1. Dem
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    Dem New Member

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    Vernacular of social classes.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Dem, Jan 18, 2013.

    Greetings, people of the forums!

    I recently got a kind denizen of the internet to look through my work, give me his opinion and point out what he thinks is in need of improvement. One of those things was the "voices" of certain characters. Specifically, their vernacular. This is what he said:

    "There are certain words in the English vernacular that speak of a character's upbringing. A blue- or white-collar will say "sure," a black-tie will say "certain." A blue-collar will say "talked," a white-collar or black-tie will say "spoke." Little differences in what's said speaks volumes about where a person it from, how they were brought up, even what their opinion is on matters at hand. You have to be very careful with dialogue when you have stratified castes in a story, lest you accidentally cross those caste lines."

    My question is: do you have any suggestion as to how I might easily research this?

    I know the obvious answer is to pick up a book with such characters, or watch a TV-series, or some-such. However, I'm a lazy person, so, if there are any short-cuts, I would like to be aware of them. If there aren't, do you have any specific material you could recommend?

    P. S.
    - The characters in question are about as upper-class as it gets.
     
  2. Cerebral
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    Cerebral Active Member

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    I'm no expert, but I don't think there really are any short cuts. You learn how people and animals behave by observation alone. Without that, I don't think you can portray someone/something convincingly. If you're doing something that requires research, I would suggest you not be lazy, as hard as that is. But if you insist, you can google "how do upper class people speak" or something along those lines and see what you get...

    Good luck.
     
  3. blenderpie
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    blenderpie Member

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    It's not just class, but region that's important, as well as code switching. I've met plenty of upper class people who are still yinzers :p

    I would never speak to a class of students in the same way that I would to my mother, or my boyfriend. And, it's highly personal. So, no, there's not a real short cut (that I know of).
     
  4. Futurist
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    Futurist Member

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    Observation. Listen to the people around you, those you meet in your daily routine. Find out something about their backgrounds. Well-educated people don't speak the same way as blue collars, do they? You can see it in the way they write as well. Do they capitalize proper names and the singular first person pronoun, for example? Get into conversations with people you meet in the supermarket, in elevators, on the bus or train. Notice how they are dressed; this is sometimes a clue to their social level. Using good grammar is another indicator, maybe not of class, but certainly of education. And remember, the upper classes have access to better educational institutions because they can afford them.
    Being British, I can often tell a person's class by his or her accent.
     
  5. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can go on youtube and find episodes of the British show "Made in Chelsea". Most kids there had upper class education and will be sounding "posh". I don't guarantee the quality of the show though because I only saw adverts.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there are no 'shortcuts'... and if you're that lazy, you might as well give up wanting to be a writer and set your sights on a career in fast food dispensing...

    as noted above, it's not just a matter of social class... location, national/ethnic background, age, occupation, and personality are only a few of the variables that will affect how your various characters speak...
     
  7. Dem
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    Dem New Member

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    Thank you, all of you! You've all been a great help!

    ...Except for you, mammamaia. Please think before you post.

    "there are no 'shortcuts'... and if you're that lazy, you might as well give up wanting to be a writer and set your sights on a career in fast food dispensing..."

    First of all, I said I was lazy as a jab against myself, in jest. I was merely asking if anyone had an idea of how to quickly get an idea of how different social-classes speak (not living in an English-speaking country myself, it's rather hard to pick up in everyday life). Also, writing is my hobby, not my job. Maybe your only options are writing or the fast-food business, but I certainly hope that's not the case, since you obviously fail basic grammar, even when giving writing advice.

    as noted above, it's not just a matter of social class... location, national/ethnic background, age, occupation, and personality are only a few of the variables that will affect how your various characters speak...

    Yes, I am aware of this. I asked about none of those things. The reader literally said that it was all about my choice of words, and that their actions and motivations were spot-on. If you can't offer helpful advice, please don't waste anyone's time by posting.
     
  8. Teodor Pravický
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    Teodor Pravický Senior Member

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    Yeah, do that even more snobby and your character will be awesome.
     
  9. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    Nasty!
     
    1 person likes this.
  10. Hambone
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    Hambone Member

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    Don't fall under the assumption that blue-collar people are dumb, or less intelligent than "Highly educated" people. Yes they may speak differently, the blue collar world is pretty lax on speaking eloquently and swearing. But I know many people from both sides of the coin, and many of the blue-collars are much more intelligent than the people that have the paper showing how smart they may be.

    Sorry if this strays from your original post a little. Blue-collar may be blue-collar, but it doesn't always have to do with intelligence as some of the posts above hint toward.

    By the way, I didn't see any laziness in your original post, Dem. I thought it was a good question, there is nothing wrong with finding an easier way around a problem. Although sometimes its best just to go right through the middle of it.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The concept of "vernacular of a social class" is poorly expressed. Whether this was the helpful critic's true intent, or something was lost in translation, I won't attempt to guess.

    Social class is a dated concept, or it certainly should be. There are undoubtedly people who "put on airs", and manage the uncomfortable act of viewing others by sighting along a prominent, and carefully resculpted, nose. The strain on the upper vertebrae may explain the asperity expressed by such people.

    I won't bother to comment on the quote from the so-called critic, except to say it reeks of bigotry. But bigotry is more than laziness.

    So if you choose to research vernacular, learn the language of the bigot. It is a character to know, and to be able to write.

    But please don't cast him or her as the hero of the piece.
     
  12. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    In the UK the class system is very strong. I completely disagree with this and having grown up in a socialist country, even though I am highly educated, I have a lot more friends from non- upper classes simply because they are as someone pointed out, often more intelligent and certainly more interesting people, having struggled with life somewhat. Most upper class people, especially if they inherited lots of money, tend to be vacuous and obsessed with wealth, status and appearances. There are exceptions, of course, and these people do retain their posh accent but the speak more like "real people" in terms of content.
     
  13. Cerebral
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    Cerebral Active Member

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    It really should be. But I was reading something recently that makes a pretty convincing case that, even in the U.S., distinct social classes exist. Apparently, though, the rich are just less open about their superiority complex. It makes sense, considering the Marxist-like hatred of the wealthy among most of us normal folk. :\
    With respect, I think one of us (hopefully it's you, and not me!) misunderstood something. I don't think the OP was asking about the way a snobby person speaks. I think it was more of a question regarding different subcultures within society. For example, if any of you have ever seen "Fresh Prince of Bel air," you should have notice the difference between the way Will Smith spoke and the way the rest of the family spoke. Will Smith would be "blue collar" and his uncle's family was "white collar," but the "white collar" family members weren't snobs; they just had their own vernacular.
     
  14. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Most upper class people, especially if they inherited lots of money, tend to be vacuous and obsessed with wealth, status and appearances.

    This comment is just so incredibly offensive as well as wrong.

    Most upper class people don't give a toss about appearances since they have no thoughts of impressing anyone and they are comfortable in their own skin and with their family's status. They have usually had a really good education and gone on to university. They are often absolute misers with crumbling houses full of completely out-of-date gadgets. My grandmother had the same old gas oven for 40 years and it went to a museum when she died and the house was refitted. Upper class people also tend to have a good social conscience and do loads of work--for free--as magistrates and on charities. They are in constant daily contact in the running of their interests and estates with people from all walks of life. They also often care passionately and are very knowledgable about the countryside and conservation of heritage--for the benefit of everyone.

    I could say more but I guess you get my drift. We mentioned stereotypes on another thread, didn't we? There is a lot of corroding class hatred around these days, but even back in the 1980s I used to try and make my accent less upper class because of the abuse it sometimes lead to. I wasn't particularly successful.

    I am really sick of those who have had very little contact with privately educated people from a privileged background harping on about how such people are clueless or stupid. You are relying on TV stereotypes of the lesser public school scions who knock around Chelsea. Lay off. Unless you have some genuine day to day contact with upper class people you will never correctly portray how they speak. Downton Abbey is a prime example of invented upper class speech. It's not particularly accurate, like most other stuff I've read written by those who know nothing about what they are trying to show.
     
  15. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    Unfortunately I do think that I observation is key. A coffee shop in an upper-class part of town might be a good place for you to spend some time, so you can see and hear such people. Also as I think has been mentioned, don't try to sick too rigidly to the advice your Internet-friend have you.

    I am very much middle class but through university and my job I've met and been friends with people from all over the social classes. My observation is that it's not just unfair to generalise, it is unrealisic and puts you a risk of creating dull characters. Contrary to what has been suggested, the really posh people at my university were often fun and interesting, and despite undoubtably knowing how to speak properly they still take their cues from popular culture so they're as likely as anyone to say things like 'sure'. Certainly I've met some vacuous snobs, but I've also met working class folk with an equally tedious chip on their shoulder - you get all sorts in all walks of life, basically!

    Best of luck :D
     
  16. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @madhoca: there is no class hatred, I speak from experience. I assume you misinterpreted my statement that I grew up in a socialist country, with my familiarity with upper class in the UK. My country still has royal family in exile, and they happen to live in London. Being upper class is not only a privilege of English aristocracy.

    I was only referring to people and families I know, or knew, kids my own age whose parents owned/inherited half the city centre that kind of thing. People I sometimes work with, and even a couple of people from my own family. I had absolutely no intention to offend your grandmother and I regret you took it that way.

    As I said, there are exceptions, however, I think you also need to allow for other people to have different experience of the same thing from you. Personally I am shocked that you have such a rosy view of "upper classes" in the UK. But I won't belittle you for it.

    Perhaps we were referring to different wealth brackets. None of the people I was thinking of have crumbling houses. Families I know, who still live in their 700 year old home, maintain it very well. You say upper classes are philanthropic and have charities. Some I know are chairing all kinds of committees and are paid by the government huge amounts of money and yet they have no expertise whatsoever in the subject. They are more than happy with their cushy jobs. Not all of them are philanthropic by any means.

    But I don't like to be shot down as if I don't know what I am talking about, or even your claim that I somehow perpetuate some kind of class hatred. I would like you to correct that because I did no such thing and to accuse me of some kind of hate speech is preposterous and offensive.

    As for privately educated, that would describe most of my friends and family. However, the OP sounds like he can't just pop in for a cup of tea or to hang out around some posh people just like that. I only mentioned the television show because it actually features some current posh Chelsea brats, albeit not very rosy representation but they are, in my opinion, not too far from a few kids I knew.

    I am really offended with the way you attacked me madhoca. I could say that you demonstrated beautifully just how bigoted, angry and prejudiced some people can be. Enough said.
     
  17. Dante Dases
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    Dante Dases Contributing Member Contributor

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    Rein it in. Maia made a very legitimate point that this isn't the sort of hobby you can undertake if you're not prepared to put in the hard graft. There aren't shortcuts to take if you're serious about improving yourself as a writer.

    And the rein it in statement applies to all of you. We'll have a less of the class warfare.
     
  18. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @ Dante Dases: Maia was very rude and she should apologise for offending the OP in such a presumptuous way. There are more polite and constructive ways to communicate what she had to say.
    I am very surprised that as a mod, you are telling the OP off instead of maia.
     
  19. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I have a more refined northumbrian accent and I've never had any 'abuse'. In fact, most people have found my accent endearing, others just find it effeminate. I'm not 'upper class' in the way you clearly are though, I'm very much middle class.

    I would think P.G. Wodehouse shoulders more of the blame for the public perception of privileged people, but I don't watch TV. I've never watched a single episode of Downton Abbey or Made in Chelsea (I assumed that Made in Chelsea was another one of those waste-of-time Jersey Shore things).
     
  20. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @ Lemex: I also don't watch Downtown Abbey or Made in Chelsea. I only mentioned it because I saw in the adverts that it features some kids that actually live in Chelsea today. I only mentioned it so the OP can hear their language. Nothing else.
     
  21. Teodor Pravický
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    Teodor Pravický Senior Member

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    Well, I don't think you have to be so polite about this stuff if you actually get a butler. Having a wealthy characters in the story is just the way to do things and who knows, putted into right perspective, it could be a motivation for all of as losers to make some money.

    The last thing to remember is to be polite about stuff if you want to make book interesting. It can be always included like I heard some best businessman are raising their kids in poor conditions, so they learn better about being independent or something.

    I read this book about crisis in 1930s in USA, where rich people turned into homeless, because there were just few banks covering checks. So they eat potato cakes, trash or didn't eat at all. The man lost all dignity, because didn't have a job and didn't want to do farming and stuff. Its like some things are impossible to do, because they have no longer any social value, especially if the character is building his self-esteem on that.

    On the other side lets face it, if you don't have any money, you can just sit home and talk to your friends or family. Poor people use to overestimate their friendships, connections with other people, because they just need them to make it. Every way of living have some real upsides and downsides. The Communists will take all of your money and tell you what to do, capitalists will not help you anyway, but you are free to make a fortune if you're good in math and law. Its only lame stuff you have to take care of. But thats why nerds are best at it.
     
  22. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    That post wasn't talking about those shows in the same vain you are, it was actually just self criticism. I was just saying I think Wodehouse is more to blame than Downton Abby over the perception of privileged people, and then pointing out I'm writing somewhat from ignorance.

    I don't know what firsthand experience you've had with privileged people but personally I've found it's more the middle class who are likely to be rude and money obsessed, rather than the social elite. Middle class people just have much more of that pressure: they want to prove themselves to the more privileged, and the threat of losing all their money and social status has kept some people I know awake all night.

    I once went clay-pigeon shooting at nearby range, and not far from where we were shooting, the next trench along actually, there were some people of title. We got talking to them (I don't know how, I think someone had made fun of the coffee) and the strongest impression I had about them is that they just wanted to talk to us, and be talked to as equals. There wasn't any pretense of education - a lot of my friends have degrees, we talked more about beer.
     
  23. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    Your post has reminded me of an observation P.G. Wodehouse made of the social classes that rings more true to me and my experiences than most. I can't remember which Jeeves book it was but they were at a village play and Bertie noted that the upper and working classes had more in common with each other than the middle class with either of them. Both groups were drinking to excess and being raucous, while the middle class folk were keeping their arms folded and tutting at the behaviour.

    Of course we aren't all uptight in the middle, but I quite liked that passage.
     
  24. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    It's funny you post this because I've just made a post saying the same thing. I do love Wodehouse's sense of humor though. :D Thanks for sharing. I do think there is truth to it.
     
  25. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Lemex: You are right, and I i know what kind of people you mean, I know two old ladies that are just like that :) All we can do is collate evidence from what we see and form an impression. I agree withyou about the desperate social climber types, it's an old debate about old money versus new money.
     

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