"...and touch the universal heart."
Masters of Dialect

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Over half of Riley's works are written in the "Hoosier" dialect. It is this speech pattern which created the mass appeal and enthusiasm for Riley's work. The simple, sentimental, colorful language reminded audiences of an idyllic time of more "natural" philosophy and less care. Riley has been credited with inventing the Hoosier persona, and although he has been labeled the National Poet and the Robert Burns of America, it is as the Hoosier Poet that he is best known.

Riley's use of dialect jarred the sensibilities of literary critics on the east coast, who felt that the English language was pure and supple and should not be denigrated by such a low use as dialect. Yet, Riley reveled in it on the platform and on the printed page. He was close friends with Joel Chandler Harris (Uncle Remus) and Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain), two other masters of dialect. It was the success of the Uncle Remus stories published in 1880 which stimulated a public interest in dialect literature. Riley's first collection of dialect poems, The Old Swimmin'-Hole and 'Leven More Poems, was published by George Hitt & Company in 1883. Riley's use of the dialect was highly influential. The African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) was strongly influenced by Riley's work.