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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » To Dialect or Not to Dialect

   
Author Topic: To Dialect or Not to Dialect
Acriter
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Most writing "How to" books tell you not to put dialect into your character's dialogue, but many authors do. My MC is seven-years-old and I want him to have a speech flaw that can later be corrected by another character as part of his growth and development. My writing friends are discouraging me from having any dialect at all, so I want to ask you all. Would you object to (or do you think an agent would reject my manuscript for) my MC saying, "an'" for "and", and "c'n" for "can"? I've been told that seven-year-olds do speak this way, but I don't know at what age they might give it up and say the word correctly. My character does not interact with other children, only adults. He picked up the speech pattern on his own and no one corrects him until he is eleven, so he continues to use these contractions. Is this acceptable and believable to you? Thanks for the feedback.
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JeanneT
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I think that is all right if it is used LIGHTLY.
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StephenMC
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If he's conversing only with adults, I can't see him failing to pick up a more sophisticated dialect. He's obviously intelligent enough to get it without having to be corrected externally.

Though more generally speaking, I appreciate dialect in dialogue and even in first person narration--but Wolfe_boy brings up a good point about POV.

[This message has been edited by StephenMC (edited April 02, 2008).]

[This message has been edited by StephenMC (edited April 02, 2008).]


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Wolfe_boy
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Something to keep in mind - if the story is told from his POV, he wouldn't hear himself speaking in this way. He doesn't attempt to say an' or c'n, he attempts to say and or can, and his accent/speech impediment means that other people hear him differently. He wouldn't though.

Same goes for people with accents - an American and a Welshman could both say the word can't, but they would certainly sound different. Doesn't mean you necessarily need to write it differently.

Jayson Merryfield


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rstegman
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One practice would be to start each section of dialog with the accent then blend into regular speach. The reader knows the person has an accent, but does not have to fight through difficult spellings to understand the person. Then of course, if there is a understanding problem between two characters, one plays it to the hilt.
thoughts might be in normal language.

I have to warn them. Sythe thought to herself. I must make them understand the danger.
"Top 'f the Moornyng ta' ya'"
The officer turned to her. His expression was like that of someone not knowing where the words came from. I have to make sure i am really clear in what i say now. sythe thought.
"Gwad Sirrr, Do'n th' rod, Rond lon' carner, R'ver passo're be bracken."
The confusion on the officer's face made her flinch. Darn, he must not have met a Scottina before and does not know how to listen properly. she thought.


That is not a great example but with what came before the reader would know the bridge is broken. Her thoughts were in normal language, only the speach between them would become normal after the first paragraph.

There was the joke as we were kids about how, in the movies, indians, and germans always talked english amongst themselves.



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Tiergan
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Never even thought about the point wolfe_boy brought up, first person and all. Too many things to remember.

I read it is alright to use it in moderation, say one maybe two accented word a sentence or so, anymore makes it too hard to read.


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Robert Nowall
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I think it's a difficult thing to pull off---you've got endless different sets of rules about how you're supposed to spell something according to how it's pronounced, and two different people might have two different sets.

Plus you've got raging ethnic groups who might take offense at anything you put in a character's mouth, if that character is part of that particular ethnic group. (Not that it'd stop me, but it might stop others.)

Me? Well, I try to represent speech / dialog---and that alone---in a somewhat-realistic manner. Lots of apostrophes, occasional odd spellings, stops-and-starts, occasional repeated words and thoughts. I say "somewhat-realistic" 'cause I try to keep in mind that somebody should be reading what I write for entertainment value, not as a guide to how speech is.

("'cause." That's a good example of what I use.)


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rickfisher
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I'm a little puzzled, actually. If someone's giving me directions and they say, "Or you can go three blocks and turn right at the light," what do they really say? They say: "Or y' c'n go three blocks 'n turn right at the light." Almost EVERYONE talks like this. Why are you considering it some sort of speech defect?
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Christine
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I'm usually a non-dialect person myself. It's hard to read and follow what's going on. Especially when leaving ending consonant off such as "goin-g fishin-g" we may *say* that but we don't really hear that.

But I'm just going to be honest here and say that I'm not entirely sure that this is a believable situation. You may want to do some research into this before you start thinking too hard about how to present flawed speech.

My 2-year-old is currently in speech therapy, so this is something that has been on my mind a lot lately.

I'm not entirely sure what problem is in this child's past that has seeded his speech issues -- are the parents negligent or do they just not bother to correct his speech? Children will learn a lot by modeling, *especially* pronunciation. More likely errors, IMO, would be grammar and sentence structure, rudeness (lack of please and thank you), and bossiness "I want!" instead of "May I have?"

Pronunciation is generally self-correcting through modeling (children or adults talking around the child). Many pre-schoolers are difficult to understand, whether they're around other children or not. Most kindergarteners and first graders finally get it.

A child who consistently drops or mispronounces a certain sound may be eligible for speech services, depending upon the age and severity of the problem -- and what's causing it. A friend of mine has 2 children in speech therapy right now for hereditary speech impediments. She started her son at 4 and said they normally wouldn't have taken him then but for the family history. Her children can't pronounce a number of consonants.

Mispronouncing and leaving out vowel sounds almost never happens.

Also, for believability's sake, you may want to look into which sounds are more likely to be dropped and in what combinations. Different sounds use different parts of the mouth to form and the ones that are related are more likely to be dropped together especially if the problem has to do with some slight weakness or deformation of the mouth.

Behavioral speech impediments are a whole other ballgame. I don't know much about those. I think stuttering can be behavioral?

[This message has been edited by Christine (edited April 02, 2008).]


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KayTi
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To agree with Christine here, it's not common for a child to perpetuate a speech issue (beyond physiological issues and brain-wiring issues that would require some type of intervention by a health care professional over an extended period of time to correct) unless the adults around him/her speak that way. Kids are chameleons with their speech. They are much more highly adaptable to learning new language, nuances of language and pronunciation, and can imitate those language sounds they hear around them.

If you want to have the child illustrate a growth path, it might be better to choose something that provides a better opportunity for growth. Having the child's character transform from self-centered to self-aware and able to care about what happens to others, for example, would be powerful.

For what you say you want to accomplish, I'm not sure use of dialect (which I generally oppose - it is usually far more cumbersome to read than is worthwhile, though check out The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein for an example of a "way of speaking" by Manny, the MC, that is done by small snippets of dialect/manner that are repeated throughout but then dropped when the author isn't retelling Manny's straight thought process or dialogue. Or maybe he just does it at the beginning of chapters, something - it's not too annoying. LOL) is the right solution.

Good luck to you!


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Toby Western
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Accent and dialect are interesting. One the one hand, they can bring a fabulous sense of local “colour” to a piece. On the other hand, more often than not, they just get between what you want to say and your reader.

A case in point:

quote:

Hareton, thah willn’t sup thy porridge tuh neeght; they’ll be nowt bud lumps as big as maw nave. Thear, agean! Aw’d fling in bowl un’ all, if Aw wer yah! Thear, pale t’guilp off, un’then yah’ll hae done wi’t. Bang, bang. It’s a marcy t’bothom isn’t deaved aht!’ Maister, coom hither! Miss Cathy’s riven th’back off “Th’Helmet uh Salvation,” un’ Heathcliff’s pawsed his fit intuh t’first part uh “T’Brooad Way to Destruction!” It’s fair flaysome ut yah let ’em goa on this gait. Ech! th’owd man ud uh laced ’em properly — bud he’s goan If Aw wur yah, maister, Aw’d just slam t’boards i’ their faces all on ’em, gentle and simple! Never a day ut yah’re off, but yon cat uh Linton comes sneaking hither — and Miss Nelly, shoo’s a fine lass! shoo sits watching for ye i’ t’kitchen; and as yah’re in at one door,

  • For 5 points, name the writer and the book
  • For 10 points, actually read it – the whole passage;
  • For 15 points, care enough to understand what it is about;
  • (and for a bonus 50 points, notice that I spliced several sections of the original dialog together and roast me for exaggerating to make a point)

Generally, any more than light play with speech patterns and vocabulary confuses me.

The most effective approach for me is where the writer specifically calls out an accent from the PoV of another character:

quote:

“I’ll be along soon” said Fred.

To Jane, it sounded like, “Oial ee on oon”. Was he too lazy to use consonants, she wondered.


You then assume (perhaps with the gentlest of reminders) that this is how the character will be talking.

[This message has been edited by Toby Western (edited April 02, 2008).]

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited April 03, 2008).]


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JeanneT
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Obviously, that is Wuthering Heights. Does one have to tell people who wrote a classic? (Emily Brontë) I don't have a copy handy and don't recall who is speaking in that passage. Gah-- of course. *bops head* That is Joseph speaking. He was the one in the novel who spoke in a heavy Yorkshire dialect.

He is speaking to Hareton and, as usual, making trouble for the other characters.

Edit: What was acceptable in 1847 when that was published doesn't have much relation to what is published today. I do think a light hand with dialect or accent is a very good idea.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited April 02, 2008).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Minus 20 points, Toby Western, for posting more than 13 lines.

That's the rule, and I don't care if it is in the public domain.


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Toby Western
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I guess I lose. Do I lose less if the lines are non-contiguous in the source?

No, don't answer that. I'll make up my own absurdly contrived examples next time!

Edit: loose != lose; not even for small values of 'o'

[This message has been edited by Toby Western (edited April 03, 2008).]

[This message has been edited by Toby Western (edited April 03, 2008).]


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Patrick James
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Catcher in the rye. If you want someserious examples of messed up dialogue or Secret Garden.

If you want an example of a young character who slowly grows up, losing his baby talk as he is among adults, check out David Eddings Belgaried series. I hope that's helpful.


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wbriggs
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You can give a few consistently mis-spelled (meant to be mispronounced) words, but not many, without making it hard to read.

You can do more with word choice and grammar without becoming confusing.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
I'll make up my own absurdly contrived examples next time!

Thank you, Toby Western. Just make sure you only post 13 lines.


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urodela1
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Faukner also successfully transferred southern speaking into dialogue. Of course, whether it's legible and torturous to read is open for debate.

I think you can flavor your prose with the occassional colorful expression or regional word choice and get much the same effect without writin' a good spell of purty words what all spelt like chop suey.

Sincerely,
Urodela1


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