1. Red Diamond
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    Red Diamond New Member

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    Regional Colloquialisms: To Use or Not to Use?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Red Diamond, Aug 6, 2011.

    When is the use of regional colloquialisms in literature acceptable? Please let me explain.

    I am writing short stories based around my experiences growing up in Scotland. Like all regions, we have our own speech patterns and vocabulary, and I want to make my stories as realistic as possible. I feel that my use of Scots colloquialisms add to, rather than detracts from, the stories themselves. I feel the regional variant gives the stories more credibility. However, I don't want to narrow the appeal of my stories to the point that the only people who could understand them would be fellow Scots. I only use colloquialisms in dialect, never anywhere else.

    I'll give you an example:

    "Haw Tommy, could ye gie me a hand here a wee minute. I cannae git this box intae the back of the car on ma own," Robert said over his shoulder.

    "Awright big man, here A'm comin'," replied Tommy.

    Translation:

    "Hey Tommy, could you give me a hand here a little minute? I can't get this box into the back of the car on my own," Robert said over his shoulder.

    "Alright big man, here I'm coming," replied Tommy.

    Not the greatest example, but I'm sure you get the jist. Certain scenarios make it more effective, however. And there are words and phrases that we use which look out of place when written properly ('big man").
     
  2. Radrook
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    Radrook Contributing Member

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    Notice that in the film "Braveheart" the speakers don't adhere completely to Scottish idioms and yet they are recognizable as Scots. This is accomplished by their accent and not so much by their word choices. In written fiction we can remind the reader occasionally with words such as "cannae" and "ye". It's the extreme idioms requiring unfamiliar spellings which force a reader scanning difficulties that we might want to avoid if we intend our audience to be "cosmopolitan".
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    To me, the colloquialism consists of the word choice, not the pronunciation. You could offer phonetic pronunciation for almost every speaker of English - Irish, Welsh, American New Yorkers, American South, Bostonians, and on and on - but few of them would fail to be insulted at the implication that they're not even using the words they know they're using. The Bostonian is saying, "park the car" not "pahk the cah", no matter how it comes out of his mouth. On the other hand, the person who says "I might could" is indeed saying those words, not "maybe I could".

    So I'd pick the genuinely different words, and skip the phonetic pronunciation. I just searched for definitions of

    gie
    cannae
    intae
    ye
    haw
    ma

    and I confirm tha gie and ye are words, but it appears that cannae, intae, ma, and haw are pronunciations, at least in the context that you're using them. Now, maybe I'm wrong, and a Scotsman writing a letter really would write "intae", not "into"? Would he?

    Certainly, wee is a word and I don't see any reason to substitute for it. Git appears to be primarily the British slang insult, not Scottish for "get". So I'd rewrite this as.

    "Aw, Tommy, could ye gie me a hand here a wee minute. I cannot get this box into the back of the car on my own," Robert said over his shoulder.

    I'm a little uncertain about "gie" - does it have any meaning or flavor that's different from "give"? In other words, does it earn its keep, given that it's probably a minor stumble for the reader? If Robert were for some reason writing down his own words, would he write down gie or give?

    ChickenFreak
     
  4. Red Diamond
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    Red Diamond New Member

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    Thank you both for your input. You both make great points and have given me a lot to ponder.

    "Gie" is a contraction of give. And we tend use "nae" at the end of words in place of "not." "Widnae", "cannae", "shouldnae" are "wouldn't", "can't" and "shouldn't" respectively.

    When writing a letter, I would use proper words, not colloquialisms. But when used as the spoken voice of a character, it feels too generic to me, so to put the reader "there" so to speak, and to add a liberal amount of realism, I had tinkered with the mechanics of the way we speak, rather than the way we write. I do agree that I really shouldn't go overboard since there are more people who wouldn't understand the dialogue than would.

    However, there are certain ways we speak that mean it's either all or nothing. I wouldn't use "can't or "cannot" but would use "cannae" in everyday use. Speaking informally and formally are two completely different things for us. For example, I Anglicize many of my words talking to my American wife or when I'm talking to anyone else around me (I like in New York), but when I'm talking to a Scot or a family member, I drop back into my regular way of talking.

    The former feels forced to me, the latter is natural, and that's what I'm striving for.

    And to answer your last question, Robert would write "give" rather than "gie" but that would be reversed in everyday speech.
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Using the phonetic spelling still seems somehow wrong to me. If a Scottish newspaper quoted Robert's opinion on something, surely the paper wouldn't quote him as saying "cannae", even if they were quoting him speaking informally? To put it another way, does Robert, or do you, think of "cannae" and "cannot" as truly completely different words, or just as the same word pronounced differently depending on the audience?

    To put it yet another way, if Robert saw his words printed phonetically, would he be offended, or would he agree that that was exactly what he said? I'm moderately confident that an American with a strong regional accent would be offended to see a phonetic depiction of their accent - the'd see it as condescending. It would also imply that only the standard radio-announcer pronunciation of the word is correct and that other pronunciations are so very incorrect that it's not even the same word - that the radio announcers "own" the language and that the other speakers are wrong unless they change their pronunciation to match that of the owners of the language.

    ChickenFreak
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Better to lean toward regional wording and away from phonetic rendering as much as possible. In some cases, phonetic rendering has made some forms almost words in their own right. You can get away with "awright", but I'd avoid "A'm". Thin down the dialect for the sake of flow, but leave in enough for the impression of the accent.
     
  7. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    For what it's worth I found your example hard to read. I had to study the words carefully to follow them. I'm not Scottish but I am a native English speaker.
     
  8. Marranda
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    Marranda Senior Member

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    I may be one of very few when I say this, but I had no problem following the scottish version of your example.
    But then again, I rarely have a problem keeping up with dialects/accents once they've been established as such. Now if you were to have two characters talking without any notice beforehand that they had accents or came from another country, and they started talking like that? Oh sure there would be word-to-reader translation issues. But I think if you explain enough before your characters tart dialoguing that they're scottish, there shouldn't be a problem with loading their text with colloquialisms ;)
     
  9. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's always acceptable; how else do you convincingly set forth your story's setting and characters? I've recently read Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, and Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone. Both use regional dialect successfully, but you've got to know it well to pull it off, and provide enough context for the reader when using rarely used vocabulary.
     
  10. Batgoat
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    Batgoat Senior Member

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    I had no trouble understanding what was being said between the two characters. What you would have to do, though, is ensure that the words used are consistent throughout the entire story.
     
  11. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    I had no trouble at all reading your examples and I actually love reading stories like this (though I admit I may be the exception).
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I didn't have any trouble understanding the example, but I would find it distracting to read a book in which a major character constantly speaks with phonetic spelling.

    When I see a movie in which some characters have an accent, I go through a few minutes of adjustment, and then I translate the accent without effort, and I can focus on the character and the words.

    But to me, phonetic spelling emphasizes, over and over and over, "This character has a heavy accent. Did I mention that this character has a heavy accent? Hey! _Don't forget the accent_!" It make the accent the most important thing about the character, and distracts me from every other aspect of that character. I think that it's a mistake.

    ChickenFreak
     
  13. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're right, to only use local dialect and colloquialisms in dialogue, but even then use it sparingly. Use it to give an essence of the place and time rather than a word for word account.
     
  14. Red Diamond
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    Red Diamond New Member

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    I guess the target audience would dictate the amount of regional dialect which was appropriate. Written for a solely Scottish audience, it would be perfectly alright to use colloquial Scots, but when the story is intended for a larger audience, it would be more appropriate to establish the characters' nationalities and use "watered down" Scottishisms (if that's even a word!). The same would hold true for any geographic variance and regional dialect as well then.

    I originally wrote a couple of stories for myself, but I shared them with my friends and family, and they had no trouble understanding the language, since they're all Scots (except the Bronx-born wife, and she's used to me now). Even my coworkers understood the dialogue, but I think a lot of that is down to hearing me speak day in, day out. I concede that much of the language would be difficult to read for most other people, though.

    And when it comes to being offended by the use of colloquial Scots, most of us would prefer that an author didn't try it rather than tried it and made a pig's ear of it. We're not offended by the use of it as much as we are by the misuse of it. Indeed, there's a push to have the variant recognised as a separate branch of English, much like American English and the likes.

    I posted a first draft of one of my stories on my website, so as I revise it, I'll try to alter the characters' dialogue to broaden its appeal.

    Again, thanks for the input, I appreciate it. It's good to get an outside perspective.
     
  15. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    My preference has always been to give the flavor, not the full menu. I could understand what you wrote, but I had to read it slowly in order to 'translate' it. I'm not sure I could (or would want to) sustain the same level of 'patience' throughout an entire book. Unless you have the reputation and talent of Mark Twain, I'd go for more universally 'accepted' words and phrases.
     
  16. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I'm English and have no problems at all reading that -- it's as easy for me as standard English.

    I think the problem some are having looking up the words in a dictionary is that they are looking them up in an English dictionary, not a Scots dictionary, although I note that http://www.dsl.ac.uk/ gives "canna", not "cannae".
     
  17. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some would, intentionally writing Scots, not English, and they're certainly used to reading it because it's hard to grow up in Scotland without encountering a lot of Robert Burns's poetry.
     
  18. DBock
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    DBock Member

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    What ChickenFreak said 100% and word for word from another post --- No. You shouldn't. Use setting and language to establish location. You don't have to use phonetic dialogue or change the spelling of things to make us suddenly realize they are british. Just by saying 'bloody' or 'quid' is going to let us know right off. The less you do the better. Focus on the characters, and let the reader supply the accent and regional dialogue for your characters.
     
  19. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Scottish schools teach English grammar, therefore, unless he was purposely writing a Scottish piece, a Scotsman would write 'into' for 'into'. It is in dialogue were you would get the local dialect.
     
  20. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    It depends on how familiar the reader is with the word. People can work out for themselves that 'cannae' means 'can't.' But, taking another word from Doric (northeast Scots dialect): 'cadiz.' How many people would know that means dust? Not many.

    People can tell from context and the word itself that 'taba' is an insult (Tagalog: I use it liberally in one of my stories because the main character has a potty-mouth) even though no-one's heard the word. 'Baboy ka' is a bit more difficult, and may require some explanation. You need to choose the words you use carefully. They can't be too alien and there must always be some context so the reader can tell what you're trying to say even if they don't know the precise meaning.

    Depends on the strength of the regional dialect. In the northeast (Aberdeenshire, Buchan, Banff) where they primarily speak Doric they would, especially in the rural areas. Glasgow has its own bizarre renditions of words and slang. And, well, the Gaidhealtachd is the Gaidhealtachd.
     
  21. NikkiNoodle
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    NikkiNoodle Active Member

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    Many of the books I've read where there is a Scottish accent in the dialogue they've done just enough to let the reader know and keep the characters flavor, and saved the really strong accents for specific characters.

    I've got a pirate as one of my MC's and it's been really interesting picking and choosing what pirate-isms to use and how far to take his accent.
     

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