The Challenges of Dialect: Their Eyes Were Watching God and Huckleberry Finn

I hated reading “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in school. I just hated every second of it, every slow ponderous second. I hated it not because of the story, but because I could barely tell what the story was through the damn dialogue.


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When I read “Their Eyes Were Watching God” years later, I was also unimpressed. Yes, it has some interesting bits, but I spent so much time trying to decode what the hell anyone was saying, or what the meaning of certain sentences was, that I could barely pay attention to the language.

I was wrong. I was so, so wrong. “Huck Finn” is a hilarious book, poigniant and delightful. “Their Eyes Were Watching God” is a work of genius, of staggering beauty and with a music all its own. I found this out by buying the audiobooks.


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Words that were unbelievably irritating to read on the page were suddenly easy. Both books were read by professional actors, and they did the work I hated of decoding the dialect. And suddenly the dialect was no longer a curse: it was magical. The dialect sang. But because I could not hear the music, because I did not know the rhythm or could not stretch my imagination to it, I had missed it all.


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