Slave Narratives – Negro Dialect Suggestions

Sent to: North and South Carolina, Georgia,
Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas,
Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri,
Mississippi, Oklahoma.

April 14, 1937

Mr. Edwin Bjorkman
State Director, Federal Writers’ Project
Works Progress Administration
City Hall, Fifth Floor
Asheville, North Carolina

Dear Mr. Bjorkman:

We have received more stories of ex-slaves and are gratified by the quality and interest of the narratives. Some of these stories have been accompanied by photographs of the subjects. We would like to have portraits wherever they can be secured, but we urge your photographers to make the studies as simple, natural, and “unposed” as possible. Let the background, cabin or whatnot, be the normal setting—in short, just the picture a visitor would expect to find by “dropping in” on one of these old-timers.

Enclosed is a memorandum of Mr. Lomax with suggestions for simplifying the spelling of certain recurring dialect words. This does not mean that the interviews should be entirely in “straight English”—simply, that we want them to be more readable to those uninitiated in the broadest Negro speech.

Very truly yours,

George Cronyn
Associate Director
Federal Writers’ Project


This paragraph was added to the letter to Arkansas.

Mr. Lomax is very eager to get such records as you mention: Court Records of Sale, Transfer, and Freeing of Slaves, as well as prices paid.

Negro Dialect Suggestions
(Stories of Ex-Slaves)

Do not write:

Ah for I

Poe for po’ (poor)

Hit for it

Tuh for to

Wuz for was

Baid for bed

Daid for dead

Ouh for our

Mah for my

Ovah for over

Othuh for other

Wha for whar (where)

Undah for under

Fuh for for

Yondah for yonder

Moster for marster or massa

Gwainter for gwineter (going to)

Oman for woman

Ifn for iffen (if)

Fiuh or fiah for fire

Uz or uv or o’ for of

Poar for poor or po’

J’in for jine

Coase for cose

Utha for other

Yo’ for you

Gi’ for give

Cot for caught

Kin’ for kind

Cose for ’cause

Tho’t for thought


Federal Writers' Project. WPA Slave Narratives. Web. 2007-2024. The WPA Slave Narratives must be used with care. There is, of course, the problem of confusion in memory resulting from (73+ years) of the participants. In addition, inexperienced interviewers sometimes pursued question lines related to their own interests and perspectives and attempted to capture the colloquialism of the informant's speech. The interviews provide fascinating insight and surprisingly candid information, however.

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