"You mark my words": Eudora Welty, Dialect, and Relationships

deadline for submissions: 
June 7, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
SAMLA / South Atlantic Modern Language Association
contact email: 

November 15-17, 2019 – Atlanta, GA EXTENDED DEADLINE!

Eudora Welty used dialect in her stories to reproduce the full performance of power and identity associated with language. Of her early stories, Welty herself said in 1982, "I love to write dialogue but it’s very hard to prune it and make it sharp and make it advance the plot and reveal the characters—both characters—the one listening and the one talking."

Today, the southern dialect invokes a region that is notorious for slavery, Jim Crow, the struggle for equality, poverty, and resistance to social progress. Thus, listeners (or here, readers) often have negative connotations influencing their impressions of a southern speaker’s ethics, politics, socio-economic status, and intellect. However, within the south, native southerners can hear the differences in dialects that signal much more specific markers of identity. The Delta dialect is noticeably different from the Appalachian dialect that is different from the southern coastal dialect. Likewise, southerners of the upper classes carry their own “monied sounds” that melodiously tell listeners that the speaker comes from the wealthy, ruling class. Thus, one’s dialect and grammar structures place speakers regionally as well as in such ready-made identity markers as race and class. Perhaps because of these ready-made identities built into dialects, Eudora Welty uses dialogue and dialect to capture the power dynamics at play in the South, even as she layers her characters with the assumed identities that dialects carry.

In Welty's short stories and novels, her use of dialogue is key to interpreting her characters as fully-rounded people. For example, in Delta Wedding and Losing Battles, a great proportion of the text is dialogue, and that dialogue works to show interpersonal relationships between and among more- and less-established members of the Fairchild or Vaughn families. In the story "Petrified Man," dialogue establishes rank within the social hierarchy of a women's beauty salon.

To explore the loaded assumptions of identity that language carries, this panel seeks papers that focus on Welty and her masterful work in the context of languages, power, identity, and relationships. Papers may focus on this constellation of themes in any of Welty's works. This panel also welcomes papers focusing on the nonverbal "language" of Welty's photography.


This panel is affiliated with the Eudora Welty Society. Send abstracts of around 300 words by this Friday, June 7, 2019 to Susan Wood at swood1@go.olemiss.edu or Ren Denton at gdenton@ega.edu.