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A recent question here about "fo' sho'" produced answers with a number of quotes of Southern US or AAE (African American English) varieties. To my ear, these quotes sounded awful and I question their authenticity. The sound like

The quotes come primarily from late 19th c literature. Some more famous examples:

  • Jim is written in a particular dialect by Mark Twain which is supposedly accurate, but still sounds like a caricatured minstrel show written by whites disparagingly about blacks.

  • Uncle Remus's B'rer Rabbit stories are in a popular dialect version written by a white Southerner (supposedly with extensive contact with native speakers of 19th c AAE), but still has the same minstrel show vibe.

Reading all these examples, I can't tell if it's bad transcription, or a great transcription by Mark Twain for a very very particular idiosyncratic dialect that everybody followed afterwards for any AAE speaker, no matter how far off.

  • I've never heard 'gwine' in real life. Did people ever and do people now say this?
  • I've only ever heard/seen written any of these things in fiction
  • (except for maybe) current AAE is non-rhotic and th-stopping just like these old examples

But that's more than a hundred years ago.

So what's the deal with 'gwine'? Do people still use it? Has AAE changed that much? Or maybe it hasn't at all, just the transcriptions are bad? Or maybe it's hardly changed at all? Or, to be disinterested, maybe the lampoonish 'minstrel show' language was a linguistically faithful representation of how AA people spoke? Is there any scholarly research describing the 19th c varieties of AAE and how it might have changed through the 20th?

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    good question. anecdotally from one born raised and educated in said regions, it is used by black and white Americans of all stripes.
    – lbf
    Apr 10 '18 at 14:17
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    Don't confuse amateur phonetic spelling with historical recording. Eye dialect spellings like "gwine" and "fo sho" are just all that the authors could manage, because they didn't know how to record actual speech and didn't recognize what they were hearing anyway. It's not archaic, except that in the past more people felt qualified to transcribe such speech, and did so. Nowadays we'd use IPA or nothing; better is a high-fidelity recording that you can use Praat on. Apr 10 '18 at 14:19
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    @JohnLawler That Praat exists is amazing. Does Praat also have temporal adjustment dialog box that allows you to set the microphone recording time to 1850?
    – Mitch
    Apr 10 '18 at 15:00
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    Gwine (going ) is actually present in many dictionaries as a still current dialectal variant. Its origin appears to be earlier than you suggest : “Mid 17th century; earliest use found in Alexander Brome (1620–1666), poet and lawyer. Representing a regional pronunciation of going, present participle of go.
    – user 66974
    Apr 10 '18 at 18:51
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    From “Figures in Black : Words, Signs, and the "Racial" Self: Words,...” - Gwine, for instance, is still commonly found in black speech. "Gwine" connotes unshakeable determination, the act to come now made certain to come by the act of speech. "Gwine" leaves no room for doubt, for question, for vacillation. In part, this use of "gwine" is .. books.google.it/…
    – user 66974
    Apr 10 '18 at 19:11
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Written evidence from the 1830s

Instances of gwine begin to show up in publications of the 1830s—but to my surprise the spelling is not used exclusively as a marker of black American English. The earliest match that an Elephind search finds is from "Communication," in the [Leesburg, Virginia] Genius of Liberty (January 7, 1832), where the speaker is a young white farmer talking to a lawyer:

C[lient].——"Yes, sir, I see that you are a larned man, and now I want to know how much you are gwine to charge me for attending to my case?—l have got no money, but a very fine hog if you will take him as pay."

From "Music Mad," in the [Vincennes, Indiana] Western Sun & General Advertiser (December 15, 1832), where the speaker is a black man named Clem, speaking to another black man:

Clem—Well, mighty tollable, but de great suffusion ob de wedder, hab inflicted my bones again, and now I suffas under de rheumatis right smart; hot I had a good laugh jist now, I picked up de newspaper and I obsarved dat de Inglishman named Anderson, were gwine to write a book 'bout de Merrikins, kays dey did'nt 'low him for to sing yer.

From a brief item in the [Springfield, Illinois] Sagamo Journal (December 7, 1833), where Cato was a common given name for black men during the slavery era:

Cato's Prophecy.---Speaking of the late phenomenon, he says "I tell you what.—Dese stars fallin so, somethin gwine to happen. Dese Injuns! dese blacks in de souf! and den dese Ellifiers! dey gwine to play de berry debil—hard times gwine to cum!"

From "Buck Horn Tavern, a Scene in the West," in The Knickerbocker (January 1834), where the speakers are several "pretty yet barefooted" white girls:

'Part 'em, part 'em' was again the cry; but now the girls interfered, crying out 'let 'em fight, let 'em fight, you 'spose we g'wine to stand here all night holding the light'—and at the same time I discovered a hearty, buxom lively looking girl, whom they called Poll, rolling her sleeves up, and swearing at the same time, that both [men threatening to fight each other] were cowards, and that she believed she could cool 'em both out; this added fresh stimulus, and at it they went; the first concussion was like the meeting of two locomotives at full speed—the jar was so great, that both were thrown into the yard, where clinching, they rolled over like a couple of cats, squalling and using the most horrible execrations; the crowd still pressed upon them, the girls holding the torches.

From a letter to the editor of the Rising Sun [Indiana] Times (February 28, 1835), from "a [white] Hoosier up Arnold's Creek":

I saw lots of men in the "doggeties," as they call 'em in Rising Sun; some swearing, some quarreling, some drinking, and some, like some of our fellows, with their eyes bunged up—(for mercy's sake they ought to be spared for future good!) I tho't you'd several times underrated the Burghers, but Major I tell you what you hav'nt half done it. I shant say any thing about its local situation, for I'm gwine there agin in May. Yes, I must go, hail or storm, and I'll git on that thar new steam boat that's building in town, and I'll ride, sock up the streets to Hunt's hotel, and then I guess I can tell you a thing or two. ...

So I found on cyphering up my money that I'd spent just 50 cents for ferriage, 25 cents for drams, and 50 cents for sundries. So you. see major, gwine up there is'nt the thing its cracked up to be. I don't intend to go any more there unless that Spinner or Weaver, (I don't know which,) comes after me, and then if I go I'm determined to save 25 cents, for I'll join that great big temperance society which Mr. Springwater says will meet on the last Tuesday in this month, when and where the whole world's going to join.

From an untitled item in the [Vevay, Indiana] Weekly Messenger (August 8, 1835), where the speaker is a black man known as uncle Cudjo:

"Well," said uncle Cudjo, Mas. Stevenson strait enough then: but how he gwine to make all dem buckeramen do what he want um?"

"Oh," said papa, "Cudjo, he will not influence them. This is not what I expect; but their choosing him, shows that they go for me."

"Ah dat de way you work um, ha! Well, may be he work right; but I tell you now, you better not laugh before de fun come; for white man mighty unsartin."

From Frederick Thomas, East and West, volume 1 (1836), where the word is used by a black man (Sam) and "a little black foot-boy" (Washington):

"Di you call me sir?" said Sam, with a look of inquiry ; "I'm hard of hearing, you knows, Doctor, and I'm in a torn down hurry ; if you be's a-gwine this way I'll tell you—'cause I must be gwine."

...

"Master's just this minute gone out, ma'am—I seed his coat-tail as he was gwine."

"Going, why don't you say, Washington? I declare, you associate so much with these bad boys in the street, that it not only spoils your clothes but your pronunciation. ..."

From "The Shooting Match," in the [Rodney, Mississippi] Southern Telegraph (January 8, 1836), in a conversation between two young white men, one educated and one not:

"Tell her [Billy's mother]," said I, "that I send her a quarter of beef, which I won, as I did the handkerchief, by nothing in the world but mere good luck."

"Hold your jaw, Lyman!" said Billy, "I an't gwine to tell the old woman any such lies; for she's a real reg'lar Meth'dist."

From a letter to the editor in the Charlotte [North Carolina] Journal (January 22, 1836), evidently in the voice of an unschooled white man:

I happened to be in town on the 8th of Janewary, and seein a large crowd of folks at the courthouse, I jined em, and hurd they were gwine to lay the corner stone of the mint. I did'nt exactly now what this ment, but I thought I'd go with them and see the frolic, any how. Bineby, I hern a old gentleman say somethin, I couldn't understand what, and then he fixed a piece of rock—and then there was a hurrain—and then another gentleman told the folks to come up and drink—and the cannon was fired off—and then the folks was told to pay for what they drunk—and then I see every man's face get longer and longer—and then I put ten cents in the hat and left em.

From "Visit to a Negro Cabin in Virginia" in The Family Magazine (February 1836), quoting a conversation between two enslaved black men:

"Dah, now! Didn't I tell you futto ax Ned futto len' me his possum-dog to-night?"

"Well, sho' nough!"

"Well, now, what I gwine do fo' dog?"

"You do'wan' no dog to-night."

"What fur I don't?"

"Caze you gwine to cawn-shuckin'."

"No indeed—I gwine catch possum fo' Jenny."

From a letter to the printer in the [Springfield, Illinois] Sagamo Journal (June 4, 1836), written in a burlesque black English dialect:

When I was up dare in Springfield the pepul kep axin me, Hows the election gwine down in your parts? Now I couldnt den exactly precisely tell how de folks was gwine—but I been asken all around sence, aod I gest wants to tell presactly how it is. De gemm'en ob coler all gwine for dat man wat writes de epitaphs of truth and vartue wid a syringe——some to Mr. Katshoun, and skuire the Builder.

Reports of a number of similar supposed conversations between black speakers appear in print during the next the next three years; but as the 1830s came to a close, at least three more instances occurred where gwine is attributed to white speakers.

From "Extract from one of Sam Slick's letters to the editor of the Frontier Journal," in the [Dubuque] Iowa News (May 26, 1838):

The truth is, Samuel, there need'nt be any such things as hard times, only when the crops fail. Let people take hold of the plough, the hoe, the spade and pitchfork, as I do, and always have done, and the country ill prosper and the times will always be good. The farmer goes on his own hook, and if he attends to his business, all the ebbs and flows in the money market don't cheat hi, out of one minit's sleep. It seems to be the notion now-a-days, that the times can't be good unless every body is cheatin, gamblin, speculatin and livin upon every body else. Now while this is a gwine on, every thing is gittin used up, and the ware and tare of food and clothing, as well as of morals and religion, is perdigious!

From "Racing" in the Edgefield [South Carolina] Advertiser (May 16, 1839), referring to a (presumably white) newspaper subscriber:

The editor of the Tallahassee Star says, "A defaulting subscriber writes us word, that he's "gwine away to Texas," and can't pay up till he has made his fortune in that land of promise. Let him track on—give our subscribers air, and they can beat the world in a foot-race."

From "My Own Peculiar: Or Stray Leaves from the Port-Folio of a Georgia Layer," in The Knickerbocker (August 1839), relating a conversation between a traveling lawyer and a white backwoods homesteader:

"No, that's a very clear case ; I thought, however, that so near the river, there would be plenty of deer. Still, if it is not good hunting-ground, it is a fine place for raising cattle."

"It is, is it? S'posin' the cattle gets in the swamp, and the d——d river rises 'pon 'em, and the cu'sed fools don't get out of the way, but get drowned? How you gwine to raise 'em then?, eh?"

Even as late as William Thompson, Major Jones's Courtship and Travels (1848), a white protagonist uses gwine constantly:

Let the ladys but take the right stand and they can bring every thing strate in no time. If they won't marry a drunkard, who's gwine to drink licker? If they won't keep company with squirts and dandies, who's gwine to make a monkey of himself? If they is republican in ther principles and sentiments, who's gwine to put on airs and and try to be aristocrats? If they thinks more of a good character than they does of riches, who's gwine to sell his character for money? If they upholds virtue, who's gwine to practice vice? If they is pious, who's gwine to dare make game of religion? This is the proper field for the exercise of wimmin's influence.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) doesn't have any white characters use the word gwine. Lower-class ones may sometimes say goin', but that's the limit. Meanwhile, Stowe's grip on black English dialect slips occasionally, so that, for example, Aunt Chloe (a black woman) not infrequently says gwine but occasionally switches to going instead.


Early reference work mentions of 'gwine'

A striking early mention of gwine appears in Samuel Kirkham, English Grammar in Familiar Lectures (1831), which identifies the word as a provincialism common in "Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, or Mississippi":

IMPROPER. gwine CORRECT. going

...

[IMPROPER.] What you gwine? CORRECTED. Where are you going?

On page 201 of his book, under the heading "Corrections in Orthoepy," Kirkham lists going as one of a number of words "being often erroneously pronounced by polite people, as well as by the vulgar." However, the improper pronunciations recorded there are "gone" and "go-in," not "gwine."

Charles Adams, A System of English Grammar: Constructed Upon the Basis of Murray's Grammar (1838) includes gwine in a fairly long list of conversational improprieties:

The following are some of the more frequent improprieties committed in conversation :

...

Gwine for going.


Early alternative spellings of 'gwine'

One alternative spelling of gwine is gwin. From "De Wild Goose Nation," in The Singer's Souvenir: Containing a Choice Selection of the Most Popular (1854):

I trabble ober de groun till I got to Mississippi, / I set down upon a log an foun it rather slippy, / By de jumpin jingo, it was de sea sarpent / Come to scrape quaintance wid de fresh water varmint / His tuf begin to chattle, / An his tail gin to rattle, / An dat's a sure sign he was gwin to make battle.

Another interesting form—goine—shows up in "Zip Coon," in The Virginia Warbler: A New Collection of Patriotic, National, Naval, Martial, Professional, Convivial, Humorous, Pathetic, Sentimental, Old, and New Songs (1844):

As I was goine down a new cut road, / I met a little Tarrapin a looking at a toad; / An jist at ev'ry time dat de toad begin to jump, / De Tarrapin he hide himself behind a burnt stump.

...

I tell you what's goine to happen now very soon, / De United States bank will be blown to de moon, / Den all de oder bank notes will be mighty plenty, / An one silver dollar will be worth ten or twenty.


Audio evidence

I checked a number of early recordings on YouTube by both black singers and white singers to see how they handled the word rendered as "G'wine" in the titles of particular songs. It is quite difficult to gauge how much authenticity to grant to these singers' pronunciations, but I offer a few specimens for your consideration.

From Arthur Collins, "I Ain't G'wine to Weep No More" (1901 recording). The text accompanying a photo of Mr. Collins (who is white) in this video reads as follows:

Arthur Collins Pronounced by many to be the greatest delineator of negro dialect in song. It's a genuine treat to hear his U-S records.

To my ear, Collins sounds unmistakably white, so his delineations may not be as true-to-life as his fans imagined. In any case, you can here him pronounce the title word at 0:48, 1:53, and 2:14—and "ain't g'wine" sounds an awful like "ain't a-gonna" to me.

The black bluesman Sleepy John Estes does a version of the same song in 1939 (this time titled "I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More" (1938 recording) and his pronunciation "ain't gonna be" sounds to me like "ain' gon' be." There is certainly no hint of a pronunciation that rhymes "g'wine" with "twine."

Likewise, the great Son House, in "Ain't Goin' to Cry No More" (1942 recording), pronounces "ain't goin' to" at 0:14 in a way that sounds like "ain't gonna."

But check out the pronunciation used by George Washington Johnson (credited as "the first African American to sing on record") of "I'se gwine away to leave you" on "The Laughing Coon" (1898 Edison cylinder recording) at 1:53 and 1:58 and again at 2:52 and 2:56. That's clearly "gwine" with a long i. Nevertheless, the question remains whether Johnson was singing with his own natural pronunciation or singing to meet the expectations of a white audience that had grown up reading the lyrics to Stephen Foster's "Camptown Races." Supporting the latter hypothesis is the instance at 3:29 of Johnson's "Negro Laughing Song" (1901) where he pronounces "going to" in the line "So now kind friends just listen to what I'm going to say" with two hard g's.

Al Jolson's Edison cylinder version of "Camptown Races" from the 1910s consistently uses "gwine" with a long i, but I doubt that he picked up his pronunciation by listening to actual black people as they talked or sang. Likewise, a bunch of white singers recorded versions of "I'se Gwine Back to Dixie" between 1901 and 1929 with a long-i pronunciation of "gwine"; I couldn't find any black singers' recordings of the song.


Conclusions

The earliest matches from newspaper and book databases for the spelling gwine date to the 1830s, when it was used to indicate a pronunciation shared by certain southern and western people, both white and black. At some point in the literary progression from Major Jones in 1848 to Aunt Chloe in 1852, use of gwine as a race-neutral element of uneducated western or southern speech seems to have fallen off sharply. The word, in effect, became segregated—a marker of supposed contemporaneous black American English dialect.

In print occurrences from the 1830s, the expression usually occurred before an infinitive: "gwine to charge," "gwine to write," "gwine to happen," "gwine to play," etc. This strongly suggests that "gwine" was not intended to be read as a merged word pair (as gonna is). However, there are a few early instances in which gwine appears independently of a following to: "gwine there," "gwine up there," "gwine do," "gwine catch." The first two instances involve a simple replacement of going with gwine; but the second two instances replace "going to" with gwine.

Unfortunately, I haven't found any entry for gwine in pronouncing dictionaries published during the nineteenth century, so it's hard to say exactly what the standard pronunciation of the word was. Audio renditions of the word gwine (or going or gon'), as sung in recordings from as early as 1898, show a wide range of pronunciations but ultimately may have little evidentiary value because at least some of them involve self-conscious, stylized pronunciation.

Still, a pronunciation of gwine that rhymes with twine seems unlikely to have come out of nowhere. Consider the January 22, 1836, entry from the Charlotte [North Carolina] Journal—"I jined em, and hurd they were gwine to lay the corner stone of the mint." In this sentence a white speaker renders going as gwine and joined as jined. A similar replacement would give biled for boiled, riled for roiled, and heisted for hoisted—all of which have been recorded. So at least the replacement of "oi" with a long "i" is not unprecedented in U.S. English. On the other hand, I don't see any parallel in the handling of such similar-sounding words as crowing, flowing, hoeing, knowing, lowing, rowing, showing, stowing, and throwing. Perhaps the very commonness of the going contributed to making it peculiarly subject to shortening to a single syllable.

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  • Any evidence at all for how different people pronounce 'gwine' naturally? It looks to me from it's spelling that it should be prnounced /gwajn/, to rhyme with 'wine'. But maybe it is Sounthern monphthongized to /gwan/ ? (thanks for the scholarly response)
    – Mitch
    Oct 10 '18 at 15:55

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