Abstract

Focusing on the work of Mark Twain, this article considers the convergence of two late nineteenth-century voice technologies: dialect writing and the telephone. The racial and rural dialects transcribed by regionalist fiction offered mostly white, urban, middle-class readers entertaining encounters with “other” voices from a safe remove. The rhetoric surrounding the telephone's development promised that it would one day fulfill the same function in real time. But “the ideological power of dialect literature” (Gavin Jones) reinforced stereotypes rather than conveying geographically or socially distant voices to readers. Similarly, despite early fantasies of cross-cultural communication, the telephone facilitated socially insular conversation as it became systematized. Twain, however, emphasized the numerous miscommunications of the emergent telephone. Especially in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), he debunked the myth of cultural contact promulgated by dialect writing and telephony by making readers question their ears.

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