1. Boomstick10995
    Offline

    Boomstick10995 Member

    Joined:
    Jun 15, 2012
    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    0

    How to dialogue an accent?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Boomstick10995, Jun 16, 2012.

    Hoping to get some positive feedback on this. I won't go in to my character's personality and traits but rather describe her background.

    Her name is Margo, she was born in rural France, she moved to America with her family when she was five years old, and has lived in America ever since, occasionally going back to France every now and then.

    Register to remove this ad


    The problem is, I'm not sure how to write her accent. I know most people who were born in other countries and grow up in America usually develop an American accent, but that's not true for everyone. Some people hold to their mother countries accent even if only slightly. When I write dialogue, I usually think about how the person would sound if I heard them speaking to me, and try to create that on paper. But, for this character I'm not sure how she might sound.

    This character is a bit of a challenge for me, since I've never created a character with an accent. But, I do love challenges and I don't want to change her origin country as it is somewhat essential to the story.
  2. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    3,286
    Likes Received:
    947
    Use word choice and phrasing. Don't use phonetics.

    Random example: Don't say, "He eez tired, no?" Say, "He is tired, no?" That's different enough from, "He's tired, huh?" to give you a foreign flavor. (Of course, I don't know if my word choice is remotely accurate--would a non-native speaker avoid the contraction, for example? Do they put the negative at the end of the sentence that way? I have no clue. But you get the general idea?)
  3. JaketheNinja
    Offline

    JaketheNinja New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2012
    Messages:
    21
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Usually the sofa, on the Laptop, writing...oh and
    I don't agree with you ChickenFreak.....sorry. I find that having speech written as it sounds does actually work.

    I have a character in my book called Philip. His speech is written "Zat is very good, Jake." as an example. So instead of "That" I use "Zat". all 'th' sounds are written with a Z, and it makes the reader actually read it as the person would say it. plus make sure that ther are a lot of .....erm...... if the character speaks in english with a French accent. I know this might be stereotyping a bit, but I was actually talking to a French person last year, and they actually did pause and err... a lot.

    Don't know if this helps
  4. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    39,789
    Likes Received:
    1,138
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    As ChickenFreak said, avoid sounding out accents phonetically, and use dialect (regional wording and phrasing) instead. There are minor exceptions, such as phoneticisms in common enough use that the reader doesn't have to sound them out.

    "Lawd sakes, chile, you do go on so!" <-- This is okay

    "Pahk anywheah you like." <-- Avoid this bad rendering of a Boston accent.

    Even common use phoneticisms can wear thin quickly, so use them sparingly, if at all.


    Better to just use dialect:

    "Sir, could you rent me one of those skiffs?"

    "Could. But I won't."

    "Why not? Please, it's an emergency."

    "Will be, if I do." He nodded toward the dark clouds to the northeast. "Weather coming, gonna be right nasty. Best find yourself some cover, son."

    I never describe the old Maine "down easter", but if you've ever been there, you may have seen someone like him on a deck chair at the end of a dock.
  5. lallylello
    Offline

    lallylello New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2012
    Messages:
    55
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Sunny England
    Hi Boomstick
    I'd say you need to be careful with transcribing speech phonetically - it can get very tiresome very quickly. In Britain we have a lot of regional accents and I've seen some very bad attempts to transcribe them on to the page. In my opinion, you could get away with doing it every now and then just to remind us that there is a foreign flavour to their speech, but if every 'that' is a 'zat' it will get annoying (sorry JaketheNinja). Or you could mention that she can't pronounce 'th' but not describe the actual words she says.
    As an aside, I had a friend whose parents were Geordies (from Newcastle: a very strong accent). My friend spoke 'normally' (i.e. like us!) most of the time, but as soon as he was near his parents he went into broad Geordie - it was hilarious. Same deal for a friend who came from Wales but had lived most of his life in England - the Welsh vowels and intonation suddenly appeared from nowhere when his parents came to visit. Might be a useful way to mark your character's different accent if she drops into a French accent when her parents are around?
  6. Boomstick10995
    Offline

    Boomstick10995 Member

    Joined:
    Jun 15, 2012
    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    0
    Thank you all! This is very helpful! :)
    I was particularly worried about the French accent as I've never really heard a French person who had lived most of their life in America.
    And that was my biggest concern, how to write the accent of a person who grew up in America. Is there anything different I need to be aware of, or should I follow the advice you guy's outlined here? Do you think she would go in and out of her accent (as I've heard people do before) or, if it's a slight, small accent, not even worry about writing the accent and just mention that she was born in France and not have her dialogue hint at her accent?
  7. Youniquee
    Offline

    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2010
    Messages:
    737
    Likes Received:
    33
    Location:
    Under your bed.
    If she's lived in America most of her life, why would she have a strong French accent anyway?
    If it's small, slight accent, then I don't think it should even be transcribed, in my opinion.
    I think you should have a character mention it and then the readers will put there imagination to the works. Besides, does it really add to the story?
    Something to think about~
    Hope this helped.
  8. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    39,789
    Likes Received:
    1,138
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    You could always mention in the narrative that she has a slight accent, that sounds French to a character making the observation.
  9. kyelena2
    Offline

    kyelena2 New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 2, 2012
    Messages:
    50
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    North Carolina
    I recall reading a scottish accent in a novel once. It was a lot like Jake The Ninja said... but it wasn't the MC, it was another character that had a good deal of speech in a few chapters.When the author explained he had a scottish accent, it helped me envision him more. But at first it was very confusing.
    When I have written about accents, I use dialogue from that area, but write it out in pure english like Cogito was explaining.
  10. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    2,534
    Likes Received:
    276
    The less you try to mimic, the better, IMHO. Dialogue shouldn't be a matter of translation for the reader. Flavor the dialogue, don't overpower it.
  11. lex
    Offline

    lex Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2012
    Messages:
    526
    Likes Received:
    26
    She'll have no accent, then, as an adult, I think. Five is far too young for that. A child has to have been aged at least 8/9 to grow up with what's called a "permanent residual accent", after emigrating.

    There's plenty of neurolinguistic/neurophysiological research, and the underlying reasons are now well and clearly understood. I'd say more and offer a little evidence, but I appreciate that the forum isn't keen on external links. I do think you perhaps shouldn't be giving her an accent, if there's any "danger" of readers knowing this, though. Just a suggestion ... :redface:
  12. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    2,534
    Likes Received:
    276
    Wouldn't there be a bit of an accent, just from listening to her parents? But I agree, there wouldn't be an obvious one.
  13. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    3,286
    Likes Received:
    947
    I missed the "five years old" part. I agree that she would have no accent, unless she was quite isolated with purely French-speaking parents, for example never going to school. She might speak both French and English fluently, but I wouldn't expect an accent to bleed from one into the other, nor would I expect her word choice to be affected, unless she deliberately chose to mix the languages. I think that she'd just sound like a native French speaker when she speaks French, and like a native American English speaker when she speaks English.

    ChickenFreak
  14. ithestargazer
    Offline

    ithestargazer Member

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2010
    Messages:
    300
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    the big M, Australia
    I disagree that she would have no accent. Even if she moved to the States at five, if she has French parents who speak with a French accent at home then naturally she will develop a slight residual French accent, even when surrounded by American accents at school and in the community. Working at multicultural schools, I see this very often with teenagers. Despite them having lived in the country since they were young, they can still have certain 'twangs' in their speech that they pick up from family. Of course, this isn't always the case and it is dependent on a person to person basis and a language to language basis (some languages and accents are more technical than others).

    The fact that the OP has chosen to keep a slight accent is completely legitimate to me and wouldn't seem far-fetched at all. I agree with the above posts that the best way to do it would be to explicitly state that she has a slight accent and not try to spell words out phonetically or change the sentence structure to imitate French (she may have a slight twang but the fact that her schooling has been in English would mean when forming English sentences she would conform to English structure and not French - unless she was speaking French.)
  15. Boomstick10995
    Offline

    Boomstick10995 Member

    Joined:
    Jun 15, 2012
    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    0
    Thank you all so much! :)
    I've decided that I will just mention that she is from France and has an accent but not go too in depth trying to write it. She has spoken French at home with her parents her entire life so there should be an accent, but it's not strong enough to point out through her dialogue. I may drop an "erm" here or there like JaketheNinja described, and maybe a "cheers" here and there, but overall there will be nothing that really emphasizes her accent.
  16. lex
    Offline

    lex Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2012
    Messages:
    526
    Likes Received:
    26
    Apparently not, according to the neuropsychologists. (I was surprised, too - this is something to do with neural pathway formation around the speech center of the brain - called "Broca's area" - but is a real and scientfically proven phenomenon: five is just too young to retain any residual accent from the primary language. The readers may not know this, of course, but that's a different matter).
  17. lallylello
    Offline

    lallylello New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2012
    Messages:
    55
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Sunny England
    Sorry but I'd have to disagree with the scientists then. I have plenty of empirical evidence which shows that kids can retain an accent:
    A friend of my son's who moved from the States when he was young and went to school in England from the age of five has retained a strong American accent.
    The Geordie guy I mentioned in an earlier post here never even lived in Newcastle (Geordieland) but slipped into the accent when his parents were around.
    Another friend of my son's moved from Switzerland at the age of three. He doesn't have an accent (which fits your theory), but his younger sister does (which makes no sense at all!).
    I think this theory is about people's ability to learn new sounds. At five you can easily pick up new sounds and learn new languages, by about 18 your 'sound bank' is fixed so if you learn a new language, you can only approximate new sounds to the nearest sound in your 'sound bank'.
    Accents are different though, I think they are more about identity - so if you want to identify with your parents maybe you keep the accent. My Geordie friend was very proud of his roots, so maybe that's why he did the Geordie accent even though he'd never actually lived there.
    It's an interesting subject - and means Boomstick has the freedom to do whatever he wants - if he wants the girl to have an accent, she can, but if he wants her to sound like an American this is also plausible.
  18. Stacey_Louise
    Offline

    Stacey_Louise New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2012
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Scotland
    Thanks of asking this question boomstick, I've actually been wondering this myself. So many helpful replies.
  19. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    18,877
    Likes Received:
    695
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    neither 'erm' nor 'cheers' have any connection to a french-speaking person... they're distinctly briticisms, so i hope you weren't seriously going to toss those in...

    a person speaking both french and english fluently may well slip a french word into their english now and then and vice versa, though... such as:

    "I'd love to go with you, mais I can't spare the time."
    or
    "Je suis sorry, maman!"

    and/or hesitate in the middle of some sentences, trying to keep from slipping into the other language...

    otherwise, do what's suggested above and just use syntax differences, as french sentence structure is not the same as english...
  20. ithestargazer
    Offline

    ithestargazer Member

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2010
    Messages:
    300
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    the big M, Australia
    I agree with Ladylello. I'm sure there is scientific evidence that proves the accent can stay too, if only slightly. This kind of thing is so dependent on the individual, their environment and the languages and accents themselves that scientific evidence may not be always be relevant. I'd go for it Boomstick.
  21. Mokrie Dela
    Offline

    Mokrie Dela Member

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2012
    Messages:
    40
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Hertfordshire, England
    I think the best thing is to establish their nationality or origin quickly and strongly. Then one the reader knows the characte's French, throw in the odd French word. Also use regional words on te other character too for contrast:
    "Bonjour Danny! Are we meeting at the pub?"
    "yeah mate we are. You bringin' your misses?"
    "Oui I will see you soon."

    I have also noticed that foreign people tend to avoid 'don't and say ' do not' instead.

    IMO its subtlety you want. Establish the characters French and remind the reader every now and then but don't overdo it

Share This Page