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The “dialect” typewriter

You don’t know about this typewriter, without you have read the Fonographic, but that ain’t no matter. There is things which may have been stretched, but it’s a dandy idea. I never seen one, but if it types like a person, well, it must talk a body’s ear off.

That a simple attachment enabled writers to compose in dialect is improbable (as if altering the spelling of words could produce anything but an embarrassing facsimile of language), but such a device excited interest in 1904. “A simple shift key alters the dialect,” wrote one newspaper, “from negro to Scottish, Irish, German, Swedish, Bohemian, Bowery, Chinook, pidgin English, Bostonian, and historical-novelish.” A novel concept, to be sure, but unrealistic in 1904.

Early in the 20th century, inventors imagined everything from spelling and grammar correction to translation, but these functions stepped quite beyond the limits of mechanical typewriters. Only in modern times have these things been possible, including dialect translators. (Still, that one can speak in dialect by simple translation, well, that remains to be seen.)

Translated using Whoohoo

Original: Hello, I am writing this message on my computer.
Ali G: Alo, I iz writin dis message on me poota.
Irish: ‘owaya, scon are writin’ dis message on me computer.
Geordie: Aareet, ah am writin this message on me computor.

The Typewriter and Phonographic World (New York) February 1904 —

For whatever reason, the device resurfaced in news accounts in 1907.

Suburbanite Economist (Chicago) August 2, 1907 —


Researching this device, I came upon this interesting defense of writing in dialect, which includes a humorous and derisive reference to the idea of a dialect typewriter.

Hartford Courant, September 15, 1898 —

© 2019 – 2023, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Richard P February 9, 2019, 10:36 pm

    That’s hilarious. I’m sure the original story was just supposed to be funny. But now we can do it! In addition to the British site you linked to, there is The Dialectizer, which has been around since the ’90s at http://www.rinkworks.com/dialect/.

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