Monday, July 4, 2011

Pardon Me?


Do you write them or leave them to your reader's imagination?

Is it necessary to write: "Excuse-moi, monsieur, but I am looking for the oh-so-charming Madmoiselle" if you have a Frenchman looking for his new love interest? Does he need to talk about her 'leetle shoes'? Does your Englishman have to sound like " 'ere, 'ere, guv'ner, tike yur boots off an' set yurself down hof' a mo'?"

I confess I have not done this, and my reasons are two-fold. Firstly, as a reader, I hate fighting through accents when the writer has put it all down phonetically. I can hear the accent in my head, I don't need it written down. Secondly, as a writer, I find I can give the impression of the accent through vocabulary choices and rhythms, if this is necessary.

For instance:
North American: Sidewalk
English: Pavement
North American: Bag of potato chips
English: Bag of crisps

There are regional vocabularies all over the world. I find using these words a far better indicator of the character's voice then plastering every word with an accent.

Tell me how you handle this situation. I'd be curious to know.

Y'all come back now, y'hear?

A heartfelt happy Fourth of July to all my American friends!


  1. I think if you don't overdo the accent it is fine. I have a Scottish accent in one of my books, but I only accentuate it with 'wee', for 'little,' and 'ye' for 'you'. The rest is normal. I think little touches like this work well.

  2. I try not to use phonetic spellings, I've read enough books where sentence structure and syntax is enough to give the rhythm of speech (especially southern american writers) for me to feel that's the better way.

    although some writers can really make a feature of it, Trainspotting being an obvious example, but that's rare, usually it's just annoying.

    Moody Writing
    follow me!

  3. I do what you do. When I read dialect written out, it irritates me no end. Words here and there, like Jessica says, are fine.

  4. I'm with you on word choices over trying phonetic spelling. I've also used another character to notice a Texan drawl, etc.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  5. Elspeth - I agree with you 100% about accents! I don't write them, either, and mostly because they can pull the reader right out of the story. I use word choice, as you do. I also use certain grammatical structures. For instance, one of my minor characters in my WIP is an urban teen who doesn't speak in standard English. Rather than write the way she speaks phonetically, I use sentence structure like this:

    "My brother, he said......" and "I didn't hear nothing about that."

    I don't exaggerate it, but I use light touches of it to make this character distinct.

  6. Jessica; I completely agree - a few well chosen words gets the accent across.

    mooderino; Phonetic spelling *is* annoying - to me at any rate. Rhythm is key.

    Carol; I'm glad to see others take the same approach as me! *whew*

    Terry; You've made an excellent point! Having another character notice the accent is a great way to make the point.

    Margot; Since you're a linguist, I'm sure you've got this problem down cold!

  7. In Danish you just don´t render dialogue at all. No problem really as we also have words and phrases that tell readers where we come from, but translated fiction often loses flavour as Americans, Irishmen, Australians and Indians speak the same way.
    When I write in English I don´t try to copy anyone´s dialect, but I vary the number of contractions, slang etc. And of course I do my best to stick to British English.


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