1. happyhacker

    happyhacker Member

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    Is it possible to show an accent in writing speech?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by happyhacker, May 6, 2022.

    I have an Irish female character and she is Irish. Can I convey her speech idiosyncrasies within the speech quotes like "What yer really saying is ta me rubbish!" It seems to me that would add character to the prose. Hope that's clear.

    Thanks.
     
  2. SapereAude

    SapereAude Contributor Contributor

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    Basically, spell out the speech phonetically ... complete with apostrophes where words are shortened. Feel free to use idioms peculiar to the language (for eaxmple, Scottish for 'I don't know" is "I dinna ken."

    I think to do it right you have to have a good ear for the language and the accent. My grandfather was blessed with being able to reproduce accents very well. One of his oft-told stories ended with "One toot 'n yer oot!" The way he told it, there was no mistaking the accent in which the line was originally delivered.
     
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  3. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    Accents in writing are like garlic in cooking. A little too much can wreck the creation. I would agree with SapereAude that you get more mileage out of idioms than trying to convey the actual sound of the speech.
    Otherwise, you end up with more of a caricature than a characterization.
     
  4. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

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    I'll repeat the same advice that often comes up when this question is asked - don't do this. Mention that the character has an accent in prose, and let the reader use their imagination.

    Only do it phonetically if it's important to the plot.

    "It's time for you to walk the plank," said the pirate, his thick accent making his words nearly unintelligible.
    rather than:
    "It be toime fer ye ta waak tha plank, me haartie! Yarr!"
     
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  5. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    But it would be ok to write "Onta the plank with ya then laddies!" I think that's sublte enough to work without being overdone.

    It's important to choose the right words and phrases, put together in the right way to get across the sense of character and regionality. And it seems to work to fiddle with the spelling of small words and common phrases that most people don't pronounce properly anyway (ya instead of you, gonna instead of going to etc). If done judiciously that doesn't come across as offensive or ridiculous.
     
  6. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    Most of the time, I find it’s much better to depict accents using idioms and word choice than phonetic spelling. Of course, it also takes more research on your part. The last thing you want is to aim for one accent and end up giving them another by mistake.
     
  7. happyhacker

    happyhacker Member

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    Well, its hard work to write such but on the other hand probably boring to constantly try to gain the 'effect' in the prose I think I'll go mainly for the prose as being a novice writer I'll trip up easily. Thanks all.
     
  8. B.E. Nugent

    B.E. Nugent Contributor Contributor

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    The first thing you should note is that Irish people don't have an accent. 'Tis the rest of ye have an accent.

    Having witnessed atrocities over the years, looking at Mr. T. Cruise but not just him, badly working an Irish accent can effectively render your work impossible to take seriously. Listen to Aidan Quinn in whatever that movie was (I think The Playboys but could be wrong). Not only is his accent perfect, it's a County Louth accent. You should also remember that even in such a small country, there are diverse dialects. I'll struggle to understand some of my fellow country folk and no-one understands what people from Kerry are talking about. Not even other people from Kerry.

    I read Irish authors and don't notice the Irishisms because they're written by someone who knows the use of language in these parts. Begorrah and begum stick out like freshly lanced boils. Avoid and get a native to read if you must try to capture the poetry of English spoken through Irish.

    Idioms are good. Pick a few words and chuck them in to remind readers of the character. There's many ways we've improved this colonial language and read a few Irish authors for flavour. While a very disturbing tale, The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe is thoroughly Irish in its use of language. You could keep it light and just throw in eegit, gobshite, grand, how's it going, jacks, yoke, mammy (not mum or mom), the aul' fella, young fella.

    Just reading the single line you've posted, I'm not sure I get the meaning and might suggest:
    Watcha sayin's rubbish ta me, ya gobshite
     
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  9. ShannonH

    ShannonH Member Supporter

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    As an Irish person, I find non-Irish writers walk a very fine line between acceptable and cringe caricatures when writing us.
     
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  10. happyhacker

    happyhacker Member

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    Ha, ha, Like it!

    Good advice thanks.

    I'll do some reading but it seems I should remind the readers on occasion and not overdo it. Perhaps find an expression or expletive or two and throw those in. Suggestions welcome but I guess the internet will have something there.

    Thanks.
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2022
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  11. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Also Irish from where? Southern irish doesn’t sound the same as say Belfast, and neither of them sound the same as American irish
     
  12. SapereAude

    SapereAude Contributor Contributor

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    Not only Irish.

    The summer after my freshman year in college I took a job as a counselor at a boy's camp on an island in Maine. The camp owners and directors stayed in cabins on the mainland. Both the director's family and the assistant director's family had nannies for their young offspring while the parents were running the camp. One of the nannies was a very attractive Scot ... and she didn't sound at all like Scotty from Star Trek. In fact, over the course of the entire two-month camp season I don't think I understood more than about half a dozen words that came out of her mouth. Other people I know from Scotland either sound basically English, or speak English with what might be considered a "typical" Scottish accent.

    I once had a relationship with an Englishwoman from Devon. Spent some time there with her. She spoke English, but I couldn't understand half the farmers in the shire ... and neither could my English lady friend.
     
  13. happyhacker

    happyhacker Member

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    Dublin area. Good point.
     
  14. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Accents/dialects can be learned perfectly with a good coach. I'm constantly amazed when I discover how many foreign actors are showing up these days in American movies/shows that I just thought were American. Starting with Xena way back in the 90's. It's always so weird to hear them at interviews with their real accent, it doesn't seem right.

    Everything's much more realistic in movies and certain kinds of TV shows these days than it was back in the 70's & 80's. Not just accents, but fight scenes, and all manner of things. It's funny the farther back you go, to see pirates and swashbucklers just bashing their swords together over and over in the same pattern going "Hah!", or the super simple fight scenes (a gentle karate chop to the neck always knocks anyone out right?) Ever since T2 actors are commonly getting personal trainers for certain parts. Plus it's becoming far more common to get actors of the right ethnicity to play parts, where it used to be American actors portraying everyone (or English actors in England etc). It seems everything is becoming more globalized.
     
  15. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    Could it be that, now that media itself is becoming more globalized, children are hearing authentic accents at an earlier age and have more of a feel of what that accent should sound like? When English children are hearing American accents from television shows and movies on BBC from infancy, and American children are hearing English accents from "Downton Abbey" and "Call the Midwife" on PBS, I think they're more likely to get it right, at least in a general way. I've been reading books on the origins of language, and one of the things I find intriguing is the way young children sort of "osmose" the accents of the adults around them. When parents of different accents (or even different languages) talk to the child, the child somehow parses the accents, vocabulary, and grammar of each parent and can slip easily from one to the other without confusing the two. I don't see why that same process wouldn't be in effect for other accents they hear.

    The members of the American radio theater troupe Firesign Theatre would often use a Mexican-American accent in their skits. When I played them to some Mexican-American co-workers, I wondered if the portrayals would be embarrassing, but they told me that the actors had the accents perfect. That, I think, was the result of their being exposed to the accent when they were living in southern California, where such accents were heard all the time.

    One more thing: when Simon Pegg took on the role of Montgomery Scott in the Star Trek reb00t, he wondered what accent Scotty would have in the 23rd century. He could do both the Edinburgh and Glaswegian accent flawlessly, but he decided that Scotty would have something in between, and that's the way he approached the role. (When Jimmy Doohan was criticized for his accent in the original series, he is said to have replied, "Well, Scotty doesn't talk like Scottish people today. He talks like Scottish people of the future.")
     
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