Dialects! Yes or no and how much?

Forums Fiction Research and Worldbuilding Dialects! Yes or no and how much?

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    Hope Ann

    I’m starting a new thing here. For those of you who get the newsletter, you’ll be familiar with the ‘around the coffee table’ section. Well, instead of me just coming up with answers, Daeus and I will be posting questions here for all of you to discuss as well. One of the answers, (or parts of it, if the discussion goes long) will be posted in the newsletter along with the link to this thread.

    So, first question by K. G. (I don’t know your forum tag if you’re on here, but maybe someone else does.)

    When portraying dialect, how much is too much? How can you make a regional dialect sound realistic without going overboard with weird spellings and scattering random regionalisms throughout the conversation?

    Victory in the march. Hope in the destination.

    Hope Ann

    In the newsletter, we have discussed language once before. Actually @daeus answered that question because I didn’t know. So I’m going to post his reply here. And maybe he’ll have other people to tag since I’m woefully out of date when it comes to who is active on the forum right now.

    First of all, I wouldn’t be Tolkien until I’d already mastered writing fairly well. It makes a story deep, but it’s far from essential for good writing.

    From Daeus:

    I suggest not getting overzealous and to just work with what you already know. The language I invented was based on the ones I had some familiarity with—Greek, Latin, and English.

    If writers are trying to be original, focusing on making up dialects and slang like Brandon Sanderson may be easier.

    Finally, if you do invent a language, I think it’d be neat to make the way the words are formed symbolic. For instance, in the language I created, each noun has a prefix from one of five categories, each symbolically linked to one of the four races + monsters. A noun with a prefix linked to a certain race is thought to have qualities similar to the stereotypes of that race. It could even be possible to make the construction of language grammar thematic, though I can’t say I’ve heard of it being done.

    There is also a professional book on this topic that I haven’t read called The Art of Language Invention.

    Victory in the march. Hope in the destination.

    Chelsea R.H.

    I’ve always struggled with dialect to be honest. Some of my beta readers have told me they really liked the dialects and accents and slang words and others thought it was too over the top.

    So I don’t think I can really answer this that well. I usually just go with what seems to make sense for the character or race.

    Ceud mile failte

    Sarah Inkdragon

    I like some dialect, but if it’s going to be strong it has to fit with the setting, culture, and time period(as well as education level). Let’s take a strong Irish brogue for example – most people associate the accent/dialect of English with a spunky, red haired lass or lad. Expand that, and you also often see that people with a lower education level are associated with ‘rougher’ dialects of common speech – often due to poor schooling. People in isolated areas often have subsets of dialects and languages as well, for example there’s a dialect of German that originated near Hamburg where my mother grew up that’s nearly dead now due to the influx in widespread technology, travel, and common languages.

    If I were to incorporate a dialect into fantasy, I’d have to take all this into account. My young, prideful captain probably won’t speak in a thick accent like a foot soldier among his ranks, and likewise the slave raised in a rich household will probably speak better than the slave raised entirely for hard labor(field work, etc). The old philosopher and the young inventor will speak differently, no matter whether they grew up in the same area or not – they may have common phrases and euphemisms, the same sayings – but they have very different levels of experience and very different experiences of different time periods.

    As for “how much is too much” – well, I think that relies a lot of the character as well. It’s perfectly acceptable to have a foreigner confused by the poor English of an African tribesman, and it might even be expected. But to have a character that speaks in terms of “slang” or accent that have no purpose behind them or have no meaning is often quite grating. Southern accents in writing have nearly always sounded annoying to me simply because I was born and raised in the very north of the U.S., and in an isolated small community as well. Everyone speaks like a northerner, so when you hear the southern drawl it’s considered a bit “informal” or even “impolite” – especially if it’s followed by a lot of slang or phrases that are likewise very southern. At the same time, I was raised by a German mother and therefore picked up some of her pronunciations of words – for example, saying plag instead of playg. Or bag-el instead of bayg-el. (Honestly though – plaque is pronounced plak, not plake. Why should plague or bagel be any different? English!)

    When slang starts to get confusing because it’s never explained and is just thrown in there for “effect” is when it starts to annoy me. Pirate slang is fun and all, but having a character who speaks with that terminology “just because” is annoying and sloppy. The same goes for any accent. Slang that’s extremely heavy and used constantly can also be quite annoying, so for main characters I prefer to tone the accent down a bit, simply because reading 400 pages with a character that speaks like: “And that thar littl’ spoon is fer dippin sauce, and th’other one is fer the pas-ta, and the last is fer yor sauerkraut” is a little annoying and tedious.

    For anyone wanting to write a Hi-Fi set around the Oregon Trail period, I recommend Eloise Jarvis Mcgraw’s novel Moccasin Trail. It’s one of the only westerns I can truly enjoy reading because the slang(which is pretty thick) doesn’t get in the way of the character’s actions, thoughts, or the reader’s understanding of them – and it fits the characters and the time period. (It’s also just a darn good book.)

    "A hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head."

    - C. S. Lewis

    Abigail Rebekah


    Wow…this sure is interesting xD

    I must say, I do love and admire how Tolkien was able to create his own complete languages.

    Wish I could do that 😉

    I look forward to future questions 🙂

    ~ Laugh. Drink Coffee. Smile. And Write ~

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