Creative Process

Call ‘at Dialect?

At our writers group meeting last week after I read my piece one of the other writers said, “When your work is published, you will have to do audio books, because the Vermont accent adds so much.”

I said, “I have an accent?”  And another member next to me nodded slowly, wide-eyed, like, “You didn’t know that?”

I remembered another reader saying about my first novel, “You have some interesting dialect here, you could do even more of that.”  And I thought, Dialect?  Um, okay.

And that’s interesting.  I mean obviously I know that there are regional differences in the way speakers of the same language sound.  I just did not realize that it came across so much in my writing.

That pleases me because I feel as though on one level, that is my voice.  I am being true to who I am because my writing, in effect, sounds the way I sound.  My characters speak in the voices I have heard my whole life.  That’s good, right?

But only very slightly have I ever intentionally written dialect.  I have written ‘aright’ for ‘alright’ and ‘priey’ for ‘probably’, because that’s what we say, “You priey got twenty of them in your shed,” is what I wrote.  I don’t speak that way if I am paying attention and in company.  I priey do talk like that when I am talking to my brother.

But apparently I read that way.  In my first novel, which is set in a very rural part of Vermont, I would write, “Jesus Christ I know it, alright!”  But how that sounds to us is, “JeeZUZ Keroist Oi know et, ar-ROIGHT?”

It helps if you hold one side of your lower lip perfectly still as though you had a chaw of tobacco between there and your gums and you can’t lose it.  “Yup, atsit, loik ‘at.”

I don’t think I could keep that up.  I guess my writing group buddy is right, I’ll have to do the audio books.

Boi the Jeezus, fella, I will then.  Aright.

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


19 responses to ‘Call ‘at Dialect?

  1. Enjoyed this, Margaret! I communicate in “standard” English 95% of the time, but back on the farm with my brother I slip right back into dialect too. I’m glad our teachers failed to force us to “speak proper” all those decades ago. N

    • Thank you! It is hard to write how it sounds. And personally I don’t care for writing with a lot of dialect in it. It is choppy and doesn’t really affect how you ‘hear’ it, I don’t think. The words we choose speak for themselves. So glad you came by – thanks!

  2. A lovely post, Margaret! Accents are very difficult to build in without making them incomprehensible. I love the idea of audio books! I recently read a book about an English working canal boat family and it took me a while to figure out what the characters were saying as the author wrote a lot in dialect. In my own book about the West Country in England, I sort of hint at the accents with the language, but wouldn’t feel comfortable with writing in the dialect itself. After twenty years in South Africa, I picked up both an accent and a sort of mangled English that includes Dutch and Zulu words. Even my family didn’t understand me! I’d love to hear yours!

  3. I think South Africans and Australians have it all over the rest of us as far as accents. I bow to yours! I like your saying that you hint at the accents. I think that would be much more effective. Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment!

  4. Then you arrive in the Pacific Northwest, where we have what is termed as “news anchor speech” i.e. no accents. Sigh. I recall my dad telling me after we’d lived in Illinois a couple of years that I’d picked up a Midwest accent. Finally, I sounded like something🙂

    Lovely post, Margaret. I look forward to hearing your voice🙂

  5. There is some debate as to whether Scots is a language in its own right or simply an agglomeration of dialects. I’m not going to debate the issue. Suffice to say you’re more likely to find a Scot writing in an eye dialect than someone from south of the border despite the fact England is not short of dialects itself. There are arguments both for and against trying to emulate dialect in the written word but on the whole I’m in favour of it. You might find my articles English in its underwear and Homogenised tonguesof some interest. I’ve tried writing in other dialects—in my last collection of short stories I have two stories in Glaswegian, one in Cockney and another in New Yorkese—and they’re hard work to get right but I think they’re worth it.

  6. Thanks, Jim, I will definitely read your articles. It is hard to get a dialect right on paper and I do want there to be some understanding of how the characters speak. I am more open to writing dialect than I used to be. Cheers and thank you for reading.

  7. I certainly know this one from first-hand experience. My family all moved up to Indiana from Appalachian Kentucky during the Depression, two generations before me, and all I have to do is dial one of them on the phone and I’m saying things that my neighbors here in Denver would NEVER identify as English!

  8. Nice. Always a balance between getting the sense of the dialect and making the prose too hard to read. Sounds like you figured that out just right. Back in my days there, we always thought New Hampshirites said, “By JEEzus,” and Vermonters said, “B’Jeezuz Kerist”

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