Er the Gobble-uns’ll git you
Dear Readers and Writers–
That Aubrey sure is a sweet dog, isn’t she?
Have you noticed that Aubrey speaks somewhat differently from the other Big Dogs? Each of them naturally has his or her own voice, just as individual people do. But Aubrey’s voice is peculiar. Let’s look at a few examples.
Little Tommy is so wet and I’m afraid he’ll catch his death if I cain’t get him outta the wind…. Jest for the night.Chapter I: Rescue pg. 5
Sometimes there were horses pullin’ buggies in the street.pg. 29
Everything was shakin’ and rattlin’ and breakin’!Chapter V: Aubrey’s Story pg. 31
I never did hear of no dog bein’ named Alex.pg. 32
One more from Chapter VII: Peter Rabbit
I couldn’t never of read that story to Tommy like you did.pg. 41
What are some ways in which Aubrey’s speech is unique to Aubrey, compared to the speech of the other Big Dogs?
We call Aubrey’s distinctive way of speaking a dialect. A dialect is a variety of a language, in this case English. Different pronunciations of words (jest / just), different uses of grammar (couldn’t never of / couldn’t have), and even different choice of names for the exact same thing (horse and buggy / horse and carriage), all make a dialect distinctive to a geographic region or nation.
The most famous American writer of dialect is Mark Twain, and his Huckleberry Finn is the best example of characters speaking in dialect. But many writers use dialect to help readers really get to know the characters in a story. Another one is James Whitcomb Riley.
James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916) had such an interesting childhood (he was born in a log cabin in Indiana) and unusual life (he traveled around the state in a circus wagon) before he “had a vision that it was his mission to be a poet” that I will devote a whole post to him one day soon. For now, it’s enough to know that he wrote poems for boys and girls, and those poems were written in the dialect spoken by the town and farm people in rural Indiana in the late 1800s.
Some of the dialect can be a little hard to understand at first because he spells many words as they’re spoken, not written. So we’ll start slow, with one of his most famous poems, “Little Orphant Annie.”
Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay, An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away. An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep, An' make the fire, an' break the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep; All us other children, when supper things is done, We set around the fire an' has the mostest fun A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about, An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you Ef you Don't Watch Out!
There are three more verses. The last one ends, “Er the Gobble-uns’ll git you Ef you Don’t Watch Out!” They say that back a hundred or more years ago, kids loved this poem so much that they could recite it by heart– especially the part about the goblins getting you!
This next one is funny but a little hard, at least for me. I think it’s easier if you read it out loud first. The title is, “An Impromptu Fairy-Tale.”
When I wuz ist a little bit o' weenty-teenty kid I maked up a Fairy-tale, all by myse'f, I did:— Wunst upon a time wunst They wuz a Fairy King, An' ever'thing he have wuz gold—, His clo'es, an' ever'thing! An' all the other Fairies In his goldun Palace-hall Had to hump an' hustle— 'Cause he wuz bosst of all!
There are three more verses of this poem, too!
Do you know any people who speak in a different dialect than you do? Do they pronounce some words differently? Do they use an entirely different word than you for something? Do you watch any shows or movies where people speak in a different dialect? If so, listen carefully and record what you hear in your journal.
Hart, James D., ed. The Oxford Companion to American Literature Fourth Edition. Oxford University Press, New York. 1968.
Kunitz, Stanley J., and Haycraft, Howard. The Junior Book of Authors. The H.W. Wilson Company, New York. 1934.
Riley, James Whitcomb. Child-Rhymes with Hoosier Pictures. 1890.
—. The Book of Joyous Children. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. 1902.