1. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Writing Accents and Dialects

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by cutecat22, Jun 20, 2014.

    Hi all. I wasn't sure where to post this (character dev or word mec's) so I've put it here under General Writing.

    Anyhoo, I'm wondering if any of you actually write dialects and accents for some characters in your books. For example (and this is probably a bad one) in my current WIP I have a Polish woman and a French man (not in the same scene) they are named and have a couple of pages of dialogue in English but they only appear once in the story.

    The story is fiction (not a parody) and as yet is written in American English but, when writing the dialogue for the French guy, I have been wondering if I should write it with an accent, kinda like this:

    "You are right, forgive me ..." (original line)

    "You are right, forgeeve me ..." (possible change?)

    I guess my main question is this, the story explains that the guy is French before he speaks so would you - as the reader - automatically read him in a French accent - or would you need the text written in a French accent?

    And where the hell do I find a French accent dictionary!!!??? :-D
     
  2. Chesster
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    Chesster Member

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    Personally, I would already have his accent going from the off. Especially if you have given the reader a heads up. Irvine Welsh wrote Trainspotting and a few others, drenched in Glasgow phonetics. But that is a whole novel from start to finish. It actually put me off, because I do a decent Scottish accent, and I am an Englishmen, who reads English, so attempting all these new words really slowed the flow for me.

    Its entirely up to you, but if it were me, I would type the dialogue in English, and leave the rest to the imagination.
     
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  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    My personal feeling is not to torture the eye of the reader overmuch with flexed or twisted spellings. Let the reader know the accent that belongs to the speaker at some point and then let the reader's mind fill it in.

    For example, the following is a quote from William Styron's Sophie's Choice (1979, Random House). Anyone who has seen the film knows of the iconic and singular facility with which Meryl Streep renders Sophie's accent and speech mannerisms in the film (it's haunting, I am transfixed) but in the original text, her speech mannerisms are represented as to errors of syntax, but flexing of spellings happens only when it's truly needed.

    ------------​

    "I was a real wreck," Sophie put in, her tone affectingly light-hearted. "I looked like an old witch--I mean, you know, the thing that chases birds away. The scarecrow? I didn't have hardly any hair and my legs ached. I had the scorbut--"

    "The scurvy," Nathan interjected, "she means she'd had the scurvy, which was cured as soon as the Russians took over--"

    "Le scorbut--scurvy I mean--I had. I lose my teeth! And typhus. And scarlet fever. And anemia. All of them. I was a real wreck."

    She uttered the litany of diseases with no self-pity yet with a certain childish earnestness, as if she were reciting the names of some pet animals. "But then I met Nathan and he taked care of me."
     
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  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that changing word choice and word order is just dandy. I think that phonetic reproduction of accent is counterproductive. It's hard to read, and it also assumes that your reader has the same accent that you have--it requires a standard, and English really has no standard.

    For example, if I were producing a phonetic accent for someone from Boston, I might depict them as saying:

    I'll pahk the cah.

    But if the person from Boston were producing a phonetic accent for me, they might depict me as saying:

    I'll parrrk the cawr.

    So I think it's safest to just avoid phonetic reproductions altogether.

    Edited to add: I say that in connection with depicting accents of speakers who do NOT have a strong history of writing their own phonetics. For example, I have accepted in the past that I simply don't comprehend the history of Scottish literature and the use of phonetics in it, and therefore I withhold any opinion there.

    But while your French speaker might acknowledge that they have an accent, I don't think that they think of themselves as saying "forgeeeve"--they think of themselves as saying "forgive". Therefore, that's how I'd write it.
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2014
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  5. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    All good points. So the general consensus would be to leave it in English as I've already told the reader that the character is French and so the reader will read it as English with a French twang.

    That's how I have it wrote at the moment. Not sure where I got the thought from about writing it with an accent.
     
  6. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I recall reading the Redwall series, the anthromorphic medieval animals, and there was a scottish mole? or something and every word was so hard to read due to the phonetics that I ended up skippping his dialogue as I couldn't make out half the words....

    I believe, a few words here and there pronounced funny could add a bit of color to your character (Like W's turning into Vs for Russians and Polish or the into ze for French). Of course, don't go overboard and you have to be very consistant burt it be very charming.

    If you read the Lackadaisy cats comic book, found online, you'll see Viktor, the Russian, and his speech bubbles are properly in English except for a few odd words that they are heavily accented and even a few odd words missing that would norally be in regular discoursedue to language difficulties.

    In moderation, I belive it's ane xcellent idea if well done and remains consistent.
     
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  7. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I think what I might do, when I finalise the piece, is write a second section exactly the same but with the suggestions you make and let my test readers tell me which one they prefer. Good idea??
     
  8. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, that works. Beta readers would be able to say what works better.
     
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  9. sunsplash
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    sunsplash Bona fide beach bum

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    I agree with the others to leave it unaccented. I could see this technique working for a character whose English is very poor or for an English-speaking character struggling to communicate in a foreign language, like reading from a travel dictionary, but for a foreign character fluent in English (which seems the case of your Frenchman), I do the accent in my head automatically.
     
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  10. Morristreet
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    Morristreet Member

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    In a couple of my works I have written the characters with accents in their initial conversation, then gradually slide it towards normal English as they story continues. This way, my readers have said they like the transition as it suits the character and keeps them thinking this person has a strong accent, but the wording is only really written oddly in the initial stages or steps of the character.

    Example, one character has a strong Scottish accent, so his initial spoken line was written as ...
    “Aye lass. That's because I dinna hae someone as fine as ye in me life.”

    As the work progressed, I slowly adjusted the lingo until it was pretty much plain English, but in the beginning, I used an online Scottish translator to put the normal English lines into very strong Scottish, almost Gaelic.

    In another work, the primary female character initially has no means to speak English due to a mental barrier, but as she regains speech, she also has a very strong accent, so her first spoken words in English were ... “Do ye onterstant Anglis?”

    As her speech progressed, the accent softened, until it was just normal English with a few dinnas, and ken's tossed in to keep it slightly abnormal. I think if you toss in some French words, or keep writing with a slight French accent, the reader can figure it out, and for me as a writer, it also helps me to keep visualizing the character as I write, giving them a different accent. I think it keeps it fresh, and different than the average written word.
     
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  11. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't say I'm a real fan of phonetic dialog/narrative, though I have seen it work exceptionally well in one instance--Cloud Atlas. That's because as the novel progressed, Mitchell forced the evolution of the language so well that it felt completely natural. But that kind of thing is extremely difficult to pull off. In most cases, I'd argue that it's not worth the trouble of forcing the reader to slow down and figure out what's being said. If the goal of writing is to communicate, anything that impedes that communication should be very carefully considered and thoroughly vetted. Their Eyes Were Watching God was a fantastic novel, but it was such a pain to slog through it. It would have been so much better if I could've spent less time trying to figure out what they were saying and more time mulling over the social ramifications of it all.

    I think this is a case where tell trumps show--tell me he speaks with a French accent and leave it at that, if that's even necessary. I'm going to read it how I'm going to read it anyway. Just don't slow me down for unimportant reasons.

    IMO, of course.
     
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  12. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    I am personally not keen at all on the idea of writing in accents. It looks weird.

    Check out Irving Welsh for dialects and a book called The Chinese English Dictionary For Lovers for an example of how a non native speaker might communicate.
     
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  13. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I wouldn't show accent, but I'd show the level of their language skills with the grammatical mistakes they make, the word choices etc. Although, I do think accent can be shown, but I'd do it sparingly. If you listen to Francophones talk in English, you can spot the common mistakes they make (could be problems with tense, dropping 'h's, forgetting to pronounce the plural 's' etc.), and this way try to give a certain flavor to their dialogue.

    I have a few Francophone characters in my and @T.Trian's WIP, but I don't show their accent at all. There're some vocabulary deviations and a mention from someone else's POV that something about their accent is off. We also have one Swedish character, and the grammar/word choice mistakes she makes show that she's a foreigner. Her accent is not very noticeable, as based on what I've heard, Swedes tend to pronounce English quite well.
     
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  14. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    My mantra has always been use accents/dialect in writing like spices in food. Give readers a taste, don't overpower them. And phonetic spelling - nothing takes a reader out of a story quicker than trying to sound out words.
     
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  15. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I disagree with this, but I guess it comes down to at least two things: how it's done and, of course, the reader. I was recently re-reading the comic V for Vendetta and thought the British accents were awesomely done to the point I actually wanted to read them out loud. I don't mind them in novels either unless it's taken too far (as in every character talks like that).
     
  16. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I'm now in two minds. I don't want him to sound too much like the English person trying to speak French in the sitcom 'Allo, Allo' so if I do put the accent in, I will need to do it sparingly, as suggested. However, I like @KaTrian 's idea of grammatical errors in my character's dialogue. With that in mind, there is a part where he says, "It seems you have been trying to, how do you say, pull the wool over my eyes but no more."

    I think I'm going to have to take a long hard look at this whole section and maybe get some input from a French person!
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yep. Word choice, word order, grammatical errors, dandy. Phonetics, usually bad. In my opinion.
     
  18. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    The only point of describing something in your story is if it has some meaning. For me, writing down accents phonetically tells me nothing and is very hard to read.

    If my character has an accent because they are foreign, and that has some bearing on the story, I would mention that as description of that character. I would then just write how they speak in the grammar that they use.

    If after you have told your reader that Claudette, the mysterious yet somehow vulnerable new co-worker , talks hesitantly in the lilting diphthongs of her native sun drenched Provence in meetings; perhaps due to her noticeable accent and occasional misunderstanding of native English speakers, and they cant be bothered to give her a French accent in their heads, then maybe don't force them.

    "Can you pass me the loweport"
    "The what?" Stan replied, confusion drawn over his face.
    "The, the , the loweport. It is there, right there,I.." Claudette blushed a deep crimson. Her anxiety over her ability to function in this bull headed American company rising like a swelling balloon in her chest.

    "I think she means the Law Report." Amanda said icily. She chewed her pencil then laid it down deliberately on the table in front of her.

    "Is that what you are trying to say Claudette. You want the Law Report?"

    "Yes I, thank you." She said as Stan passed her the document; though was immediately aware that she had pronounced the phrase as "Sank you." Another beacon of her difference and questionable competence.

    -------------

    Something like that.
     
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  19. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think phonetic spelling is just like everything else: you can either do it well or you can do it badly (which includes overdoing it either by making it unintelligible or by using it too frequently). My personal preference is to use if very sparingly, but I definitely wouldn't say it's an absolute no-no since I've seen it done well.

    Adding grammatical errors, wrong word choices etc. is, imo, pretty much a necessity unless the character's grammar is impeccable and their vocabulary on par with natives of the foreign language they are speaking. How you portray that is your choice, but I think it ought to be there.

    I also highly recommend discussing this with a native French speaker or preferably several to catch some of the most common mistakes they make. That way you can slip in the "right" mistakes.
     
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