I don't have time for a full post this morning, but here's the bare bones of one. (In fact, I develop most posts from an annotated series of hyperlinks like this is going to be, whereas bones don't develop before flesh does; so a better metaphor would be "the columns and beams of one".)
Start with "Bill Clinton, yokel?" at Democracy in America (Economist.com), which complains that an article in the Baltimore Sun (Paul West, "Meet Bill Clinton, man of the people", 5/4/2008) was linguistically insulting to American southerners, especially lower-class rural white ones:
What's going on here? Cuz? Ol'? Dumber'n? It's a colour-piece, to be sure, but it isn't standard newspaper practice to report accented speech like this. (Imagine if the equivalent was done to a black or Latino accent.)
I happen to know that the anonymous blogger had personal reasons to feel insulted, being from the American south; but it's the Economist's style to pretend that all writers for the magazine speak with one voice. For more on that, see the last sentence of "Biden's comma", 2/1/2007: "It's slightly odd to combine the informal first-person style of blogging with The Economist's traditional anonymous (not even pseudonymous) authorship, but I guess I'll get used to it." But actually, I'm still not quite used to it.
Anyhow, I know the Economist blogger's personal history because (s)he mentioned it in an email about the Baltimore Sun article, to which I responded with a note that (s)he quoted:
Well, as you know, I'm not a big fan of anti-southern linguistic prejudice.
But this strikes me as a tricky case. I can well believe that Bill Clinton drew heavily on his southern roots in presenting himself to audiences in North Carolina, and that this included emphasizing southern-states features of word choice, pronunciation and prosody.
Mark Twain (for example) found ways to represent such features without resorting to eye dialect, and we might have hoped that Paul West would have done the same. But West was constrained, as Twain was not, to quote his subject more or less as he actually spoke.
Can you suggest a way to edit West's copy so as to make the point in a better way?
Or do you think that Clinton linguistic accommodation was simply not newsworthy, however presented?
I realize, on reading this, that I was a little bit wrong about Mark Twain — he did use "sivilize", "wuz", "en", etc., in Huckleberry Finn, and I even wrote about this in "Trying to talk alike and not succeeding", 1/11/2006. But mostly, he managed to evoke different varieties of English without resorting to very much eye dialect.
The anonymous Economist-blogger is right, I think, that rural southerners are one of the remaining groups that are likely to get hit with the eye-dialect hatchet in a mainstream American newspaper article. As far as I know, no one has picked up on John McCain's self-conscious linguistic pandering in his 4/21/2008 WWE Monday Night Raw video:
(also found here on www.johnmccain.com).
Of course, Hillary ("call me Hilrod") and Barack made their pitches to WWE too.
Exercise for the reader: What dialect features did the three candidates deploy in their WWE presentations? Were they imitating others, or were they bringing out part of their own linguistic repertoire? How are these features generally represented in stories like Paul West's? Or are they?
Extra credit: how much linguistic accommodation is there in the current candidates' speeches to different audiences? How is this variation related to the variation in their personal linguistic history? (And don't just point to the controversy about Hillary Clinton's allegedly fake accent in speeches in Selma and elsewhere — analyze it!)