Grammar: Dialect

Posted March 11, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

Revised as of:
30 Jan 2017

Dialect can be both wonderful and horrible in written form. It’s wonderful for how it sets a rhythm and mood; creates an atmosphere, a scene, that can further immerse the reader in the world being built; and, build a unique identity for the character(s). A writer can more easily resist the infamous info dumps with how a character speaks!

Use dialect with care and respect.

It can also be horrible in how it creates a stumbling block for the reader as they struggle to figure out what the heck this (or that) character is saying. It’s hard enough when authors come up with the weird names in fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal stories, but when the weirdness is in the dialogue, well, it can sometimes be murderous for your reader’s current or future interest. Not to mention it can turn your character into an appalling stereotype or a laughing stock for the reader.

“Most adults read word by word, not sounding words out letter by letter, so forcing adults to sound out nonstandard phonetic spellings would slow readers down, potentially irritating them, and thus distract them from the actual story” (Carson)

As Charles Carson says in his post for Grammar Girl, “It may say more about the author and his or her assumptions than about the characters, or it may distract readers to the point that what is being said is overshadowed by how it’s being said”.

Dialect is different from dialogue. Dialect is how a character structures their sentences and the words or idioms they choose to use. Dialogue is the formatting of what a character is saying, texting, or writing. To explore more, check out the Properly Punctuated post on “Dialogue“.

What character would you imagine from:

Da check in da mail.

Dat check? It in de mail.

The check is in the mail.

Ze check is in ze mail.

I put the cheque in the post.

What is Dialect?

Dialect is a particular form of a language that is peculiar to a specific region or social group. Every country has a range of dialects as well as what we might consider their more “correct” language. Then there’s the various “languages” we each employ depending on whether we’re at work, at home, with friends, and/or at school and the playground! And each way of speaking has its grammar rules.

Dialect Paints a Character

I just love Evans’ example:

‘her honeyed accent melted off of her tongue, slowly, sweetly, and with the same elongated syllables that her mama used.

Already, the character has an established geographical place and a hint of her history. From then on, the reader can hear and even visualize the honeyed accent” (Evans).

The beauty of dialect is how it builds a picture in the mind of your reader: the character’s intellectual level; his/her educational, family, and socioeconomic status; his/her geographic location; and, his/her use of slang or technical terms. It creates an atmosphere that further immerses me into the world the author has created: it’s part of the show.

Regional characters may be depicted with the y’alls of the South and Texas. The yas’ms. Black English is unique for its use of the habitual be. Perhaps he’s from Canada, eh. The slow drawl of N’awlins or the roughness of da Bronx.

In Wisconsin, I grew up saying bubbler, and when I moved to California, nobody understood me. Turned out that what I wanted was the drinking fountain. Then there’s pop. I always thought it was a different word for dad. Instead, it’s a soda in Southern California or the northeastern part of the U.S. whereas coke will see you right in the South, including most of Texas. I’ve also heard sody pop.

Create foreign characters with a few words from their language along with a few of the stereotyped respellings of English words, and sentence construction to enhance the impression that the character is French, Russian, Bahamian, South African, Japanese, whoever.

I do love what Lake has to say in her post about Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. There is absolutely no question that Jamie is Scots, and Lake is right. Gabaldon used a few words of a Scottish brogue to set the atmosphere and indicate her characters’ nationality. And, it’s readable!

Dialect Sets the Scene

Set the scene by using some distinctive words or phrases of local vocabulary. Introduce some key characters with a mention, a description, of their accent. For example, “slow drawl”, “musical diphthongs”, “honeyed dialect”, “clipped”, etc. Some writers hint at regional dialect by dropping the final “g” from a few words, or by writing something like “good ol’ boy” or “good ole boy” instead of “good old boy.” Hardly anybody nowadays writes “Ah” instead of “I” or “gwine” instead of “going.”

Think of all the different transit systems in the world and how using that one word makes a difference in how you see the story: BART in San Francisco, Le Metro in Paris, the Underground in London, RTD in Denver, subway in New York, the El in Chicago. Speaking of transport, where do you think you are (or when) if you say you’re on the autobahn, the motorway, I-80, Route 66, autoroute, or autostrada. There’s also the Orient Express, another example of a word that sets atmosphere and social class.

Eye Dialect Uses Nonstandard Spellings

Explore examples of eye dialect:

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Greer Gilman, Alex Haley, Joel Chandler Harris, Russell Hoban, Terry Pratchett (his DEATH character always seems to speak in capital letters!), James Whitcomb Riley, Robert Ruark, John Steinbeck, and Mark Twain.

One method for creating a character through dialect is eye dialect, which uses nonstandard spellings to put a twist on a standard word: gonna, whaddya, wimmin, theirselves, sho’nuff, etc.

Do Not “Re-Spell” Words

The consensus is that writers should not re-spell words to “create” the actual phonetic sound of the words. For one thing, it makes your readers work way too hard trying to figure out what is being said.

Don’t Make the Reader Work So Dang Hard

I hate dialogue that makes me work to figure out what the heck the character is saying. It interrupts the flow of the story and is simply irritating. Sometimes I forget why the character is saying this because I’ve been concentrating so hard on figuring out what he’s saying, that I have to go back and re-read until I can get back into the flow!

“Shi hes, I cin unnerstind abut da gul. I shud hiv nevir don it, ba shi mayd mi fil so low, lik I nat a man.”

Pulling Off a Respectful Dialect

Unless you’re a native speaker of the language, it’s even more important to be respectful of another country’s speech, so you’ll need to do a LOT of research to get it right. Know that there are could be terms that Americans use that native speakers will object to. One example is what we all think the Irish use, i.e., begorrah. Don’t go there.

Some languages don’t have a word for yes or no. Verb tenses may not be the ones we’re accustomed to using. Different parts of a country can have different accents. Heck, think of how many regional accents there are in the United States! Southern accents, da Bronx, the Midwest, California, and more. Lots more.

And, yes, there are other reasons why it isn’t considered acceptable to use too much or the wrong kind of eye dialect and this includes enforcing stereotypes, being contemptuous of what the character represents, giving an impression of the character seeming stupid rather than regional. Of course, you may have good reasons (for the plot) to emphasize the “eye dialect” a character speaks.

Several articles I read mentioned that excessively phonetic dialogue can turn your character into an appalling stereotype or a laughing stock for the reader. Think Step ‘n Fetch It. Worse, that how you depict your character may be making people wonder about you and what your prejudices are.

Michaels has an excellent example of the bad and good of writing dialect phonetically with:

  • “Yes, Meester Smeeth,” Carlos said, nodding slowly. “I weel be happee to go weeth you to thee house.”
  • versus
  • “Yes, Mister Smith,” Carlos said, nodding slowly. “I will be happy to accompany you to the house.”
    • Let alone how much less of a hassle it is for you as the writer to create this, it’s easier on the reader, and you can set the reader up for his accent with the “well-integrated” info dump you have already included to explain who Carlos is and his background.

Think of some of those weird names authors create in their science fiction, fantasy, or paranormal stories!

Now throw that same weirdness into the dialogue, and, well, you may kiss that reader good-bye.

So How Do You Write Good Dialect?

Pay attention to:

  • Sentence structure
  • Commonly recurring terms and phrases
  • Slang

There are several ways to pull this off through the words you choose:

  • Write with standard English and include dialect information as part of the dialogue tag
    • Be aware that you don’t have to use the “in his Highland brogue” with every dialogue tag; you can include the “key” words in his speech or thoughts (depending on your choice of point-of-view) and people will remember
  • Use a few words for articles and pronouns that are commonly associated with the type of character using the dialect
  • Use the structure of the sentence to convey dialect, regionality, and/or childhood
  • Use accent specific words / spellings that are particular to your character, i.e., aye instead of yes, chica instead of girl, ol’ lady instead of wife, boyo instead of boy, etc.
  • Lengthen vowels, i.e., soooo, heyyy, ohhhh, etc.
  • Do use jargon that is common to the area
  • Combine one or more of the above

She is. I kin unnerstan’ about da gal. I should’a never done it, but she made me feel so low, like I not a man.

“She is. I can understand about the gal. I should’ve never done it, but she made me feel so low, like I’m not a man,” he said in his warm, lilting Caribbean patois.

What you do NOT want to do is misspell the words. Spell them correctly, even when you’re using those informal words like gotcha, da, dem, c’mon, gimme, etc. Sure, they’re not proper English, they are, however, common enough that most readers recognize them.

Research, Research, Research!

Part of your dialect research should include the countries which have influenced that of the speaker. For example, Jamaican English is heavily influenced by its British colonial past, and yet the younger generation has been heavily influenced by American television and music, so be aware of your age groups. Hong Kong was a British colony for ages and has now reverted back to China. How might that affect the language?

Do NOT forget that a character’s thoughts should use the same keywords and sentence structure as his dialogue.

Susan Uttendorfsky noted that YouTube is an excellent source “to hear commonplace dialogue in another language while FictionAddiction.net recommends that “If you don’t live somewhere that provides you with that opportunity, rent some home videos with characters from places far from your home…[and]…use your ears to determine what truly makes an accent”.

Use Google to search using terms such as:

  • learn (language)
  • (word) in (language)
  • real (language) accent
  • how to speak in a (language) accent

There are two research techniques you should consider:

  1. Pick a specific location / county / region for your character and absorb that accent and/or dialect
  2. Listen to that accent for word pronunciation, sentence structure, and common slang usage — it usually has more to do with timing and word placement, the sentence structure, than how someone actually pronounces their words

I’d bet you could find English-speaking Scottish- and Irish-accented videos, like newscasts, sports commentaries, and interviews with ordinary people, television programs (find out if they’re produced by that country or if it’s a Hollywood interpretation) and such. That would help you hear the dialects and be sure you’re writing them accurately. She also noted that “documentaries filmed … with ordinary folks seen and heard going about their normal routines” would be useful.

The ideal is to use a few words representative of the character’s background and sprinkle them throughout his dialogue. Begin with the most important: the character’s diction (word choices), his or her syntax (sentence structure), and idioms (phrase that can’t be interpreted literally).

From there, you may want to explore pertinent figures of speech, the rhythm of their prose, and their punctuation, which is primarily about using contractions.

PAY attention. Read, listen, absorb the accent until your family starts lookin’ atcha funny. Pay attention to the sentence structure, common word sequences, slang terms commonly used. DO NOT modify the spelling of words to portray the accent!!! Your readers will hate you.

Regional Word Choices

I am using zis chair, m’sieur.

Oy! What is it you are doing, you meshugganah!

Sit ye down, laddie.

Whaddya want now?

The weather look’s to be coolin’ down, eh.

Oh, well, if you make a mistake, you can just pick it out.

He, like, had my phone, like, all day, man.

Your readers will fill in the rest while they enjoy reading along.

Create a Unique Character

Slang / foreign words
Misspellings
Contracted Slang
Local phrases or sayings
Rhythm of Speech

There are a number of ways in which you can create a unique individual with flavor and the best are those which use only a few words interspersed in standard English. Lois Lake makes an excellent point with Diana Gabaldon’s interpretation of Jamie’s Scottish accent using a few key conventions of aye or yes, nay or no, ye for you, canna for cannot, dinna for didn’t amongst a few others and using the rhythm of Scottish speech. She didn’t have to recreate any spellings to get her point across. Lake also lauds Alice Walker’s use of dialect in The Color Purple and downplays Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin with its “poor” Southern black dialect.

Marcia Clark’s handling of the dialogue of her character, Luis Revelo, in her Rachel Knight series, tells us so much about him, or rather, reinforces his dreams without Clark having to shove it down our throats.

When you create your character, you’re already thinking of his age, his ethnicity, where he fits within society, how educated he is, and his nationality. From there, create a list of the types of words he’s likely to use: the slang, whether contractions are required, choose a few words to misspell, what sayings are prevalent in his neck of the woods, and research the rhythm of how words are used within his culture.

Create a Style Guide for Your Character

Create a subsection for that character with some examples of how sentences are constructed, so you have a guide to ensure you’re staying on track.

Whether you use an existing dialect or make up your own, write down what the rules are for that language, so that your writing of it remains consistent, so you don’t insult anyone, and create a sense of authenticity (do read Carson’s post as he has a brilliant expose of the habitual be!).

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle? If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page and consider sharing this Grammar Explanation with friends by tweeting it.

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Dialect
Credit to: Charles Carson on Grammar Girl; Samantha Schirripa; The Gumbo Pages
Part of Speech: Language
  • Southern or western drawl
  • Caribbean patois
  • Computer programming
  • Artspeak
  • British upper class and more
  • Jargon, cant

Definition: Word choice, how the sound is different, and syntax (how grammar is used) that is peculiar to a specific region, social group, or technology and differs from the primary language.

The current trend is to avoid misspelling words to convey dialect as the thought is that this makes the speaker seem ignorant, and it may alienate the reader.

POST CONTENTS:

A.k.a., vernacular, language, dialect, regional language, regionalism, patois, parlance, idiom, slang, jargon, lingo, -speak, -ese

Burroway

Yes, of course.

D’accord.

Whey aye, man.

I was like totally bummed.

Eeeeh, A was stottin mad, me like.

Regionalism Definition: Different parts of the United States use different words for the same thing. This is true of other countries as well. And I don’t mean that all of one country uses the same word throughout the country! Yorkshire versus Sussex in England; London versus Edinburgh; Paris versus Languedoc, etc.

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fizzy sugar water vs. pop vs. soda vs. coke vs. lemonade
bubbler vs. water fountain vs drinking fountain
Northern England: She were wearing a mask.

Southeast England: We was wearing masks.

Pennines: Happen she were wearing a mask.

mud vs. clarts vs. gaum vs. slurry
bread roll vs. cob vs. batch vs. bread cake vs. barm cake vs. scuffler
cheeseburger vs.la hamburguesa con queso vs. burger
Slang Countries may use the same word for the American-English word or they’ll have their own slang term.

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Slang Translated
American British Other Countries
cigarette fag (British) cigareta
cigaro
french fries chips papas fritas
pommes frites
vagina fanny rat
cos
cunny
twat
snatch
shit shite merde
mierda
dritt
cac
backside arse derrière
underwear pants
smalls
broekies
napkins serviettes
diapers nappies
jeans
pants
trousers jean
yes
yeah
ya
yea
yassuh
yep
aye
arr
ay
oui
d’accord
ja
si
e
ebo
hai
da
sweetie
honey
baby
hen
ducks
duckie
mo chuisle
ma belle
mon chou
liebchen
mi corazón
mi alma
nyingdu-la
Use Common Words to Imply the Accent Terms of Endearment Definition: Pet names we use to refer to someone we care about.

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French
mon chou
ma chatte
mon cher (see the post on “Word Confusion: Cher versus Chère, Cherie“) Yes / No Definition: Saying yes or no in a foreign language OR to imply a social class or regional area.

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yes
yeah
ya
oui
d’accord
ja
si
e
ebo
hai
da
no
naw
nah
non
nei
ne
nein
hakuna
Diction Definition: The choice and use of words and phrases in speech or writing and how it affects dialect.

Explore more about diction as a literary device. Types of Diction:

  1. Formal
  2. Informal – ordinary, common word choices
  3. Colloquial – word choices that vary from region to region
  4. Slang – impolite or newly coined words
  5. Telegraphic Speech – short, quick, ungrammatical
  6. Text Messaging – today’s text shorthand
  7. Vulgar – crude and rude

I loved a variety of examples that Lake provided in her post. Check ’em out. If you ain’t laughin’ by the end, you ain’t right!

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The same sentence as reflected by the different types of diction. Formal: We must leave now for the event.

Informal: We’ll have to go now for the party.

Colloquial: We gotta get on the road for that sausage fest.

Slang: Beat feet, bro. Booty’s calling!

Telegraphic Speech: Leave now.

Text Messaging: k

Vulgar: Bitch! Move your ass. Formal Definition: Used in formal situations, e.g., press conferences, presentations, etc.

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In order to fully understand a character’s motives, one must carefully analyze each scene.

Few genes have been identified as causing this particular disease.

Since the remarkable moment I laid my hazel eyes upon you, I knew I would be very fond of you, yet I was still unaware of just how significant you would come to exist in my life.

“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” – Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird

It is vital to understand the text one reads.

Informal Definition: Used in informal situations like writing or talking to our friends, using words common in everyday speech.

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“‘You git it. I want it…’

‘I hain’t got no money, I tell you. You ask Judge Thatcher; he’ll tell you the same.” Huck from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

You’re not mad at me, are you?

Let’s go get some lunch.

Colloquial Definition: Those idioms and figures of speech used in the vocabulary indigenous to the locale.

It is unlikely that the words used in a particular region will be recognized by speakers outside the region.

Business Insider has published “22 Maps That Show How Americans Speak English Totally Differently From One Another” courtesy of Joshua Katz of a linguistic survey done by two professors.

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It’s raining stair rods!

Hey, what’s up, man? Lookin’ cool in those shades you’re wearin’!

Computers are a pain in the neck.

Let’s clear out. Slang Definition: Use of words that are impolite or newly coined.

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Dawg, hear me out. I needs to get in here ’cause my moms is all up in my biz sayin’ I need to get my education, ya know?

I ain’t ticked, I said.

The Mona Lisa looks weird from up close.

Cheese it, the cops!

“I’m, like, so totally grossed out! That dress is fer sure grody, but like omigod, that one there is wicked! Like, it’s so bad!”

Contracted Slang Definition: Words that are normally separate or merged from a contraction.

Rule: Do not make up a new spelling for words that are already contracted into a common slang.

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’em
gonna
gotcha
gotta
hafta
whaddya
Telegraphic Speech Definition: A style that evolved from the original practice of leaving off words that weren’t necessary to a telegram to save money to the Hollywood idea of Hulk-speak “leav[ing] off the fancy, civilizing stuff — pronouns, conjugations that tell you tidily who is doing what, truncating word endings, articles and other particles that refer to what is and isn’t already known”.

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James Harbeck has a fun post in The Week, “A linguist’s guide to HULK SMASH“, which explores HULK-speak and compares it to telegraphic speech.

Telegram Word Endings “Hulk” Speech
ridden ride
bringing bring
arriving arrive, etc.
Text Messaging Definition: As a method of communication, this electronic communication sent and received by cellular phone definitely comes under the purview of dialect.

There are a variety of ways in which to punctuate text messages, and you can read more about the Properly Punctuated in the post, “Dialogue“.

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*b there soon*
*I <3 u*
*Where u @?*
*I am BBB, baby*
*BTW, saw Jarod with Cassidy last night.*
*WTF?*
*PU the kids?*
*FYI. Ur better looking.*
*LMAO*
*CUL, girlfriend.*
*Watch where u open this. It’s NSFW.*
*Did u c the pkg on that boy? OMG* Vulgar Definition: Use of words that is considered coarse, mean, lacking in good taste, and/or uncultured. The words could be obscene or filthy and are generally attributed to the “lower” classes.

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Bitch, you ain’t right.

You fucking cunt!

That motherfuckin’ prick left me high and dry. Syntax Definition: The arrangement of words and phrases to create sentences to reflect the character using dialect. This structure can easily change depending upon the character’s origins and education.

This explanation of syntax is focused on dialect; to explore it strictly as language, visit “Literary Device: Syntax“.

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Who think you who I in the city met have? Who do you think I met in the city?
They think that they richer are. They think that they are richer.
Dances it nobody not. Nobody is dancing.
Who is it that you have seen? Who did you see?
If no mistake you have made, losing you are. You’re losing if you haven’t made a mistake.
Then there is this example from Arlene Prunki’s excellent post, “Dialogue in Fiction, Part 1: How to Write Authentic Dialects and Foreign Accents“.
North American English He comes home a lot.
African-American (with the habitual be) He be comin’ home.
Creole He returns home often.
British He comes home quite often.

He quite often comes home.

French He comes often home.
German He comes often home.
East Indian Often it is home that he comes.
Jamaican He come home for some time now.
ljc uses characters from Joss Whedon’s Firefly television series to demonstrate how sentence structure, specific words and phrases, and general verbal ticks not only immediately identify their dialogue, but notes their likely social status as well in his article, “Dialect do’s and don’ts.”
Simon Tam’s “It was nothing.”
Kaylee Frye’s “Weren’t nothin’.”
Regional Examples of Syntax United States Ozarks Definition: A dialect of American English, spoken in the Ozark Mountain region of northern Arkansas and southern Missouri. It may be referred to as North and South Midlands English or Appalachian English. Many believe it is a more pure form of Elizabethan England.

I was telling my English father-in-law about my collection of pitchers, and he thought I was talking about pictures. In England, pitchers became jugs, and the former word no longer refers to containers which pour out liquid.

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He works at the Tyson plant anymore.

They was three boys hurt in the wreck.

We might could fix them brakes.

He’s crazy as all git out.

She was a biddable gal. Books to Explore Further Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows. Southern Definition: Syntax and word choices used in the South in the United States.

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We might could meet for lunch next week.

“Yeah, you know … ova dere ‘cross Magazine where dey all wear dem shoits wid lil’ gators on ’em.” Books to Explore Further Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings for a Deep South slave dialect.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout’s dialogue in particular
Mark Twain
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Margaret Mitchell African-American: Habitual Be Definition: The habitual be is a basic of African-American dialect.

Rule: Be is only used in front of a verb IF the action is habitual. It’s why linguists refer to this as habitual be.

Charles Carson on Grammar Girl

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Action Sentence Translation
Habitual He be sleeping on the couch. He sleeps on the couch on a regular basis.
NOT Habitual He sleeping on the couch. He’s sleeping on the couch, now.
Australian Definition: In general, two primary dialects are recognized: Standard Australian English (divided into General Australian English, Broad Australian English, and Cultivated Australian English with plenty of regional variations as well) and Aboriginal English.

Australian English evolved from the first British immigrants in 1788 who were primarily convicts of both upper and lower classes.

General Australian English – think of Nicole Kidman’s speech patterns

Broad Australian is mostly spoken by men.

Cultivated Australian English, a.k.a., British Received Pronunciation

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Where are youse?

Good onya, mate.

Where’s me hat?

Who took my bathers, eh?

He’s come in from the outback.

He’s on the never-never plan.

G’day, George.

Go and tart yourself up, luv.

A couple’a sheilas are havin’ a piss-up.

It’s your shout. Books to Explore Further Cherine Lit’s blog, Aboriginal English

Check out ByronIT’s Australian Slang

British Isles Definition: The British Isles include British English, Welsh, Scots, Irish, Gaelic, Celtic, Cornish, etc., oh, and let’s not forget BBC English.

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Books to Explore Further Universal Teacher has a fascinating look at the Scandinavian influences that influenced the evolution of English over the centuries.

Universität Duisberg-Essen in Germany goes further into the historical changes on the various dialects in the British Isles.

Cockney Definition: Traditionally, a true Cockney was born within the sound of the the bells of Church of St. Mary Le-Bow, but today anyone from the East End is considered a Cockney.

The rhyming slang used by Cockneys is part of their dialect and is said to have arisen due to a desire to keep their private business private as early as the 1840s.

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My trouble-and-strife called from the left-in-the-lurch to tell me that she’s going out for a spot of Ruby Murray.

My wife called from the church to tell me she was going out for a spot of curry.


Ring her up on the dog-and-bone.

Call her on the phone.


I don’t Adam and Eve it!

I don’t believe it!


Get yer bacons up the apples and pears.

Get upstairs.


He hasn’t said a dicky bird.

He hasn’t said a word.


Take a Butcher’s at that!

Look at that!


She doesn’t half rabbit on.

She sure talks a lot.

Books to Explore Further John Creasey’s The Toff series

John Camden Hotten’s Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant and Vulgar Words

Rice University has a list of rhyming slang. Ireland Definition: Hiberno-English is the version used throughout most of Ireland, however it is a complex combination of Irish + Elizabethan English with British spellings and mostly British pronunciation standards, an Irish vernacular.

There are various Irish dialects with their own unique sound systems and may be divided into four or five major dialects or accents: Ulster English, West and South-West Hiberno-English (including Cork English), Dublin (and New Dublin) English (often differentiated by local and non-local varieties), Southern Irish, and Northern Irish.

Gaelic has almost been making a revival.

Using an Irish dialect is an excellent example of how word choice and the distinctive Irish grammatical structure is what counts…not “writing” an accent.

A.k.a., brogue, Irish Gaelic, Hiberno-English, Irish-English, Gaeilge, Anglo-Irish, Irish vernacular

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We’re after doing the rounds of the museums in Dublin.

Amnt’ I glad you’ve come round tonight.

I’m thinking some research on using Irish dialect is in order.

Are you having the bacon with that?

Are you looking for Himself?

Your man was in here earlier.

Ye’ve run this course more times that I can count and ye’ll be fine. Just keep ye’re first mile under 6 minutes thirty seconds and blast up the last hill.”

“Thar he is! He’s got the official time right thar! 20:14.4!”

Mom Ma
Mam
Mammy
Mother (in a faux formal way)
boy young lad
young fella
girl young one
child wain
husband my man
your man
wife your one
there thar
boss
man or woman of the house
attributes some degree of arrogance or selfishness to the person in question
Herself
Himself

Benny Lewis’ “How to Speak English Like the Irish

The Irish Don’t Use Yes or No There is no Irish Gaelic for either a definite yes or a definite no, although with the prevalence of international influences and the Internet, that’s fast going the way of the dodo. But in your dialogue, it would be useful to adhere to this tradition.

A good guideline in replacing yes/no, repeat the verb of the question, positively or negatively.

Yes No
“Isn’t it lovely weather we’re having?” “Aw, sure look it.” Is your mobile charged?” “It isn’t.”
Are you coming home soon?” “I am.” Do you like tomato juice?” “I don’t.”
Can you swim?” “I can!” Are you coming?” “I amn’t.”
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the repeated verb
You in Irish-English! Did ye all go to see it?

None of youse have a clue!

Are ye not finished yet?

Yis are after destroying it!

Where are yous going?

Irish English
2nd person singular
ye west Ireland
Munster
you

tusa
yous
youse
Dublin
across Ulster
yis Leinster
north Connacht
parts of Ulster
yiz Dublin
yousuns the north
2nd person plural
ye west Ireland
Munster
you
yis Leinster
north Connacht
parts of Ulster
yous
youse
Dublin
across Ulster
sibh
Singular possessive
yeer your
yeers yours Plural possessive ye’r
yousser Dublin
across Ulster your yizzer Dublin yisser Leinster
north Connacht
parts of Ulster yousons’ the north Reflexive Pronoun yeerselves yourselves 2nd person singular + simple future verb ye’ll you’ll
you will 2nd person singular + modal verb ye’d you’d
you would 2nd person singular + present perfect verb ye’ve you’ve
you have 2nd person singular + simple present verb ye’re
yere you’re
you are

Examples courtesy of Franka McNally at The Irish Times, “The correct youse of English“.

Books and Sites to Explore Further This About.com article by Richard Nordquist, “Characteristics of Irish-English Grammar” has some fascinating tips about using Irish-English with lots of links to even more suggestions, while “Irish English (language variety)” gets into Irish variations: Northern, Southern, and New Dublin.

The Dialect Dictionary: Irish Dialect has a useful list of words and their “translations”.

Wikipedia’s “Hiberno-English” is more useful for noting the history of Irish-English and its variations with pronunciations than for practical language usage. Although, it does list current personages whom you could listen to for the rhythm and sense of the language.

Irish Slang” is always handy to bring a sense of reality to dialogue, although this is a rather short list. “Cursing in Ireland” is quite handy with its list of “four-letter words”.

Irish-English (Hiberno-English) terms and phrases” is an easily read list.

What Irish phrases you need to learn before you visit Ireland” will be comin’ in handy for day-to-day dialogue while “Irish Idioms and Phrases in Everyday Use” has yet more along the same lines.

There’s a useful article by ljc on Dialect do’s and don’ts” using Doyle’s Irish-isms from the Angel television series. Scotland Definition: The standard is Scottish Standard English as spoken by the educated middle class while broad Scots is more likely to be the working classes. Be aware that the major cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow have their own urban dialects.

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Two weeks before I moved here we moved out the house.

And then I applied for coming here when I was in second year at Stirling, so I would have been 18 or so.

This was a fantastic experience and, eh, really formed the way I thought for the rest of my life.
Give us a show, lass.
Can you lend us a quid?
Me and Jimmy are on Monday our two selves.
“Thae cakes was awfy dear” or “Them cakes was awfy dear.”

Those cakes are expensive.

Books to Explore Further Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting

Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series

Dani Garavelli’s “More than words: A guide to Scottish dialect” notes that dialect with its word choices changes from village to village. So ye’ll ha’ to decide how accurate ye intend to be. French While French is mostly pronunciation, some written tips include:

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  • No contractions
  • Add , no? to the end of sentences
  • Letters such as th and h at the beginning to a word are difficult pronunciations and frequently seem to be dropped in conversation
  • Use a z to spell words such as these, those, the, this, etc.
    • Other th words, e.g., thoughts, thin, think, etc., don’t pronounce the h — do use an apostrophe to indicate a missing letter to warn your reader that a letter is missing
  • In possessive references, replace it with his or her
  • Replace the pronoun it with that
  • Certain words (in French) are only in the plural, and a French person will use a plural form in English as well
  • When using present tense, consider NOT conjugating for the third person present verb
  • When using past tense, use English present perfect
  • When asking a question, invert subject and verb
  • Eliminate the helping verb, do
  • Inserting French idioms or exclamations, well-known French words
    • If the character is agreeing they might just say Bon. Ça y est or Ca va? or On y vaallons-y in a nod to Dr. Who *grin*

Within France itself, there are numerous dialects of today and the past:

  • Central dialects include Francien, Orléanais, Bourbonnais, and Champenois
  • Northern dialects include Picard and Northern Norman
  • Eastern dialects include Lorrain, Bourguignon (Burgundian), and Franc-Comtois
  • Western dialects include Norman, Gallo (around the Celtic Breton area), Angevin, and Manceau
  • Southwestern dialects include Poitevin, Saintongeais, and Angoumois
  • East central dialects include Franco-Provençal which is something of an umbrella label, and its patois includes Lyonnais, Neuchâtelois, Dauphinois, and Savoyard

There are also completely separate languages spoken within France, including Breton, Basque, Alsatian (a German dialect), Flemish (a German dialect), Walloon, and Catalan (this one is arguable, given its closeness to Occitan, a.k.a., Provençal).

Around the world, a version of French is spoken in Switzerland, Africa, the Caribbean, Haiti, Franglais, Canada, and Louisiana. I would not like to see zis in my ‘ome.

I am so ‘appy to see you.

Zis is not ze man that I am looking for.

Zat is just a thought.

He love sewing and painting, t’ings like zat.

I am using ze spinaches in ze salad.

Ze furnitures for ze house ‘ave arrived.

I ‘ave gone to ze movies yesterday.

Where you are going?

What your name is?

What mean zis word?

Bonjour, mon ami! ‘Ow you are doing today?

I am going to the store.

I can not go to the store.

You are going to the store.

It is a great movie, no? Books to Explore Further Alibris has a pageful of books on Cajun French dialogue.

Alexandre Coutu’s Le québécois en 10 leçons.

Explore Britannica.com‘s entry on the French language for its history and evolution. Middle East Definition: A wide variety of languages are spoken in the Middle East and North Africa — and don’t forget each will have a variety of dialects.
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These languages include Persian (a.k.a., Farsi), Hebrew, Berber, Azeri, Qashqai, Baluchi, Luri, Armenian, etc. Arabic Definition: A Semitic language closely related to Hebrew, it is the most common dialect in the Middle East and has developed dialects within the various countries, i.e., Lebanese Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, Syrian Arabic, etc.

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Suggestions?? Books to Explore Further Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North

Ameen Rihani’s The Book of Khalid

Denys Johnson-Davies’ anthology of short stories from a wide range of Middle Eastern authors, The Anchor Book of Modern Arabic Fiction Idiom Definition: A phrase peculiar to a people, district, community, or class established by usage but not having a meaning that can be interpreted literally.

Those who use the idiom understand it to mean something quite different from what individual words of the phrase would imply. Naturally, idioms will vary depending on different cultures and countries.

You may want to read more about idiom as a figure of speech.

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rain cats and dogs
see the light
kick the bucket
what’s up?
old as the hills
penny-pincher
she’ll be right
pass the buck
ride herd on
hang one’s head
you can say that again
eat my dust
I wasn’t born yesterday
there’s more than one way to skin a cat
put your money where your mouth is
you’re driving me up the wall
Figures of Speech Definition: A form of literary device which uses a word or phrase that departs from its literal meaning in order to achieve a special effect or meaning, speech, or writing. It can be a different way of pronouncing a word or phrase to give further meaning or a different sound.

Poets and prose writers use this technique to bring out emotions and help their readers form images in their minds. Thus, figurative language is a useful way of conveying an idea that readers cannot understand otherwise, due to its complex and abstract nature. In addition, it helps in analyzing a literary text.”

Explore “Figures of Speech” for further information.

Literary Devices

Prose Rhythm Definition: Language and syntax enhances the subject being written about.

Rule: Uses a combination of complex and compound sentences and more interesting descriptions.

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Chris Brecheen has an excellent example (but his spelling is atrocious):

“The creek flowed lazily. It had an occasional burst of speed, but usually drifted gently. There were many deep pools. A layer of green scum rested many of the pools because it was so slow. Dragonflies flitted about this green scum. They formed an endless dance.


Brecheen notes that the above sentences don’t enhance the feel of a lazy creek with the endless dance of the dragonflies. You’ll see the difference below.


“The creek trickled lazily past the apartments, and though it had an occasional burst of speed, the water usually spilled gently from one deep pool to the next. It moved so slowly that a layer of emerald green scum formed over many of the pools where a cotillion of red and blue dragonflies danced an endless, mesmerizing dance.”

Punctuation Definition: The use of punctuation in dialect is mostly the use of contractions. You may want to explore the post on “Apostrophe” as well which delves into contractions.

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can’t
I’d
should’ve
li’l
didn’t
haven’t
somethin’
goin’
a’tall
’til

“‘Tis th’ night b’fo’ Christmas, an’ I’s fixin’ t’go carolin’ wi’ y’all” (Prunki).

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More Ideas…?

This post will keep evolving as more sources or ideas crop up. Do you have a favorite source or trick to create the effect of an accent?

Resources for Accents and Dialects

To make it easier to find a resource you need, I’ve broken this up into different countries.

General Sources on Dialect

Wikipedia and YouTube can be useful in researching language.

Collins Dictionary can provide translations from British or American English to German, French, Spanish, or Italian and vice versa.

Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. New York: Longman, 2007. Print.

Tom Chiarella’s post, “How to Give Your Character an Authentic Dialect” makes some good points about dialect.

Accent Learning for Actors is a site at which you pay for an accent package. I thought it was interesting, and you may find yourself desperate one day!

Accents: A Manual for Actors, Volume 1 by Robert Blumenfeld is a rich resource on accents, and it’s available at the library.

Kate Evans has a post, “Writing Dialogue in Accents and Dialects“, over at Daily Writing Tips.

Mignon Fogarty at Grammar Girl is always a good resource and her post, “Writing Accents and Dialects“, Episode 118: 2008 July 18, is a good one. Charles Carson‘s post over at Quick and Dirty Tips explained it well.

For more on African American dialects and the habitual be, there are several journal articles you can read including E. Conrad’s “The Philology of Negro Dialect” from the Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 13, No. 2, Spring 1944, pp. 150–54; D. Carkeet’s “The Dialects in Huckleberry Finn” from American Literature, Vol. 51, No. 3, Nov. 1979, pp. 315–32; and, D. Sewell’s “Dialect” from In The Mark Twain Encyclopedia, ed. J. R. LeMaster and J. Wilson, 219–20. New York: Garland, 1993.

International Dialects of English Archive provides audio of English accents from Africa, Asia, Australia-Oceania, Caribbean, Central America, Europe, Middle East, North America, South America.

Lori L. Lake’s “The Uses and Abuses of Dialect: Y’all Be Sayin’ Wha’?” at Just About Write looks more at dialect versus dialogue with lots of great examples.

Kat Latham’s blog, Books with Heat and Heart, has a great post by Rose Lerner: “Ten Tips on Writing Characters with Accents“.

Cameron Michaels’ post, “Writing Dialect: It’s in the Rhythm“, at FictionAddiction.net is useful and does have other posts on dialect.

Great Britain

Check out the Scottish English page under “Phonology”. Naturally, one site should not be your only resource, check out Scots Tongue as well for another example.

The British Library has a lovely section, Sounds Familiar, on dialects within the British Isles. You may be particularly interested in Grammatical Variations under Regional Voices. It is irritating that the examples on the maps use different words or sentences; I’d rather hear or see how the sound, grammar, or sentence structure changes in the same word or sentence.

The Very Best of British has a fun site on slang.

Audio Sources

International Dialects of International English Archive which provides specifics about a speaker who tells a story (a written transcript is towards the end of the page).

Radio stations such as RTÉ Radio has Southern Ireland accents, BBC Radio Scotland for Scots accents, etc.

A TV series that is produced in its native country, such as Ballykissangel, Miss Marple movies, The Full Monty, Hamish Macbeth, The Wind That Shakes the Barley for a traditional Irish lilt, etc.

Listen to native actors like Gerard Depardieu, Maurice Chevalier, Antonio Banderas, Paul Hogan, Henry Kissinger in the 1950s and 60s, Marlene Dietrich…

Explore YouTube.

Finding Words in Other Languages

In Different Languages can be distracting with all the possibilities.


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