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 Bret Harte's dialect has also been subjected to criticism on the charge of being too clever. It seems at times to be the author's own creation rather than a transcript of speech actually current in California at the time. Much of this criticism turns on the failure to distinguish between dialect and slang, slang having a right to be original. The society, moreover, that Bret Harte portrays was unique in its compositeness. There were preachers, teachers, lawyers, and doctors among those who flocked to California as well as toughs, tramps, dead-beats, and illiterates. ‘The faith, courage, vigor, youth, and capacity for adventure necessary to this emigration,’ says Bret Harte, ‘produced a body of men as strongly distinctive as were the companions of Jason.’ William Grey1 describes the pioneers with whom he went to California as ‘a fine-looking and well educated body of men,— all young.’ That the language of these men should be picturesque and representative in its idiom and as intellectual as the occasion might demand, is not surprising. Investigation has shown that of Bret Harte's three hundred dialect words and phrases a mere handful remain unidentified as American. 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,2 Edward Eggleston, Hamlin Garland,3 Owen Wister, and James Whitcomb Riley.4 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.
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