1. karldots92
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    karldots92 Active Member

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    Writing dialogue with accents

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by karldots92, Sep 16, 2016.

    There was another thread on here that prompted another question I had (I have a lot of those ATM). What do people think about writing dialogue to include the speakers accent or perhaps a speech impediment? For example I have a minor character in my fantasy WIP who is a serpent-like humanoid and so when speaking he tends to extend his "s" particularly at the end of words so I have written his dialogue to reflect this. Is that a good idea or is it a bit too cliché?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    My personal, individual answer is that it's not about cliché so much as it is about restraint. Pick your moments and try to gauge how far you can stretch reader engagement of this kind of thing. For example, were I to faithfully represent the way my hubby says "You see, I'm not very happy about this", it would be something like "Jew see, I no beddy hoppy on dis". That's a bit much to ask the English seeing eye to deal with, and especially for anything more than just that line. It would be better for me to portray his accent for the reader through narrative description and pull back on the tortured dialogue, with just enough to tie back to what I had described.

    That's my take. Mileage may vary.
     
  3. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with @Wreybies. In something I was writing recently a character received a nasty punch to the face resulting a broken nose. Up until the next break in time, which only amounted to a couple of short scenes, I had him speaking a certain way, such as when the other character told him to stop sulking he responded with, "Stop sulking!? My dose has been broken! It'll devver look the same again. Dow keep driving and shut up."

    My point is I think this is best done for comic effect, for example giving a baddie a lisp or the inability to pwonounce his Rs.
    Where in heavens is he from??

    *Apologies if this is a speech impediment.
     
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  4. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the interesting thing about people who want to write in accents is that they rarely want to write their own accent phonetically. I mean, if we're going to write accents, we should write all accents, right? But we generally don't.
     
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  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    We're both Puerto Rican, but I was raised in the U.S. William was born and raised here where the language is Spanish.
     
  6. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ha! When you say it with a Spanish accent it sounds perfect, but I was saying it with a Northern English accent and it sounded very odd.
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm firmly opposed to writing accents. Sometimes people lump "accents" in with things like word choice; I'm fine with reproducing word choice.

    I was going to produce an example of a sentence with both accent and word choice, and then with just word choice, but my effort at doing the accent made me so uncomfortable that I stopped. In most cases, reproducing accents reflects the idea that one's own accent is "right", and therefore reproducing the accent feels, to me, like an exercise in mockery.

    So the dialogue with just word and phrasing choice retained is:

    "I might could carry you to the store."

    I understand that Scottish dialect is an exception to the mockery rule. My understanding is that Scottish writers embrace the alternative presentation of the dialect, and that the line between what's a different pronunciation and what's a different word is blurrier.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would present this as "You see, I no very happy on this." or "You see, I'm not very happy on this." Would I be wrong to do so? I'm uncertain whether "no" is really "no", but "on this" seems like a clearly different word choice from "about this".
     
  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, his grasp of English prepositions is rough because there isn't a one-to-one parallel between the two languages, and not and no in Spanish are both no, so it's hard for him to know when to use not. The bolded one you gave above would also be my choice. ;)
     
  10. Crybaby
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    Crybaby Contributing Member

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    Personally, I prefer it in the narrative. I have read books where the author has tried and failed with the accent. I find it irritating to read especially if they are in a major part of the story. I want to get to the details not sit there trying to work out what they're saying. I would make allowances for a cameo, but nothing more.
     
  11. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    That's interesting. I don't really have any kind of broader perspective or context, but I do know that I enjoy writing my own accent out phonetically. Mostly because I find my native accent - and word choice, like Chicken pointed out - kind of hilarious, and it's fun to study. But I can't see me doing it for another accent both because I don't think I could do it accurately, which to me is when it definitely comes across as making fun ("if they can't replicate our accent, they must not be one of us, so they're probably doing this for laughs at our expense" vs "hahah, yeah, we do sound like that, don't we?").

    eta: I just remembered - when I was a kid I read some book that was supposed to be set in the South, and the only indication of accent in dialog was that rather than saying "I", every character said "Ah", eg "Ah do declare" (to be very cliche). Not that some of us don't pronounce it that way, but it was the most surface level southernism you could possibly come up with and came off as completely disingenuous. Definitely an example of "they're not one of us". It also weirded me out that they always capitalized it, as if it were still a proper noun.

    Anyway, in writing I'll occasionally do things like dropping Gs and using phrases like "I been looking out for you" or "you coulda tried harder" - smallish things that indicate accent without (hopefully) being too overpowering. Moderation is the thing. My observation is that accents can be a bit all over the place - they don't tend to have rules that will say "this person always drops their Gs and turns their 'could have's into 'coulda's"; those things can be part of their speech without always coming through. I try to emphasize accents only when they're strongest. I know I get a lot more southern when I'm tired. Or being sarcastic.

    I have this one short that was kind of an experiment - it involved a character with a base accent similar to mine (drawly, lazy, words run together), who was also drunk and had been punched in the teeth. I tried to pretty well do all of his dialog phonetically. I had the idea that if the dialog wasn't entirely coherent, it was because he wasn't speaking very coherently, but I didn't really get any feedback on whether I pulled it off or it was just annoying. Either way, I wouldn't do it again, at least not for an extended period. Maybe a scene. Y'know Boomhauer from King of the Hill? That joke really only works in an audio format, is my feeling.
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2016
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  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    The first of those seems totally fine--I wouldn't call it accent at all, but word choice.

    But I'm posting because of "coulda". That's one of those (nonstandard) words that I can't decide whether to regard as a word choice or not. I write "kinda" fairly often in forum posts and blog posts, and I don't mean "kind of"--I mean "kinda". So I can't decide.
     
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  13. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I definitely think things like 'kinda' and 'coulda' are further down the dialect-writing rabbit hole than things like "We got to go" instead of "We've got to go". But it does seem a bit arbitrary. Not sure why omitting a word seems 'better' somehow than essentially using a contraction.

    Huh. Chrome actually recognizes 'kinda' as a word. And 'sorta', apparently. Oh, and 'gotta'. Not, 'coulda', though. Ah well - coulda, shoulda, woulda, eh chrome?
     
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  14. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I often use 'gonna', but then chicken out becuase I can't trust myself to be consistent and also think it sounds a bit American (even though it's very common in England)
     
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  15. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    I'm also in the 'don't write out accents' camp generally. I personally find it hilarious to see how my accent gets represented by others, but appreciate that it can be outright discrimination, as others have explained - 'The way people like me pronounce things is correct; the rest of you only exist for comic relief.' There are a lot of grey areas though:
    • I'd consider anything in a first-person narrative, where it's clear that the representation of dialogue is the character's rather than the writer's.
    • I'd happily write out something like Jud's broken-nose character - it's a temporary affliction and could happen to anyone, so not discriminatory.
    • Not so sure about speech impediments/other disabilities. Would probably only do it in very select cases.
    • What about characters who are learning English and actually mispronouncing words? What about native English speakers who mispronounce words (e.g. library vs liberry)? Where do you draw the line between accent and mispronunciation?
    • If it ends up being the intent behind the words that matters, then a character could use an entirely wrong word while being perfectly intelligible -- so should you write the word they meant or the one they said? (Mostly rhetoric here.)
    I think it's case-by-case to me, but I'd probably think 'Is this speech pattern confined to an individual, or is there a group of people (linked by a common factor) who would speak like this?' - if the former, go for it; if the latter, not so much. If I did choose to write out an accent, and the character was around for more than a couple of lines, I'd probably just do it a few times to establish the pattern, then subsequently rely on the reader's imagination.

    I suppose the other problem with writing out accents is that the reader interprets them through their own accent and the meaning gets lost - as with Jud's Northern English accent interpreting Wrey's representation of his husband's Puerto Rican. If you're not around to explain it, you'd seem to be limiting your audience... On this note, I believe that the Swedish chef from the Muppets gets referred to as Danish or Norwegian in other-language versions (?). I was always curious as to how Fleur Delacour's accent got rendered in the French translation of the Harry Potter books too (+/- how that was received).

    This raises interesting questions about what forms one's reference for 'standard/normal/correct' pronunciation/accent. I suppose if one had a minority accent in a diverse area, one could come to accept something else as the 'standard'? Or by 'phonetically', do you mean the actual linguistic standard phonetic transcription (I know of it, but that's all)?

    ETA: I doubt the OP is at risk of offending any serpent-like humanoids (possibly some lawyers), so I don't see any problem representing this. I would have some restraint on the trailing sibilance though... maybe 3 S's, like thisss... I have seen it before, but it's probably trope vs cliche; if it works, it works.
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2016
  16. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    I too had that problem with an alien race that is a major part of my 2 part series. Though I chose to not give them the long s or essentially a lisp. But you can just follow up every now and then when one of them speaks by addressing it in the tag of the dialogue as a long s, or a along enunciation on the s. Alternatively you could simply add more s's to the main dialogue, but it looks kinda funny to me, so I ditched the idea.

    Though I have a character with a defined accent based on where they are from, but I really down play it so as not to draw away from the character and their role.
     
  17. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I actually kind of have a minority accent - and I do only mean kind of, but my mom was raised all over the country and my dad is a yankee, so despite living my whole life in the south, I don't entirely sound like most people around here. It's more pronounced with my mom, who all her life has been told she sounds like a yank even though she was born in the same town I grew up in. Meanwhile my dad's lived down here long enough that if he goes back up north his folks say "who are you?" when he talks. It's probably partially why I have such interest in the subject, hahah.

    As far as I know, the 'general' American accent is sort of a combination of the northern and midwestern accents. Well-enunciated, at a reasonable tempo, without particular stress. To me that's the baseline. Like Received Pronunciation, it's what's considered 'professional' and it's what you tend to hear from newscasters and the like - in my limited experience, even on local news. Living in the South that's not what most people actually talk like, but it's how I was taught to speak, by someone who more or less speaks it (my mom). That's my 'mental' voice and it's what I read in, but being exposed on the reg to people who don't talk like that, I still learned speech patterns that - while the norm for my area - aren't what I was taught was correct.

    Another part of why I find my own accent/dialect so interesting is that while my 'native' accent might get me thought of as a dumb hick elsewhere, talking more 'properly' might get me looks like "oh, you think you're so smart, don't you" so I go back and forth depending on the situation. I think that counts as a type of code-switching, though that's usually used for actual languages, not dialects. I think. Not sure. Code-switching is very interesting, though.

    I read "You see, you have to take a left turn at the stop sign, and our house will be across from the white picket fence" in General American. But if I were going to say it in my native accent and transcribe that, it'd be more like "Y'see y'hafta take a lef'turn at th' stop sign, an' our house'll be 'cross 'm th' white picket fence". It's a more rushed, abbreviated, run-together sort of thing than General American (while still managing to at times drawl on; we don't necessarily want to say the words faster, we just want to mash them together). I probably wouldn't actually put that in a novel since I know it's typically frowned upon, but it's fun to mess around with. It'd be interesting for me to see how someone else might spell General American phonetically!
     
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  18. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have you ever taken that "what American accent do you have?" quiz? There are a lot of words in there that I don't think would be written differently by most Americans, but that apparently do reflect regional accents.

    Are cot and caught pronounced the same or differently?
    Don and dawn? Stock and stalk? Collar and caller? Does "on" rhyme with "don" or with "dawn" or with both? Does bag rhyme with vague?

    All those little indicators show different American accents, but it'd be pretty absurd for someone to start spelling the words differently based on where different characters come from. We just let our readers run with it. I think that's a good approach to accents in general.
     
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  19. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    Now I'm going to find this quiz on Google.

    I grew up in Phoenix and I've always held the belief that here in the South West (non-native English speakers aside), we have the least distinguishable American accent. There aren't a whole lot of regional irregularities on this side of the country like there are in the South or North East.
     
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  20. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    Now I've taken three of those stupid quizzes (thanks @BayView :mad:). The first one wouldn't load my answers. The second one cheated by asking about regional fast-food restaurants. And the third one placed me around the Pennsylvania area. :confused:

    "You`re not Northern, Southern, or Western, you`re just plain -American-. Your national identity is more important than your local identity, because you don`t really have a local identity. You might be from the region in that map, which is defined by this kind of accent, but you could easily not be. Or maybe you just moved around a lot growing up."

    I am not from the region in the map it showed; I do have a local identity, and I did not move around a lot.

    Basically, what I'm trying to say is, I just wasted fifteen minutes of my life. :)

    ETA: And now I realize I've thoroughly derailed this otherwise nice thread with blabber. I think it's time for me to go to bed.
     
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  21. Crybaby
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    Crybaby Contributing Member

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    Same here. Tempted but always chicken out ;)
     
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  22. Francis de Aguilar
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    Francis de Aguilar Active Member

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    This is a good point. I do it for the odd word. For example, I have an MC whose name is Maisie, but a close friend of hers is from Poland and pronounces it Macy. So I introduced this the first time and then just used Macy for when her friend spoke her name. I used other devices to get her accent and style of speech across.
    For example at one point Kat (The polish friend) says;

    “I love you Macy. You my number one very best friend, I never told this before.”

    Having just revealed a secret.
     
  23. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I cringe when authors present accents phonetically. Even when done with the best intent it reeks of, "Lol, forreners don't English properly!"

    English isn't a phonetic language. I say, "Inglish isn't a fonetic langwidge" but I don't write it like that, so why would I write other accents phonetically?

    I agree with @ChickenFreak that word choice is the way to go. In my WIP, one main character is Scottish. He says 'aye' instead of 'yes'. Another Scottish character says 'ye' instead of 'you', because that's a different word rather than a different pronunciation. Apart from that, their dialogue is spelled the same as the English characters' dialogue. The reader knows they're Scottish, and if they can't imagine a Scottish accent... well, that's a shame for them.
     
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  24. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Irvine Welsh wants a word in your ear :D
     
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  25. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I wouldn't be able to understand him. Stupid forreners.
     
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