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I am reading a book on life lessons, and the author quotes one of Charles Dickens's characters, Sarah Gamp, from his novel, Martin Chuzzlewit:

Sech is life. Vich likeways is the hend of all things.

I didn't understand it. So I googled the sentence, read the whole paragraph that includes it, and came to realize that the sentence was likely to incorporate misspelled words on purpose probably to represent something about the character who said it, but that was all.

Here are my research and best guesses:

  1. I looked up the Wiktionary and found out that hend is the old form of the verb grasp. But, it still doesn't make sense to me because hend is used as a noun in the sentence.

  2. I thought maybe sech was such, which makes the first part "Such is life." If it's true, I understand that.

  3. Likeways is probably Likewise

  4. Never have I figured out what Vich means.

  5. Never could even I guess what in the hend of meant.

If you could help me understand what sech, vich, and in the hend of mean, or suggest what you think the original words of those if they were purposefully misspelled, it would be greatly helpful.

Thanks for reading! P.S. Here's the whole paragraph that has the problematic sentence.

'Talk of constitooshun!' Mrs Gamp observed. 'A person's constitooshun need be made of bricks to stand it. Mrs Harris jestly says to me, but t'other day, "Oh! Sairey Gamp," she says, "how is it done?" "Mrs Harris, ma'am," I says to her, "we gives no trust ourselves, and puts a deal o'trust elsevere; these is our religious feelins, and we finds 'em answer." "Sairey," says Mrs Harris, "sech is life. Vich likeways is the hend of all things!"'

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Dickens is applying what is known as eye dialect, in which a writer uses non-standard spellings to indicate and draw attention to a nonstandard pronunciation. This is to be distinguished from so-called newspaper respelling, as it is not intended to represent someone's pronunciation or usage accurately. Rather, it is a caricature that brings attention to the speaker being Other to the narrator, perhaps someone from a different region or socioeconomic background, someone who is not a native speaker, or simply someone who mumbles or otherwise speaks carelessly.

Dickens uses a great deal of eye dialect, as does Mark Twain, who included this explanatory preface to Huckleberry Finn:

In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary "Pike County" dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.

The use of eye dialect reminds the reader that Huck is a boy from rural Missouri, but also that Jim and Huck have a social distance that their personal intimacy does not bridge.

In Martin Chuzzlewit, Mrs. Gamp is a disreputable character whose speech is spelled to mark her as having a non-standard, lower-class accent (at the time of publication), and perhaps as drunk on top of that. The whole passage you quote is full of eye-dialect and non-standard grammar, for example

  • constitooshun – constitution
  • jestly says – just said
  • t'other – the other
  • Sairy – Sarah
  • elsevere – elsewhere
  • feelins – feelings
  • sech – such
  • Vich – which
  • likeways – likewise
  • hend – end

Even knowing that, what she is saying is difficult to make sense of, which Dickens' narrator acknowledges.

The barber gave a soft murmur, as much as to say that Mrs Harris's remark, though perhaps not quite so intelligible as could be desired from such an authority, did equal honour to her head and to her heart.

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    Thanks. I learned a lot from your answer. – Ethan Bolker May 3 at 21:22
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    This isn't exactly the meaning that I learned for "eye dialect". To me, "eye dialect" means that it is only distinguishable from a regular accent by how it looks: for most American English speakers, that would cover things like writing "what" as "wut", or "you" as "yoo". In that sense, "eye dialect" is not a real dialect at all. But "sech" and "vich" do seem to represent particular dialectal pronunciations that Dickens presumably would have objected to. – sumelic May 4 at 7:46
  • Likewise, Huck Finn probably uses some eye dialect (I forget any specific examples) but it also uses spellings representing actually distinct pronunciations, which would not just be eye dialect. – sumelic May 4 at 7:48
  • Thank you choster for your such an informative comment. It also helped me to understand the paragraph more clearly. As an English learner, after reading your comment, I am starting to feel like I am learning not just English, but English language. – kimweonill May 4 at 11:58
  • Thanks sumelic for sharing your knowledge. – kimweonill May 4 at 12:05
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This is a printed representation of dialect, not “proper written English”. It is meant to represent the actual sound and accent of the character speaking. There is no consistent way to convert dialect representation to standard written representation, but in this case, the standard written representation of the words you’re asking about would be such for sech, which for vich, likewise for likeways, end for hend. Similarly, there is elsewhere for elsevere and feelings for feelins, and there are corrections to grammar that could be made as well.

  • Thanks Jeff Zeitlin for sharing your knowledge. As you said, there's no consistent way but somehow native speakers, if not everyone, figure out what they mean. Wonderous! – kimweonill May 4 at 12:01

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