1. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    How to describe an accent

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Alesia, May 14, 2013.

    How would you describe the speech pattern (in your writing) of someone who was raised by Irish immigrant parents in America? I knew a girl once who was raised by British parents and she had a practically full on British accent up until she was a teenager but it faded as she went on into adulthood and now she sounds almost American, but she pronounces certain words the UK way and uses terms like knickers, bin, bloody, "hoover the house," biscuits, boot, bonnet, etc..

    I suppose for my characters purposes you would describe it as a "hybrid" accent, basically American but with a strong Irish flavoring, just stuck on the words to describe it in a story.
     
  2. sierraromeobravo
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    sierraromeobravo Member

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    I'm sure there's a nice flurish you can add to explain it but the easiest would be to write the words the way she would say it. Don't get carried away like some people do but you can clearly write a character with a hard boston accent without being too annoying. (no offense Bostonians)

    Maybe...

    "He noticed she spoke with a slight accent; not quite American, not quite english. It was the kind of thing you only heard when she was angry but it was there if you listened."

    "Her mom's thick cockney accent was another trait she acquired despite her American upbringing. It took her years to control it but even still, if you listen closely it would surface without warning."

    Just some thoughts....
     
  3. sierraromeobravo
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    sierraromeobravo Member

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    I'm sure there's a nice flurish you can add to explain it but the easiest would be to write the words the way she would say it. Don't get carried away like some people do but you can clearly write a character with a hard boston accent without being too annoying. (no offense Bostonians)

    Maybe...

    "He noticed she spoke with a slight accent; not quite American, not quite english. It was the kind of thing you only heard when she was angry but it was there if you listened."

    "Her mom's thick cockney accent was another trait she acquired despite her American upbringing. It took her years to control it but even still, if you listen closely it would surface without warning."

    Just some thoughts....
     
  4. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    Exactly the kind of thing I was looking for, thanks :)
     
  5. sierraromeobravo
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    sierraromeobravo Member

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    Glad it helps, sorry for the double post....stupid computer
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i agree with the examples given for setting up her accent... but can't agree with:

    i would advise not trying to write her accent phonetically in her dialog, as that can be annoying to the reader... stick to syntax that would match her manner of speech, instead...
     
  7. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    There are adjectives used to describe sounds that can also be applied to speech: melodic, staccato, guttural, lilting, etc.

    I honestly couldn't tell you where to find a comprehensive list, but it seems that the descriptive depends on how the language sounds compared to yours. English, for example is considered one of the "romantic" languages along with French and Italian, while German is considered a "guttural" language because of the way that it's spoken. Japanese has a more measured meter because all syllables are generally given equal emphasis and the majority of syllables are a consonant followed by a vowel, resulting in a very distinctive sound while Chinese (I can't remember which, maybe both) depends as heavily on tone as sound for meaning, resulting in a language where what sounds like an inflection is actually a different word entirely.
     
  8. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You should really have a fairly solid grasp on the accent before you write it into a story, because otherwise those people who speak with that accent will spot a fake. That is, unless we're talking about a foreigner, say, a Russian, speaking English badly; that's a tad easier to do as long as you know the most common mistakes made by people with Russian as their first language (not just badly pronounced words, but also grammar, word order etc). I wouldn't go crazy with it, though, just enough to give the character's speech some flavor.

    It's a good idea to remember this (a part of a text floating around the internet):

    "i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae."

    The human brain can proofread some pretty messed up words, so I wouldn't be too worried of scaring away your readers. Besides, if a character speaks "oddly" consistently, the reader gets used to it eventually, and after that hardly notices it. Or that's what happens to me, anyway.
     
  9. foiler
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    foiler Member

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    sierraromeobravo, nicely done! :)
     
  10. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just don't have her running round with a box of lucky charms chanting "Top o' the morning te ya!"
     
  11. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    LOL! No, not going to have anything like that. It's just like sierraromeobravo said, very slight, not full on Irish, but not quite American either.
     
  12. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    I'm going to throw in my lot with sierraromeobravo's solution. However, T.Trian also touched on something important to convey accents: grammar. There are unique lexicons, as you mentioned, but there are also grammatical patterns that can indicate accents. If you can find "Shiloh" by Bobbie Ann Mason, you'll get a great idea of how she accomplished a Southern accent without anything but lexical and grammatical cues. Even when one of the characters learns better grammar through education, you can still hear her accent because it was established early.

    I must say, however, that I absolutely despise phonetic accents in writing since reading Kate Forsyth's The Tower of Ravens: Book One of Rhiannon's Ride. Other than the plot being mind-numbingly slow (I got 1/3 through it and nothing happened), one of the characters has a very heavy accent that is written phonetically. I tried to read it. I did. But that accent... It gave me (who is not prone to headaches in the least) a vicious headache every time I tried reading it. I haven't touched the thing in years now, mainly because of that freaking accent. Of course, I understand this is based off one bad experience. It's possible it could be done properly. I haven't read everything out there.
     
  13. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I want to take a look at that book. That's pretty cool the writer went as far as to write the accent phonetically. I actually like that type of stuff. I was reading the Sound and the Fury something like a year ago, and the way Faulkner showed the Southern accent was so cool. I can't remember anymore how he spelled "iron gate", but it took me forever to figure that out.

    I'm reading Don Rosa's comic, Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck for the umpteenth time right now, and it's heavy on phonetically written Scottish accent. I think it's great he went the extra mile to spell it differently.

    So I wouldn't worry about throwing some different phonetics in the mix too. Yeah, some people might get annoyed, but you can't please everyone, can ya?
     
  14. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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  15. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    Why don't you just use dialect instead? Like throw in a bit (emphasis: a bit) of Irish dialect. Readers could then possibly imagine her with an Irish/American accent. I personally think this is the best thing to do.
    Or even just mention it? I don't think you should go into detail if it's not an important part of the story. Everyone is going to imagine it a different way, no matter what you do.
     
  16. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    My plans exactly. Describe it like Sierramebravo said, then just throw in "buzz words" or phrases/slang here and there. Ex: instead of "don't get your panties in a knot." change it to "don't get your knickers twisted." or something like that.
     
  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know if this is going to help much. In fact it probably won't, but here goes anyway...

    As an American who has lived in Scotland for the past 28 years, I can vouch for the fact that I lost my American buzz words and phrases very quickly! I now routinely say 'I'm away to my bed,' instead of "I'm going to bed," "fortnight" instead of "two weeks," "quid," instead of "buck" (dollar), "at Uni" instead of "at college," "cheerio" instead of "bye..." And on and on. I've readily picked up WHAT people here say, to the extent that sometimes I forget how I used to say it, way back in Days of Yore. But, sadly, my accent is still strongly American. I hear myself on a telephone answering machine or somewhere like that, and think ...urk.

    I don't know if this is typical or not, but it might be. Maybe less so if a person's first language isn't English. But if it is ...if a person has lived in the USA for a while but originally came from Ireland, Scotland, England, Australia, New Zealand, etc ...I suspect they've picked up American slang and dropped their own idioms, but still have kept their accent! Not an easy thing to reproduce in writing, that's for sure. I know. I've tried it!

    So saying things like 'don't get your knickers in a twist' is probably the first thing an English person would LOSE, if they lived in the USA for a while. However, what the heck. It's that kind of thing you can probably get away with, as a writer!
     
  18. ECKS
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    ECKS Member

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    Yes.

    Study the dialect and get to really know the "buzz-words". Research how different social castes speak if you're really into it. I'm sure there is a way to find outhow area-specific linguistics sound somewhere on google.
     
  19. La_Donna
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    La_Donna Member

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    I would try something like this:

    Her accent was a kaleidoscope of places; the lilt of the Irish, the precision of the English and the laid-back air of someone who had been exposed Americanisms.

    You don't have to write loads to explain it!
     
  20. cobaltblue
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    cobaltblue Member

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    Was the girl born in Ireland or America? I think you're accent depends on what age you were when you lived somewhere.

    I'm Scottish - have lived in the US for 15 years. I still have my Scottish accent but I speak more slowly than I used to, and I have changed the way I say certain words to make them more easy to understand. Like jannert I have dropped a lot of the old words and phrases and adopted American ones in their place. Not on purpose mind you, it's just that with no one else around saying those things I forget them. It's a strange sensation for me to talk to another Scot and have them say something that I haven't heard or used myself in a while.

    My children were born here, they had mostly Scottish accents 'til they went to school then they changed to mostly American.
    To me the kids sound 99% American and when they speak there's just the odd little Scottish word or phrase thrown in to confuse people who don't know them well ;) My American friends sometimes comment that they still hear a little Scottish somewhere when the kids talk.

    When we have family visiting the accent gets stronger, same thing happens when my husband and myself have a few drinks ;)
     
  21. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    She was born in America to Irish immigrant parents. She's 27 now. She didn't attend formal school, grew up in a small town with a low population if that helps. So in essence she was mostly exposed to her parents growing up until she left home at 17.
     
  22. cobaltblue
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    cobaltblue Member

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    No school? Did she have friends? I felt like my kids accent changed most based on both influence of teachers (pronunciation) and friends (be the same as peers). If your character mainly spoke only to her parents then the Irish may well be stronger and more easily identified by others, maybe you could describe her as a girl with an accent heavily influenced by the Irish of her parents.
     
  23. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    Oh yeah, she had friends. This is an alternate USA environment far in the future where there's not really much in the way of a school system left. Children are educated from books or by their parents based on what they can afford and where they live.
     
  24. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would have to agree. Once you allude to the diction peculiarities, you can drop in a distinctly unique word that would help the reader to carry the mental accent. Instead of going to the bathroom, she says she'll be right back, she's going to run to the loo. Or she might ask "Are we motoring down or taking the Metro?"

    Tons of nation-centric labels for various things that can help to continue the character's speech without belabouring the point. Just be sure not to throw in too many of the "quirks".

    And, btw, the video was interesting. It's a great character study. While she seems to not hear the Euro/Irish accent on so much of her speech, others do. I find it easy to localize her accent as it crops up in so much of the vid. But I also find much of the accent that is neither Irish nor American. And, bear in mind, American is a fairly broad-range label which encompasses perhaps seven or eight major accent/dialect regions and a multitude of "sub-accents" within those. So, even being able to categorize an American accent would be a nearly astronomical feat. Is the accent Irish/New York/Queens?
    Perhaps it's Irish/Iowa/North?South? Or maybe Irish/Illinois/Springfield?Chicago? And California? Nebraska? Wisconsin?

    Even On the Irish side, you have a number of regional accents from which to choose any one of which would have a distinct effect on the sound of an amalgamated accent. (BOY! Did I just muddy THAT pool?) Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that if you focus too much on how to describe the accent, it will only make it more confusing. Stick to the basics.
     
  25. archerfenris
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    archerfenris Active Member

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    I would say accents completely depend on the person. Myself, I hate it everytime I have to return to West Virginia to see family. Not because I don't like them but because in just a matter of hours I start talking like them (Worsht instead of wash, hollar instead of valley). I can't STAND the accent but I subconsciously do it. On the other hand I've met Brits living in the U.S. who've been here for YEARS and they still speak with the accent.

    Totally depends on character. Someone like me would move to Ireland and start speaking like them within hours. Others are highly resistant.
     

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