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What do I not understand about the source?

Abner Jordan, interviewed by Daisy Whaley at his home in Durham County, North Carolina, WPA Slave Narrative Project, North Carolina Narratives, Volume 11 Part 2, Federal Writers' Project, United States Work Projects Administration (USWPA); Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Accessed via Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936–1938, American Memory, Library of Congress.


Abner Jordan, Ex-slave, 95 years.


"I wus bawn about 1832 an' I wus bawn at Staggsville, Marse paul Cameron's place. I belonged to Marse Paul. My pappy's name wus Obed an' my mammy wus Ella Jordan an' dey wus thirteen chillun on our familyThe dialect in this source may make it difficult to understand. Sometimes it helps to read these kinds of transcribed sources aloud to get the feel for the language that the transcriber was trying to convey. On a deeper level, you may wonder why the transcriber wrote down Mr. Jordan's words in this way — why not just write his spoken words as "I was born about 1832 and..."? Folklorists and oral historians often strive to capture the sound of speech in their written transcriptions of oral sources. Speech, after all, has its own rhythms, inflections, false starts, and flavor that varies from speaker to speaker. To help the reader get a feel for what it was like to listen to a particular person tell his or her story in his or her own unique way, transcribers will often write down what the interviewee says word for word without correcting grammar. They may even spell words the way they sounded instead of the way they are normally spelled. But the desire to transcribe written speech the way it sounds doesn't fully account for the ways in which this source is written. For example, the word was is always pronounced as if it were spelled "wus"! That being the case, why would someone choose to spell the word "wus" throughout the transcript? It doesn't clarify the sound of the speech for the reader — the misspelling only serves to make the narrator appear less intelligent than he might if the word was spelled correctly throughout. Further research reveals that writers were instructed to transcribe dialect in specific ways, some of which served to make former slaves sound substantially different from the way their interviewers had heard them. In some cases, words were even added to slave narratives after the fact by editors that may have substantially changed the tone, impact, or meaning of the stories that were told. An introduction to the slave narratives by Greenwood Press notes that "none of the dialect in these narratives can be considered authentic. The interviewers had been instructed in the ‘proper’ renderings, and most strove to comply." Editors of the slave narrative collection wanted the written versions to use standard dialect to prevent confusion that might arise if every writer made his or her own decisions about how to transcribe the testimony he or she heard. In effect, however, this effort to standardize dialect may have been informed by not only editorial practice but also by 1930s racism and may have had the impact of distorting rather than clarifying the historical record. Further research into the slave narratives and the ways in which the spoken word was recorded for posterity will doubtlessly shed more light on these interesting issues..


I wus de same age of Young Marse Benehan, I played wid him an' wus his body guard. Yes, suh, Where ever young Marse Benehan went I went too. I waited on him. Young Mrse Benny run away an' 'listed in de war, but Marse Paul done went an' brung him back kaze he wus too young to go and fight de Yankees.


Marse Paul had heap if niggahs; he had five thousan'. When he meet dem in de road he wouldn' know dem an' when he ased dem who dey wus an' who dey belonged to, dey' tell him dey belonged to Marse Paul Cameron an' den he would say dat wus all right for dem to go right on.


My pappy wus de blacksmith an' foreman for Marse Paul, an' he blew de horn for de other niggahs to come in from de fiel' at night. Dey couldn' leave de plantation without Marse say dey could.


When de war come de Yankees come to de house an' axed my mammy whare de folks done hid de silver an' gol', an' dey say dey gwine to kill mammy if she didn' tell dem. But mammy say she didn' know whare dey put it, an' dey would jus' have to kill her for she didn' know an' wouldn' lie to keep dem from hurting her.


De sojers stole seven or eight of de ho'ses an' foun' de meat an' stole dat, but dey didn' burn none off de buildin's nor hurt any of us slaves.


My pappy an' his family stayed wid Marse Paul five years after de surrender den we moved to Hillsboro an' I's always lived 'roun' dese parts. I ain' never been out of North Carolina eighteen months in my life. North Carolina is good enough for me."

 

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