In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary "Pike County" dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.
I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.
Isn't that great? Not only does he emphasize the very real pitfalls of representing dialects in writing, but he does so with a deliciously dry wit that borders on juicy.
Not to say that I think he did a perfect job - Mark Liberman posted a while back at Language Log in which he points out the "eye dialect" Twain employs, particularly when he has Jim say 'wuz' -- who doesn't (duzn't?) pronounce it that way? Still, I'm sure he did a better job than I would. In any case, one phrase in particular caught my eye. Tom Sawyer repeatedly exclaims, "How you talk," and this reminded me of a phrase I heard often in childhood: "How you sound!" This latter phrase I heard exclusively from African Americans, who use it to mean something like, "Are you serious?" whereas Tom uses it to mean "What you just said was stupid!" I'm pretty sure the phrases are related, though. I've never heard anyone actually say "how you talk," and I haven't heard "how you sound" in years. My hunch is they're both Southern in origin, but this is the dialect I've had the least exposure to. I'm still curious: does anyone know anything about these phrases?
I reckon I got to light out for the territory.