As a creative writer and soon to be instructor of English Composition, understanding and acknowledging the variations among the usage of “American” English is beneficial from multiple facets. With so much diversity, culture, and history intertwined throughout the numerous versions of American Dialect, it would behoove creative writers to study and research specific dialects written and spoken in settings used for fictional scenes, such as historical fiction. In other words, if I am writing a fiction novel that takes place in Texas, understanding the lexical and phonological differences of the written and spoken dialect in Texas will support a more realistic and encompassing experience for readers.
As a teacher of American English Composition, having an awareness of some of the dialectal differences will help me focus more on “process-method” instruction and less on “sentence-structure/word usage method” instruction. In other words, realizing that dialects of American English utilize different names for the same “item” would be necessary from a grading and teaching perspective. For example, Texas has always manifested a strong Hispanic cultural influence, and as Bailey and Tillery point out, “Lexical items like frijoles, olla, arroyo, and remuda reflect not only the relatively large number of Hispanics in the areas but also the importance of Mexican American culture in the development of a distinct Texas Culture” (39).
New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA), is another city/state known to be a hub of distinct southern culture that exhibits lexical uniqueness: alligator pear is another name for an avocado; lost bread is another name for french toast; flying horses represent a carousel (Eble 45). NOLA is also accredited to having three separate dialects based upon class, color, and neighborhood known as uptown white, Yat (downtown white), and black (46). Understanding the characteristics of these NOLA dialects would be imperative for authenticity in creative writing. Lexical variances between American English dialects can cause confusion when communicating with others (whether written or spoken); it reminds me of the video we watched in class of the students representing various countries. Grading a paper that references a “flying horse” may cause confusion or reading about an alligator pear in a student essay — as an instructor, I wouldn’t make the connection.
EX: On the warm summer day, I strolled around the park, taking notice of the flying horses. On a warm summer day, I strolled around the park, taking notice of the carousel.
Bailey, Guy, and Jan Tillery. “The Lone Star State of Speech (Texas).” American Voices, edited by Wolfram, Walt and Ben Ward, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2006, pp. 36-41.
Eble, Connie. “Speaking the Big Easy (New Orleans, LA).” American Voices, edited by Wolfram, Walt and Ben Ward, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2006, pp. 42-48.
Mark, David. Pixabay, 2020, pixabay.com/photos/texas-ranch-entrance-fence-1581881/.
Skeeze. Pixabay, 2020, pixabay.com/photos/mardi-gras-new-orleans-festival-1176483/.
Wolfram, Walt, and Ben Ward, editors. American Voices. Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2006.