Friday, September 4, 2015

In Which I Seek Help For My Dialectic-Impaired Self

Image result for listening to a book

I decided I would begin reading my free ebooks (based on this list) with George Eliot's Adam Bede. I fired up my Kindle and was delighted by these opening sentences:

With a single drop of ink for a mirror, the Egyptian sorcerer undertakes to reveal to any chance comer far-reaching visions of the past. This is what I undertake to do for you, reader. With this drop of ink at the end of my pen, I will show you the roomy workshop of Mr. Jonathan Burge, carpenter and builder, in the village of Hayslope, as it appeared on the eighteenth of June in the year of our Lord 1799.

Quite quickly, though, I came to this:

"We'll hand up th' door at the fur end o' th' shop an' write on't 'Seth Bede, the Methody, his work.' Here, Jim, lend's hould o' th' red pot."

And then this:

"Ne'er heed me, Seth. Y' are a down-right good-hearted chap, panels or no panels; an' ye donna set up your bristles at every bit o' fun, like some o' your kin, as is mayhap cliverer."

I slogged through more incomprehensible dialect. And I do mean slogged. How is one to know what is going on here? A little bit of this goes a long way. All of this - let's just call it what is is: gibberish - slows down my reading and I totally lose the thread of the author's meaning.

For the same reason, I have avoided reading Mark Twain's tales of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I gave up after just a few pages of Their Eyes Were Watching God by Nora Zeale Hurston and barely struggled through a few of those Southern Gothic novels. (I'm thinking of you Mr. Faulkner.)

So, I thought maybe instead of letting my eyes do the reading, perhaps I could let my ears do the work. I first headed to the library website and found that it has the book on discs. Eighteen of them! Then I searched the WorldWideWeb for 'adam bede audiobook' and that is when I discovered the LibriVox site.

Here we have Project Gutenberg for the Ear. The books in LV's catalog are all in the public domain - this means they are free - and are read by volunteers. There are over 19,000 completed books with 400 books in progress. There are also books in other languages, so if I want to listen to Candide (another book on my list), I can do so in English or French.

I can download Adam Bede as a zip file (whatever that is) or just head to the site and listen on my laptop. I can also listen to it on my smart phone. The reading is divided into chapters and the time it takes to listen to each one is noted (very helpful for planning). The longest chapter runs about 45 minutes; the shortest maybe eight minutes. Also, I see that the chapters are read by both male and female volunteers so there is some variety. 

The only obstacle here is that I don't really like listening to books. I am usually lulled to sleep. I don't do any sort of hand work, like knitting or crocheting, that I could try to do as I listen. And anyway, I am not much one for multi-tasking. 

Actually, I think the best solution would be to read the written words along with the spoken words. 

I don't know how this is all going to work out, but I will try a few different things and let you know.

Where do you stand on reading dialect? Or, on listening to books?


  1. I quite like dialect, especially the various Scots forms. Don't want a whole book written that way, of course, and I think a good writer will tone it down so you just get a flavor of the accent plus the interesting phrases and idioms such as "lend's hould of" (lend us a hold of). I did find the two examples you cited wholly straightforward except for the word"'cliverer" but as I went back to check it I realized it is 'cleverer.' I wonder if the use in Adam Bede is a relatively early example of the technique and perhaps not as skillful as it could be?

    Also, of course, if the author is recording a dialect that she has first hand experience of, there can be great historical value.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts on this. In considering what you said about recorded dialect having historical value, I have to remember also that Ms. Eliott most likely wrote this book with a dip pen! So her thoughts would have been coming slower than our lickety-split computer-generated writings. Also, she perhaps could hear the dialect in her head which is what I am hoping the audio recording will provide for me. Maybe once I get used to hearing it, it won't be too hard to read it.

  2. I have the same problem with audio books that you do. I have no good time to listen to them, except maybe when I'm ironing (and I don't iron that many clothes). Otherwise, I find myself distracted while listening and needlepointing or driving, or my mind wanders if I'm only listening. I'm eager to hear how your listening and reading experiment goes.

    1. The times I am sitting still I am usually working a crossword puzzle, an activity I don't think would lend itself to listening to a book - too many words! Maybe after hearing the dialect aloud it will become easier to read. I'll see how it goes. Another Grand Experiment.

  3. As a rule, I HATE reading dialect. If I know a book has a lot of it, I generally pass it by (and thanks for the warning about Adam Bede). However, there are exceptions to that, and Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of them. I liked that book a lot, and managed to get through the dialect parts with my my good temper intact. I also dislike books written in the present tense, and generally will pass them by also.

    I don't usually listen to books on tape/disc either, except occasionally on a long car trip. I frequently mark passages in my books with tape flags or highlighting, so I can go back over the best bits. Can't do that with books I listen to. It's great that there are so many ways to delve into books, whether it's via listening, reading on an electronic device or a paper book. Something for everyone! I look forward to hearing about your adventures in exploring these alternate versions.

    1. I am impressed that you stuck with Ms. Hurston's book, Kathy. I just couldn't do it.

      I have a friend who listens to many, many audiobooks. She is not one for sitting still, so she listens and does a hundred other things at the same time. That is not me....

      You are right about having so many options for getting into a book. That is the main thing!

  4. Well, the good thing is the characters who speak dialect are usually not the main characters! (Except in Mark Twain.) Thomas Hardy always has guys at the pub speaking hilarious dialect, and it is hilarious after several chapters because you finally get it! They're like the Greek chorus: not there all the time. I love George Eliot dearly and don't think most of the book is in dialect, but can't remember.:) People love listening to books, but I must confess I don't commute so haven't gotten into the habit. Yes, we need to become craftswomen so we can listen to books!

    1. I lost patience with Adam Bede listening and reading at the same time. There was a funny conversation, though, where one of the characters complains about the 'dialect' of the townspeople!

      If you ever read Westlake's Dortmunder series, he has a Greek chorus (of sorts) of regulars that inhabit the bar where Dortmunder and his pals meet to plan their capers. The guys talk at cross-purposes and are so funny. It took me a while to figure out what was going on with them! Now they are my favorites.

      I really have no tolerance for being read to...