The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

V. Dialect Writers

§ 14. Western—a Composite

The term Western, however, usually has reference not to the Pacific slope but to the Middle West and South-west. The Western dialect is currently understood to be the dialect found in the writings of Mark Twain, Edward Eggleston, Hamlin Garland, Owen Wister, and James Whitcomb Riley. But this dialect is also composite. The original sources are chiefly New England and the South, with a mingling here and there of German and Scandinavian elements. Thus the pioneer dialect of Southern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois was mainly Southern, while the northern portions of these States reflect the New England influence. The speech of Nebraska shows the influence of Swedish and Pennsylvania German settlers. Western and Central New York was settled chiefly by New Englanders, but in the last few decades there are evidences of Irish, German, and Scandinavian influences. Eastern New York and Pennsylvania were intermediate in their speech habits between New England and the South, their dialect showing traces of both.

  • Even cultivated Indianians, particularly those of Southern antecedents, have the habit of clinging to their words; they do not bite them off sharply.… In New England and in Virginia the Italian a finds recognition, whereas in the intermediate region the narrower sound of the vowel prevails; and likewise the softening of r is noted in New England and among the Virginians and other Southerners, while in the intermediate territory and at the West r receives its full sound. The shrill nasal tone is still marked in the back country folk of New England, while the Southern and South-western farmer’s speech is fuller and more open-mouthed.… At the South and in New England, where there is less mingling of elements, the old usages will probably endure much longer; and it is a fair assumption that in the Mississippi Valley and in the Trans-Missouri country, a normal American speech free of local idiosyncrasies will appear first.