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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Understanding a Dialect

Edgar A. Guest


In your language, is the spoken language different from the written language? Do people ever try to write as they speak, like English "wanna" for "want to" or "doin'" for "doing"?


People who have learned English as a second language often have trouble understanding English dialects, the different ways people speak English in different places. Here is the first stanza (verse) of a famous poem by Edgar Guest. It's called "Home," and was published in 1916. See if you can understand what Guest is saying.
It takes a heap o' livin' in a house t' make it home,
A heap o' sun an' shadder, an' ye sometimes have t' roam
Afore ye really 'preciate the things ye lef' behind,
An' hunger fer 'em somehow, with 'em allus on yer mind.
One of the problems you might have is the unusual spelling, which tries to sound like "natural" speech. Reading the words out loud might help.

Another problem is the vocabulary. Guest wants the speaker to sound like someone from the countryside, not the city, so he chose "country" words. Can you guess the meaning of these?
to hunger for
"Heap" means "a lot of something"; "afore" is "before"; and "to hunger for something" means to want it very much.


Edgar Guest was a poet born in England on August 20, 1881.

His family moved to America ten years later, where "Eddie" became one of the most popular poets of the early 20th century. He was known as "The People's Poet" because he chose subjects which were loved by everyone, such as "home" or "mother." People were also attracted by his unusual style.

Guest often tried to copy the pronunciation, vocabulary, and even grammar, of the common people. As a result, he didn't usually write in what is known as Standard American English, or "SAE." He wrote in a "folksy" dialect.


Can you guess which sound is which word?
1. an'
2. 'em
3. fer
4. lef'
5. o'
6. 'preciate
7. shadder,
8. t'
9. ye
10. yer

a. to
b. and
c. appreciate
d. you
e. them
f. your
g. left
h. for
i. of
j. shadow


Try to paraphrase (write in other words) the four lines of dialect above.


1. b; 2. e; 3. h; 4. g; 5. i; 6. c; 7. j; 8. a; 9. d; 10. f

It takes a lot of living in a house to make it home,
A lot of sun and shadow, and you sometimes have to roam
Before you really appreciate the things you left behind,
And really miss them somehow, with them always on your mind.

This lesson is ©2011 by James Baquet. You may share this work freely. Teachers may use it in the classroom, as long as students are told the source (URL). You may not publish this material or sell it. Please write to me if you have any questions about "fair use."

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