How to Write British Speaking Characters

Discussion in 'Character Development' started by pensmightierthanthesword, Feb 4, 2017.

  1. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    narrated by the wonderful Arthur Lowe, only episode to make me cry, aside from Mr Bump.
     
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  2. S A Lee

    S A Lee Contributor Contributor

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    I moved across Europe as a child, but my mother was born on the south coast and my father is from Northern Ireland.

    Mum always calls seedless jam jelly. Mostly because the bag used to strain it is called a jelly bag and thanks to pectin it has a jelly consistency.
     
  3. Poziga

    Poziga Contributor Contributor

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    Awesome thread, perfect for me as well.

    I'm writing a novel about student life in England, nothing fancy, but it's fun. I lived in Nottingham for one semester (not applying for the whole year was one of the biggest blunders I've made), so I got a touch of British English, but as @terobi pointed out, the English I heard was very much normal (or maybe they spoke more formally so that I could understand them:p). I write dialogues in normal English, I don't exaggerate with anything. Occasionally I throw in gutted, mate, bloke, pint, quid (this one is quite important, the majority uses quid, not pound, right?)... and some others, otherwise I stick mostly to English I heard in movies and read in books (English and American). Of course I'm attentive on differences such as truck/lorry, boot/trunk...

    When I was in Nottingham I joined the university writing society and some of the members already agreed to be my beta readers and be attentive on accents and idiomatic uses of language.

    But I am in doubt about two characters that are from Cambridge. I hade a roommate form Cambridge and he was harder to understand. Is speech in Cambridge also more peculiar?

    As for the student life, I got a sense of it in Slovenia, Germany and England and when you look at it, we're all students. Doesn't differ that much. Except the concept of societies in England. I was blown away by that, that's so fucking awesome! We don't have those in Slovenia, not enough universities. :oops:
     
  4. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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  5. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @big soft moose - but in the UK we call those cranberry sauce, no?

    @ChickenFreak - seems like you Americans are a little confused :rofl:

    I think I've accidentally hijacked the thread with jam/jelly... :ohno:
     
  6. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Assuming he was actually from cambridge and not from an incoming family, the fens (that is cambridgeshire, norfolk, the top half of suffolk and the bottom half of lincolnshire) are another "ohhh arrr we speak like the wurzels we do" area , plus historically there was a strong aenglish germanic influence (hence east anglia) , and more latterly a strong dutch influence from the engineers who did the drainage and canalisation in the 19th century
     
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  7. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Cranberry sauce is a goey liquid, cranberry jelly is a solid jelly you can cut with a knife
     
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  8. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    ooh ooh ooh - can anyone non-British guess what black pudding is? :D
     
  9. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    or white pudding ...
     
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  10. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    upload_2017-2-5_20-41-59.jpeg

    @Poziga, why of course there are servants and such at Cambridge. Might you mean - more this kind of scene [above & below]? These boys will be educated first of all - probably at a Public School, where the termly fees indeed do equate to the annual wage of an agricultural sub-labourer. Chaps are grown, from birth, to manage the government, economy, banking, skiing, that kind of thing. Not just anybody can go to Cambridge. So don't you come here with your Slovene manners, matriculating how you manage an entire flock of Cambridge friends. It is completely unbelievable.
    View attachment 9203
     
  11. Adam Kalauz

    Adam Kalauz Member

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    THIS!

    I'm originaly from Belfast, and have a heavy Northern Irish ('Norn' Irn') Accent. We swallow vowels, and all sound working class, except maybe Liam Neeson, who is the best of us.

    Anyway, I live and work in Amsterdam now, and work with many non-english speakers. There's a little bit of it which is how you speak, but that's very hard to capture without resorting to phonic writing. But I found what changed the most over the last 12 years working was the colloquialisms, that I had to drop from my language. I did it a little when I moved from Ireland to Scotland, and then dropped more when I started working with London, and finally had to abandon everything when I was working pan-Europe.

    Many of my colleauges would often ask for "English for non-English speakers." That's devoid of colloquialism.

    Bobs your uncle started us off, butthe trick will be getting a selection fo nice phrases for that region which are really genuine, while not being so obscure that no one outside that region would recognise it.

    "Wee buns" means easy to someone from Northern Ireland, but that's a very very very very very small number of your readers.

    I'm sure it's the same in America, you wouldn't write a deep kansas accent the same way as a manhattan new yorker, right?
    Britain's not as big, but has had centuries and centuries longer to develop and schism it's lingustics.

    Even in Amsterdam, they laugh at other Dutch accents and sayings.

    P.S. great read in this thread!

    :)
     
  12. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    None of these chinless wonders are actually from Cambridge though - they'll be from the home counties, or the london set , though mummy and daddy may also have homes scattered across the country.

    If they actually grow up in Cambridge the sons of the rich and powerful go to oxford so that Pa isn't embarrassed to have drinks with the cheif constable after they get arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct or the theft of a policeman's helmet
     
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  13. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    Good points, well made - but rather too sweeping. 'The London Set' is interesting as a concept - suppose with my collection of experience/prejudice I'm thinking either Sloane Square or those huge swathes of North London where everybody's posh, around Hampstead Hill, Highgate. Takes your breath away it's so posh.

    [thinking]
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2017
  14. plothog

    plothog Contributor Contributor

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    Speaking as someone who grew up in Nottingham and now lives in Cambridge I don't find the accent in Cambridge particularly strong
    More people sound a bit posh than in Nottingham, though that's probably because more people who had posh private school education ended up here.

    Those from a more working class Cambridge background have speech that sounds like a mild Cockney/Estuary English to my East Midlands ear.
     
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  15. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    'Estuary' is the disease, or virus. Wurzel - as @Moose calls it follows the coast all the way from East to Land's End to the Severn.

    [I notice fathers speak the old ways, sons the new Estuary]
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2017
  16. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Adam Kalauz - I've started forgetting my colloquialisms :bigoops: it's not really me deliberately "dropping" them so much as I simply don't hear them anymore, so I also stopped using them. And then now and then I'd half-remember one and scratch my head trying to think of the rest! (I live in Prague and also work with non-native-English speakers. Married to one, in fact.)

    @plothog - Nottingham never struck me as posh though. I mean, when I was there (studied there for 4 years), all anyone ever talked about were the gun crimes and the nightlife. For one year I lived on Kimbolton Avenue, which we later found out was supposed to be one of the roughest streets you could be on in Lenton. We were right round the corner before it became officially Radford :whistle: Anyway I'm from Peterborough, so the same region as Cambridge (East Anglia) so I never had trouble with the "accent" - I didn't hear one lol. I never noticed a particularly thick accent in Notts either though? I was never with the local crowd much but I had no problem understanding anything there.

    Now what I do have problems with is Scottish accents. I once had to ask the student loans company person on Skype to repeat himself 4 times... and still didn't catch what he said. I felt so bad :bigfrown::bigoops: I could just hear the suppressed sigh and see the shake of his head in the pause he would make. He was polite, but I imagine it must be pretty frustrating to have his job. Imagine the sheer number of English folks who'd ring up and ask him to repeat himself a gazillion times.
     
  17. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    Nottinghamshire accent is probably the most delicious - for making love - all that DH, remember.
     
  18. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    for any Americans who don't know what wurzel is

    I agree about estuary - horrible horrible debasement of the queens fine language, nearly as bad as Scouse
     
  19. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    Yes, I know what you're saying specifically. But I can state more as fact than opinion the language link between the Norfolk voice, round to rural Sussex, working class Souffampen, Plimiff, Kernow then up to Worcester.

    Shouldn't debase Scouse though, that's not right. And Estuary speaking is fine in itself, swallows up colour and variation, no doubt. Ricky Gervais is estuary?
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2017
  20. plothog

    plothog Contributor Contributor

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    @Mckk lol nope I certainly wasn't claiming that Nottingham is posh.

    There is a Nottinghamshire accent, which is more pronounced outside of the city than in it.
    I couldn't say if it's strong. I never thought of it as being, though I couldn't even really detect it until I moved away. There seems to be a fairly similar accent across the East Midlands to me.

    If Wurzel territory extends into South Lincolnshire - it doesn't get as far as Grantham. My wife and her family are from that town and they sound East Midlandsy to me.
     
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  21. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    No, Vikings landed somewhere in The Wash.
     
  22. Poziga

    Poziga Contributor Contributor

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    @matwoolf I wrote that he was my roommate in Nottingham, not in Cambridge, so that would mean he's from Cambridge but studies in Notts. :D
    So no, he's not like the boys on the photo, he was (lower) middle class, I would say. I could understand him, but I had to listen more attentively and sometimes help myself with the context to understand him.

    I don't even remember if I met a Nottingham local. All people I met were from somewhere else. York, Leeds, Birmingham, Cambridge, surroundings of London...

    The friend from Birmingham had quite "clean" English. Was he justt being nice to me or does Birmingham have a more, errmm, normal accent (sorry:D)?
     
  23. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    In Lincs it only covers the fenland bit across the wash from east anglia - once you get to the area where they no longer have webbed toes they sound more midlandy
     
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  24. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    Yeah @Poziga, lower middle class people are a big problem for us: fitted carpets/'toilet,'/policemen/the Conservative Party.
     
  25. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    The birmigham accent - which also covers greater brum (Wolvo and so on) sounds like a 45 record being played on 33, slow and stupid (not that all brummies are but that's the way it sounds

    Berrrrminnnghummm

     

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