As part of my research for my Western novel, which employs dialect speech rather than the “Queen’s English”, I did a lot of research into mid-19th century accents, dialects and so on. It was very interesting. I found YouTube very helpful, with many videos dealing with different American accents and patterns of speech. I thought you might be interested in a few of them.
To start with, why do pre-World-War-II movie actors sound odd to modern ears?
Next, the famous Appalachian ‘hill country’ speech – what is it and where did it come from?
Finally, how many dialects or versions of English are there in the USA? One professor says there are no less than 15 – but the language is changing fast.
I don’t know about you, but I find the subject very interesting. I hope you enjoyed the videos.
In case you haven't run across this
A good resource for the Appalachian dialects is Horace Kephart's book Our Southern Highlanders, available free for Kindle. Since the early part of your Western seems to take place in Appalachia, it might be helpful for details.
Two books with good commentary on various dialects and speech patterns are "City of the Saints" by Sir Richard Francis Burton (easily found online).
A very vivid description may be found in the lectures, notes and letter from Oscar Wilde on his American tour in the 1880s (where he lectured Cowboys and Miners on Aesthetics and such. There are a few academic books about that tour, but it has been many years and I can't suggest which is best.
Around the mid-'80s, I was working in satellite TV and radio, mostly designing receivers for the head-end of cable systems or direct receivers. We started to notice that as national networks spread, networks like Westwood One, that the regional voices and regional accents that you'd hear on vacation started going away. The country was homogenizing. Pretty soon, every local news station from the major markets like LA, or Miami, to small towns all had the same TV sets; "Action News" or "News Center". Regional dialects started to disappear as all programming started to be in "standard announcer's English".
Before that, you could go to Kalispell, Montana, or Asheville, North Carolina, for example, and hear a local dialect. As the satellite networks spread, that local flavor started to go away.
Kinda sad, really.
Peter, have you seen http://www.dialectsarchive.com/ ?
"The International Dialects of English Archive was created in 1997 as the first online archive of primary-source recordings of English-language dialects and accents as heard around the world."
Well yeah, English does seem to exhibit particularly rapid linguistic drift still. No change in the last thousand years in that respect.
And it's not drifting in any one direction either.
I'd really prefer that someone would classify the extreme ends as different languages already so that us foreigners wouldn't have to learn all of them as "English" at school.
Interesting! I knew most of the Appalachian terms, having grown up and continued living in West Virginia. I found it curious though, that the four years that I spent telemarketing, I was heard as a "southern gentleman" on the phone, particularly by the ladies. Guess all those years of trying not to sound like a "daium" yankee must have paid off! lol