Saturday, January 21, 2012

5 Tips to Reading (Outloud)

Beachum Papers and Letters
Itawamba Settler, Vol 31, No 4
Bane in Mississippi
Have you read your ancestor's personal letters? Deciphering some of these letters may depend on your knowledge of local speech patterns, dialect or accents. Up until today, I did not know bane meant anything other than poison. I looked it up in the Webster’s Dictionary and it also gave “woe” and “harm” as definitions and synonyms. However, none of these words reconciled the meaning of the paragraph above that was transcribed in the Itawamba Settlers, Vol 31, No 4.  (Note: I am a member of the Itawamba Historical Society. Itawamba is located in Mississippi and the society produces an informative newsletter, Itawamba Settlers). 

Here are a few tips to ease our experience of reading, defining and deciphering "new word in order to gain full comprehension of our ancestor's experiences. 

Tip 1: Phonetically - Read Outloud
We are accustomed to homonyms, so the occasional here vs. hear does not throw the reader for loop. We rarely take note.

However, if you are having trouble reading passages try pronouncing each letter. Usually a word will form.  Try it with the paragraph above.

Tip 2: Punctuation - Edit the Letter
Sometimes we have to reread a sentence for clarification, especially if punctuation is missing and there are 2-3 run-on thoughts and sentences without a discernible pause. Oh, I’m sure we can forgive the soldier on the battlefield if he didn’t take time to proof his letters.  Of course the periods may have been so lightly placed that they are no longer visible.  Well, that doesn’t explain the lack of capitalizing words to initiate a new sentence or thought.  But we can do it for him.

With pencil (and eraser) in hand capitalize letters, let's put in the punctuation to make concise sentences . By reading outloud and varying inflexion this can easily be accomplished.  Remember we are going for a clear thought, not necessarily excellent grammar.

Tip 3: Misspelled – Correct to Avoid Distractions
Some words are misspelled, but others must be vocalized for recognition. What I found interesting is words like “anxious” “cartridge” and “skirmish” were spelled correctly, but the following were among the ones misspelled:
seted = seated
helth = health
commcnsed = commenced
agane = again
thrue = thru
begane = began
I suggest we make a note of the correct spelling. This will ease the flow of the next read of this paragraph.

Tip 4: Apply Dialect - Speaking Bane
Voicing outloud aided me in determining “titust” was tightest. But it was the word bane, used four times in this paragraph and over a dozen in the entire letter that stumped me.

Surely those accustomed to Southern dialect deciphered it easier. But not until I tried it in a regional twang (as good of a Southern accent a Kansan could do), did I claim victory.
bane =been
(Well I knew he wasn’t referring to poison, woe or harm).

Tip 5: Analyze – Elements of Writing Style and Transcriber Errors
In analyzing personal letters it will behoove the reader to loosely apply the “elements of literature.”  Analyzing setting, speaker, and speech or diction will assist the reader in applying the correct meaning to a passage.  
“…I thought I had seen servis [military service?] before, but this has bane [been] a little the titust [tightest] of all.
I have ran some very narrow risk but have passed unhurt as yet. “
I’m left to wonder if the original is clearer. Would I have transcribed these sentences with the same outcome? Viewing the original will answer some of the question, but  this is what I have right now. And, we are grateful that the Itawamba Settlers printed this transcription of the Beachum Papers and Letters from their collection.

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers

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