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The Emotive Use of Dialectal or Non-Standard Speech

With the modern-day establishment of standard languages in most parts of the globe, the status of dialects and non-standard language has changed from a strictly regional phenomenon to a potential source of stylistic variety. For example, in Europe and North America (but not only) playwrights are known to write in characters that speak in dialect by contrast with the rest of the cast in order to lend characterological depth through speech as well as ideological traits. More generally, people who otherwise adhere in their everyday speech to the standard may occasionally deviate from this pattern in order to lend local color to their utterances. Thus politicians who wish to pander to class differences in their public pronouncements often deliberately resort to colloquial or non-standard grammar and lexis, hoping thereby to ingratiate themselves with the lowest common denominator.

An interesting case in point is the signage on the façade of a New York pizzeria, which among other information has the sentence “It Don’t Get Better Than This!” painted below its name. The use of the dialectal “Don’t” (for standard “doesn’t”) is clearly not accidental. It connotes through its emotive (= stylistic) value the idea that people of all stripes are welcome, including persons whose class or provenience is reflected in speech that is grammatically not (entirely) normative.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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