on dialect, cultural study, and learning hoodoo

In the comments section of an old post about a hotfoot spell given by a Hyatt informant, some interesting comments have unfolded which I think worth pointing out.  The informant says, among other things:

Well, yo’ got three pieces of dat dog manure. Yo’ll commence wit dis one, say, “Now, ah’ll set chew heah dat chew cannot stay in dis house, “Under de Highest Name of de Father”. Ah’ll set chew [second piece] heah dat chew cannot stay in dis house. Yo’ll be ‘bliged tuh go, an’, “In de Name of de Son.”

Now, two readers just commented on this only recently.  I was born and raised in the deep South so I guess I have some tunnel vision, because it honestly never occurred to me for a second that American people could misread or misunderstand the above.  I guess my background is actually a hindrance in my communicating with readers sometimes.

One commenter is a non-native speaker of English – I completely understand how a non-native speaker of English could have trouble with the way Hyatt tries to capture the dialect of his informant.  But coming from a native speaker – well, it blew my mind that s/he could actually think there was chewing involved in this spell.  Sorry, hun, to pick on you, but I guess I now have a clearer understanding of why some teachers of hoodoo have to make it mandatory that their students actually *speak to an African American person,* because some people never have and never would and yet would think to undertake a study of African-American folk magic. The mind, it boggles.  My takeaway point from this was, in part:

If you can’t understand the dialects of the people who perpetuate these practices, you can’t really study the sources, living or passed on. It’s part of why cat in her rootwork course encourages students to actually learn about African American culture(s) and requires that they interview people instead of just trying to learn from books (which *cannot* be done, not really, not thoroughly).

Just for the record, this spell does not involve any chewing.  If you read the dialogue out loud to yourself, you might be able to “hear” what you are having trouble processing on the printed page.

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