Notes on Language Use in Missing May  

Appalachian novel for children by Cynthia Rylant, 1992

Analysis by Stephanie Humphries

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Dialect Features in Missing May:

I. Phonetics

A.  Unstressed, word final "er":

1.  poor little feller (p. 58, May)

B. Written vs. Spoken English:

1. bet you = “betcha” (p. 31, Ob)

C.  Consonant Cluster Simplification:

1.  them big ol’ eyes (p. 84, May’s letter)

II.  Lexicon

A.  Words:

1. on home (p. 5, narrator)

2.  kin

3. jawing (p. 67, Ob)

4.  ain’t  

  1. ain’t nothing to me (p. 38, Cletus)
  2. and I ain’t even so sure... (p. 50, Ob)
  3. this ain’t it (p. 82, Ob)

5.  sofa (p. 18), couch (p. 52)

6.  Make up her blame mind (p. 13, Ob)

7.  I figure (p. 21, Ob)

B. Phrases:

1.  gets wind that (p. 17, narrator)

2.  I passed on (p. 29, Cletus)

C.  Other Features:

1.  A-prefixing: a-meowing (p. 86, May’s letter)

III.  Syntax

A.  Double Modals:

1.  If I aged fifty years, I might could fill it for him (p. 24, narrator)

B.  Personal Dative:

1.  just might learn us a thing or two (p. 54, Ob)

2.  fix him up another cup of cocoa (p. 51, narrator)

3.  We got us an appointment (p. 67, Ob)

4.  go have us some lunch (p. 71, Ob)

C.  Multiple Negation:

1.  Well, I’m no psychic or nothing (p. 31, Cletus)

2.  But I didn’t say nothing (p. 27, Cletus)

3.  I never was no hand at housekeeping (p. 48, Ob)

D.  Subject-Verb Nonconcord:

1.  She don’t have to meet him… (p. 31, Ob)

2.  He don’t carve out little doggies and kitties (p. 39, Cletus)

3.  When we was packing up (p. 13)

4.  You was (p. 84, May’s letter)

E.  Pronoun Case—Objective “me” for subjective “I”

1. while Ob and me were off in our dreamy heads (p. 15, narrator)

2. me and Cletus (p. 19, narrator)

3. Ob and me (p. 36, narrator)

Use of language other than dialect that may be effective:

I. The narrator’s voice is well-developed, even from the beginning. We know she’s up front, mature, but down to earth, with a sense of humor. She’s also frank.                

1. mentions love right away (p. 4)

2. talks about “puking” (p. 5)

II.  The author uses language to show non-dialect features, too.

E.g., Cursing like a strong drink of whiskey (p. 58)

1. hotdamn (p. 11)

2. Hell, why not?

III.  There are lots of themes mentioned early and throughout that remind one of Appalachia.

These dialect pages created May 2001. Last update: 4/29/19

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