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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Dialog lisps etc.

   
Author Topic: Dialog lisps etc.
LeetahWest
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When I am writing a dialog and the person speaking pronounces their some sounds with a "V" sound instead, should I write it like:

"Vhat are you doing you silly vittle human!"

or like

"Vvvhat are you doing you silly vvvittle human!"

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I can see using a V instead of a W, but if this person is going to use V instead of L, then how can you have this person say "silly"?

I'd recommend only having one sound difference, because more than that can be distracting and confusing to the reader. V for W is fine, but something else for L (usually R, and vice versa) would be too much.

As for format, go ahead and put the V in the word instead of the W sound (and the WH sound).

"Vat are you doing you silly little human!"

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Ken S
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I think that in cases like that you should spell it like you're "Hearing" it. Especially if you're dealing with slang or particular dialect patterns or if you want a particular word to sound a certain way based on the nature of the character that's speaking.

Now for the heavily emphasized example:
"Thanks for helpin' me out back dere," Joey said.
"Fuggedaboutit," Art said, glancing over at Joey. "What am I gonna do, leave ya? My own brutha?"

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Robert Nowall
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I've always felt trying to write an accent or dialect or speech impediment phonetically looks kind of awkward on the printed page, and is subject to dispute---and let's not forget insulting.

To use Ken S's example [because it's here] you might hear the "dese" and "dose" of it, but the guys speaking it would hear it as "these" and "those" and "forget about it." People inside an accent won't hear it---I can't hear mine, though I've been told I have one.

As for spelling out with "V"s---using a "V" sounds more "German accent" than "lisp." ["Pardon me, but is it pronounced 'Hawaii' or 'Havaii?' "Havaii!" "Thank you." "You're velcome!"] You might consider "th" instead.

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MattLeo
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I disagree with Kathleen about "silly" having to be "sivvy" because "little" is "vittle". The position of a sound in a word makes a difference in how easy it is for foreigners to pronounce. English speakers have no difficulty with the "ng" or "nk" sounds in "sing" or "rank", but have difficulty with those sounds in the initial position (initial "ng" is common in Asian languages; initial "nk" in Africa).

Much also depends on where the difficulty arises for the speaker. If it is because the sound doesn't occur in the given position in his native language, then he could well say "vittle silly". If his anatomy cannot produce the "l" sound, it'll be mangled in every position it occurs.

Usually the best approach to these kinds of issues is to avoid them. Recreational readers are finely tuned machines for moving words from the page into their minds. Non-standard spelling throws a monkey wrench into the works. That's why many writers use a "tell not show" approach to the problem of dialect. You'd write something like this:"'What are you doing, you silly human,' he said. His bony lips made 'what' sound like 'vhat'." After that you count on the reader to remember that's how the character speaks.

You also have to consider whether not it's a major character speaking in dialect. If it's a minor character,the reader only has to decode his speech once or twice. If it's a major character the reader has to struggle with dialog for the entire story.

*Special* care should be taken with *real* dialects. You should use the "tell not show" trick unless you *really* know what you are doing. I cringe whenever a white writer puts a sentence like "He be lyin' on de couch," into the mouth of a black character who means "He is lying on the couch." In African American Vernacular English "be" marks the continuative verb aspect, so the correct translation would be "He is in the habit of lying down on the couch. I also cringe when an Asian character says "Landy is very rucky" for "Randy is very lucky". No Asians actually do this.

Aha, but we're talking speculative fiction. What about *non-human* dialects? Or human dialects that don't actually exist? Well, you still have the same problems, namely (1) it's hard on the reader and (2) it's easy for the writer to sound like an idiot.

So if you're tempted to do shuck 'n jive dialog, think it through carefully, use it sparingly, and do your homework, even if its a made-up dialect. For example "Vhat" makes sense for an alien with a stiff upper lip because "v" is produced with the lower lip against the teeth and "w" with both lips. It's hard to figure out what "little" would be "vittle" because that's replacing a liquid consonant with a fricative.

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Merlion-Emrys
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I think either approach can work, depending on the person.

I'd say, try it each way (spelling it out, and explaining it, separately) and see which seems to look and sound best to you.

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Foste
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Check out the IPA. That should help you get an idea about transcription:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Phonetic_Alphabet

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LeetahWest
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lol, vell, it seems I brought up a good subject. But perhaps I should clarify the original intention of the qvestions. When writing it out should I use just one "V"
"Vat?"

or multiple "V" like
"Vvvat?"

But very good point about replacing one sound, not multiple sounds with the "v" sound.

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extrinsic
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A trend for dialect is moving away from audible spellings and dialectical markers, like apostrophes for marking slurred sounds. A preference is to capture the idiom rhythm of broken English usage.

For "what" I find "vhat" easy to read and interpret, because substituting the V sound for W and vice versa is a German language idiom, even though an audible spelling. Combined with broken English usage rhythm would do the alien status marking artfully.

For broken English language idioms, skip articles, use no contractions, mix up subject verb number agreement, mix up number agreement in general, mix up verb tense, mix up irregular grammar principles, like no object of intransitive verbs or using objective case when not indicated or mixing up or excessive indefinite articles and definite articles, subject and object parallelism, like "I, you tell vhat is meaning of contraband word?" Use alien but interpretable invented idioms and exclamations. But being consistent for facilitating reading ease, as it is the number one writing principle.

[ December 05, 2011, 10:24 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MartinV
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Check out Terry Pratchett's books and the way he does wonders with lisps and such. Every Igor in the story says 'Mithtrethth' instead of 'Mistress'; the funniest line I've read in that manner was: "Thith tathteth like horthe-pithth."

His vampires are also good when they say: "Vunderful."

Of course, this is all intended as humor. If you are looking for examples of lisping in serious stories, try looking at a certain character in the Song of Ice and Fire series. That man talks in such a way that I'm unable to remain serious no matter how had I try. And yet that character scares me.

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Robert Nowall
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quote:
...because substituting the V sound for W and vice versa is a German language idiom...
Not quite, it's more of an "F" sound for "V."

Reminds me of the old Monty Python sketch, "Erisabeth L."

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MattLeo
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Well, Leetah, the important point is that you use non-standard spelling sparingly because it is an annoyance. For that reason I'd prefer "vhat" to "vvvat". "Vhat" is close enough visually and orthographically that the first word your mind leaps to is "what", whereas "vvvat" evokes "vat".

It's almost always a bad idea to do that sort of thing, but if you choose do it, you need to work make it sound plausible and consistent. For example if the speaker is a snake-person, you might try speaking the dialog with stiff lips and a tongue that moves forward and back more freely but up and down less freely.

Extrinsic has some great suggestions for depicting non-fluent English. Again it's a risky thing to do, but if you *do* try it you should be as consistent as possible so that readers have a chance to master the character's dialog quirks.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
quote:
...because substituting the V sound for W and vice versa is a German language idiom...
Not quite, it's more of an "F" sound for "V."

Reminds me of the old Monty Python sketch, "Erisabeth L."

Different Germanic regions; different dialects. Trills of the R sound in Spanish dialects locate native Spanish speakers' native regions. Different vowel sounds locate U.S. English speakers' native origins, among other dialectical patterns.
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LeetahWest
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Thanks all, this has been a great help!!
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extrinsic
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Oh, and timely, judicious broken English idioms artfully suggest an essence. Untimely, injudicious overusage overwhelms readers.

For instance, "Vhat ve could un-understand is meaning contraband word?" might be on the overstated side.

Understatement is my guiding principle for idiom and writing in general. When I do use overstatement, it's for maximum impact, and, again, timely and judicious.

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