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On writing accents and dialects

My experience with writing accents and dialects has been that almost inevitably (there is, of course, always the rare exception), attempting to write the way an accent is pronounced turns out silly, distracting for the reader, and in some cases outright offensive.  Sometimes quirks are actually words.  For example, it’s appropriate to write ‘y’all’ when your Virginian character says it, because they are, in fact, two different words (‘you’ is singular, ‘y’all’ is plural).  But writing ‘Ah’ rather than ‘I’ will probably come off as gimmicky.  It’s still the word ‘I;’ it’s just a more softened sound in a southern US accent.

Much more important than pronunciation is the speech pattern and word choice.  An accent is only one part of the issue.  Much of the flavor also comes from the rhythms and words used.  You could say ‘I left my suitcase in the trunk of my car’ in a perfect London accent, but no Brit would ever be fooled, because they use the word ‘boot,’ not ‘trunk.’

The best example of this I’ve ever seen is offered by the author Sarah Monette on her Livejournal, where she discusses the evolution of the voice for one of her characters (Mildmay’s voice, incidentally, is based on the American appalachian dialect, which is what you hear in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee).

http://truepenny.livejournal.com/378305.html

I hope that’s some food for thought!

  1. dapperdoves reblogged this from fuckyeahcharacterdevelopment
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    Hey, I’m from Virginia. And I use y’all exclusively. I don’t think I EVER use “you” for “you” plural. Like, ever.
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