifted storyteller. †   •   Minny Jackson, a servant. †   •   Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan,  a Caucasian college graduate. Odd Leaves: •   Miss Ripson, a chattel servant.
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