1. Atrophied_Silence

    Atrophied_Silence Active Member

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    Respectable Native Accents

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Atrophied_Silence, Nov 26, 2017.

    Hey everyone, I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday week. I am working on particular dialogue for one of my characters who is a young native. I believe the closest example of her dialogue would be Ute dialect. I'd like for it to be English with a thick accent, does anyone have any experience with this they'd like to share?
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2017
  2. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    Honestly, I avoid that because I don't think it "translates" very well. The clipped syntax is annoying to read and readers have enough trouble with basic clarity and comprehension (usually the writer's fault) without having to work through an added layer of auditory interpretation. People are going to hear TOmato or toMAto regardless of anything the author does, so forcing them into something unnatural doesn't seem beneficial in my opinion. There are some writers (Faulkner) that can get away with that, but most to the time the accent effect just turns readers off.

    Coppola scrawled a note in his script for the Godfather to avoid having Italians "talk-a like-a this." And while that had to the potential to be annoying on screen, it would be doubly confusing written in phonetic prose. Having characters speak with different words or maybe in a nonstandard order to imply accent is fine, but actually writing the sound of the syllables is just irritating. Even then you probably want to toss the reader as many layups as possible.
     
  3. Sclavus

    Sclavus Active Member

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    I agree with Homer. Don't write dialog phonetically. It distracts from the story and risks coming across as insulting. In the Harry Potter books, I found a lot of Hagrid's dialog irritating, and my interest waned. When it came to Fleur's dialog, ze tendancy for Rowling to have her talk leek zis was almost a deal-breaker for me.

    You can communicate a character's cultural heritage easily without resorting to phonetic dialog. If your character is Ute, they could have a name like Black Hawk or Antonga, to use an example of a real historical person. They could poke fun at stereotypes, if you're careful. I recall a movie about Native Americans, where one greets the other in a rigid way and says, "How! Me, Johnathan." to which the other says, "Ha ha, very funny."

    If you illustrate the characters well through their cultural interactions, fashion, and specific word usage, then you don't need to illustrate the accent in dialog. Example:

    Andy introduced John Black Hawk next. John was a stout man, with a farmer's build. I recognized the calluses of a plow when we shook hands.

    "John is our representative to the Ute reservation up the road, born and raised there," Andy said.

    /example

    There, you've established John Black Hawk as a Ute, among other things. People who know what that accent sounds like will ascribe it to the character. Those who aren't familiar with it will likely ascribe whatever "Native American voice" they think of. Either way, it's better to leave it that way than to try forcing an accent into your reader's mind.

    My Scottish character is from Glasgow, but aside from the occasional "Aye lad" and "wee bit," I don't write Padre MacDougall's dialog as, "Ah cannae fix t'lef bit o' what yer ta'kin' 'boot!" To a Scot, that could come across as insulting, and non-Scottish readers might struggle to understand it. Padre only talks that way when he's being intentionally, comically difficult.
     
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2017
  4. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

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    I agree with @Homer Potvin and @Sclavus .

    I've mentioned this before in a previous thread on this topic, but for an example of what not to do, check out the autobiography Dancing On My Grave by Gelsey Kirkland. The Russian accents are written phonetically and are handled so poorly, there's even a publisher's note in the front of the paperback edition.

    My MC is Russian, and I set out not to w rite his accent in the demeaning way Kirkland did. It's important that the reader "hear" his accent, though because it's one of the things that attracts some of the other characters to him. My main goal is always to write him respectfully.

    Some of the ways I help the reader hear his accent are:

    The rhythm of his speech. If you think of every accent as a type of music, you'll notice each one has rhythmic patterns. You can show this by the number of syllables in the person's sentences.

    Whether or not he uses contractions, and if so, when. (Alexei, my character, does not.)

    Words spoken out of order; funky word patterns.

    Improperly translated cliches or common phrases. Doing this can come off as demeaning, and if the character learned English by watching TV, they've learned slang and cliches first anyway. So, I limit this to when Alexei is so tired, his English isn't translating properly, and he's aware of the translation being off. At one point Alexei is thinking and thinks, 'It was too late. The cat was running loose already.' ("The cat's out of the bag.")

    My MC has been in the States for six years. so he speaks English very well. In long passages of dialogue, it can be easy for the reader to forget he has an accent. Or, sometimes it's been a while in the book since his accent or culture has been mentioned. So, as a gentle reminder to the reader's ear I'll have something upset him so he'll swear in Russian, or he'll be extremely tired or something will make him more emotional so his syntax will be a bit more off than usual.

    In all this, I'm really careful to never make him cartoonish, though. I study tons of YouTube video of interviews to be sure the words are placed properly for his accent, and more often than not his syntax errors happen during a scene that shows him as a man of dignity and intelligence.

    Hopefully, there's something in there that can help you!
     
  5. Mrs.Smith

    Mrs.Smith Member

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    Agree with all of the above. My MS is set in the present day South and I'm staying away from dialect except in very sparing doses. There are specific words (y'all, gonna, 'spect so, etc.) that are gently woven into the dialogue so the reader doesn't trip over them.
    Granddad shook his head at the boys. "Y'all go on in now and wash for supper 'fore your mama tans your hides."
    If it was written the way it would sounds around here: "Y'all go'n in now and wosh fer supper 'fore yer mama tans yer hides." Ugh.
    The accent will happen if it ever makes it to an audio book.

    But there are other ways to give it a Southern feel.
    Occasionally in the telling rather than dialogue: She hugged her mama's neck then dashed off to play with the puppy.
    Southern, but not a tripping point to anyone who regularly reads Southern fiction. There are other ways to weave culture, ancestry, etc. into the story.
    "Gram would roll over in her grave if she knew I was serving my family instant grits for breakfast."
     
  6. Laurus

    Laurus Disappointed Idealist Contributor

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    Looks like I'm the odd man out here. I don't agree with any of the above. I say write the accents how you want, listen to your betas, and consider your audience. I personally enjoy both writing and reading accents. I don't believe there's such thing as an author who is "allowed" to get away with something. Write what you want to write and don't sell out your interests if being true to your style is more important than satisfying the greatest number of people.

    I actually prefer this one. Not that you should change it -- I'm clearly in the minority. I just wanted to make a point to the OP, and this happened to be here.
     
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  7. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    How many different accents do we have here on this board? But we all spell most of our words the same, because spelling is based on the intended word, not the accent with which the word is spoken.

    It ties in to people not generally recognizing their own accents, I think. If I were going to try to phonetically write my own words, or even just those few words that I think I pronounce a bit differently because of where I grew up...

    I've bin thinkin aboud it. (I honestly don't hear the "about" issue Canadians are supposed to have...) I think I'd spell quite a few werds differently then they shud be spelled if I did this.
     
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  8. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    I write in sound and Rhythm; the only tools I have to let the reader know my pronunciation -which I don't even have to use- are Diacritics.

    Wild = 1 syllable pronounation.

    ẁïld = 2 syllable pronunciation. I'm not saying to use diacritics in your writing, but if you do, learn how they work. Don't just start throwing them into your prose and hope for the best.
     
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  9. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Get hold of footage of people speaking or better yet, get to know some folks who speak the kind of dialect you're looking for. And it makes a difference whether you're reproducing the speech of somebody in the modern world, or somebody who is just learning English—say a Ute in the mid 19th century.

    When writing, try to pick up speech patterns rather than trying to reproduce the sound. For example, here in Scotland, people don't say, "Were you in the hospital?" They'd say "Were you in hospital?" They don't say, "I'm leaving." They say, "I'm away." They don't say, "Are you still in bed?" They say, "Are you still in your bed?" If you can pick up these kinds of expressions, you'll add the flavour of the speech, but it won't be hard on the eye.

    My experience of modern Native American speakers is that the speakers are direct and honest, and use simple words when they can—which comes out as a welcome contrast to the more florid speech of the non-natives around them. They cut to the chase rather well, and don't tend to waste words. They also can be very humorous, but their humour is distinctive. They seem to have a good time making the obvious MORE obvious, or deliberately pretending to take the opposite stance from what they actually believe ...and this will be obvious to the person they're speaking to, even though they do it deadpan. There will be other phrases or linguistic habits they also employ, so check it out. Listen to them, either in person or on film—and in movies (fictional and non-fictional) made by people from their communities. YouTube is an excellent resource.

    Here is a link to a programme that contains many modern Ute people speaking in English. There is also another excellent series of programmes with Shoshone people speaking their own language and getting matters of oral history on record. I'll see if I can find the link to one of them, even though they are not of the same tribal origin as the Ute. Meanwhile:



    And here is the Shoshone one:

     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2017
  10. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Potatoes again? Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with most of the other posters above that attempting to show an accent in written form would be a bad idea, and I'd like to add that while it's good to have a specific speech form in mind, I suspect most of your readers (sample of one, me) wouldn't know Ute from Cherokee from Inuit.

    However, one solution that comes to mind is to have the occasional spoken line not put into quotes, but put into the listening characters POV with a misunderstanding. In American Gods, the legendary Native American character "Wisakedjak" is (I don't have my copy handy, so paraphrasing from memory) introduced as
    You wouldn't want to beat the technique to death, but used appropriately, it could show that your Native American speaker is a little difficult to understand for the non-Native characters.
     
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  11. Mrs.Smith

    Mrs.Smith Member

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    That's exactly what I was trying to say in my post. Speech patterns. Well said, Jannert.
     
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  12. Mrs.Smith

    Mrs.Smith Member

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    Really? Even living in the South most of my life I still roll my eyes when I have to struggle through reading Southern dialect. Maybe it's because I live here? I don't stumble as much when I read someone writing in a Cockney dialect - maybe because I'm not also mentally judging the whether or not the author got it right.
    Hmmm. Thoughts to ponder.
     
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  13. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    Oh my God, I just had a flashback! I read this book as a teenager as soon as my library got a copy in (I was a total dance nerd in high school), and I totally remember being very confused by some of the passages with phonetic accenting. Even saying them aloud I had no idea what was being said half the time.
     
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  14. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm no good at even identifying accents, let alone writing them, but my advice would be try and find someone who speaks Ute. There must be some Native American charity or institution who would welcome your quest to portray them accurately and would be willing to help? I say go on youtube and find people whose mother tongue is Ute and listen to them speak, both in Ute and in English. You could also youtube actors giving lessons on putting on an accent - it's part of their trade and there's bound to be some good tips.

    While I personally hate reading dialect-heavy dialogue, I say go ahead and write it the way you want. Terry Prachett does it and he's world famous. It's easy to get wrong, I think, but at the same time, if you never do it, you won't ever learn to do it right. However, I'd say try and get someone who is Native to be your beta reader when you're done. There are some stereotypes you may not pick up that a Native would.
     
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  15. Trish

    Trish Damned if I do and damned if I don't Contributor

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    I agree with all of this. I guess I'm the odd woman out.

    I also lived in the south most of my life, and it doesn't bother me at all. It actually makes me really happy, and feels familiar to me. I don't have trouble with any other accents either though. I find them fascinating and I love the added characterization I get from it. It's an interesting point you've brought - that maybe you're judging whether or not the author got it right, because I don't find myself doing that at all. There are so many variations, even just between Tennessee and Kentucky (the two southern states I spent the most time in) that I don't really question or judge, I just enjoy the journey. Of course, as @Laurus said, I'm also clearly in the minority.
     
  16. Atrophied_Silence

    Atrophied_Silence Active Member

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    Everybody has made some great points on this thread, I really do appreciate the help everyone has offered me. I try more than anything to make my writing credible and more immersive, I also don't ever want to portray any reader in the wrong light
     
  17. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I like a hint of an accent in stories as well. But not when the speech is phonetically reproduced to the extent that my eye stumbles over the words and has to read slowly or re-read.

    There is a fellow who writes a column in Doric for the newspaper I read. Doric is the Scots ...mostly northeastern Scotland ...version of spoken English. While I understand it spoken, reading it is a chore I don't usually attempt. My husband, who IS a Scot, has the same problem. Neither of us ever read the man's articles through to the end.

    Reading 'accents' that can be a problem, if they're laid on too thickly.
     

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