Q&A Questions and Answers:
I came upon your website while looking for some examples of "Cowboy Speech." I'm wanting to write a fictional book about the the wild west with a saloon, can-can girls, brothels, the whole nine yards. My only problem is, I'm having a hard time finding any information on how people spoke in the west. I read some of your website and it seemed to me like you knew how to speak the language. I'd really like it if you could give me some information about anything about the "Wild West."
Thank you for reading.
If you really want your book to be authentic, you have a lot of detailed research ahead of you! (This is why it can sometimes take decades to write historical fiction.) One of the keys will be to build a "back-story" on each of your characters, because they brought speaking patterns with them from the places where they grew up and also where they lived as they moved West. Many "cowboys" of the 1800s spoke with a Gaelic or British accent if they had recently immigrated. Others, from the hills of Kentucky or Tennessee, had a hill-country twang and used backwoods figures of speech. A madam in a brothel may have had a touch of Cajun in her speech if she had recently arrived from Louisiana, or perhaps a nasal "Bostonian" accent if she hailed from New England. During his stint as a Dakota rancher, Teddy Roosevelt's speech would still have betrayed his New York roots. (That's him standing next to his horse in the photo -- courtesy of the Library of Congress.)
In the Southwest, some cowhands were adept at learning Spanish and fit right in with the Hispanic lifestyle. Others continued to butcher Spanish pronunciation til their dying day.
A good place to start your research would be the Library of Congress American Memory web site -- http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/mdbquery.html -- which includes hundreds of interviews with people who actually lived in the "Wild West." It's a gold mine of information... and many of the interviews prove that truth often is truly stranger than fiction!
The bottom line is that probably very few of the Westerners in the 1800s sounded like the typical TV or movie cowboy of today!
I wish you the best in your project... please keep me posted as it develops.
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MINNESOTA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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