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Ed
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« on: September 10, 2010, 03:19:41 AM »

I notice there isn't a thread about accents here, so I thought we might discuss them.

Say you've got a French or a German character with a thick accent, how would you go about expressing that to your reader without making the text impenetrable or even funny when it's supposed to be serious?

Likewise, with regional accents -- how do you express them on the page?
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« Reply #1 on: September 10, 2010, 03:59:24 AM »

With accents I usually stick with those I know, i.e. Cockney, Norfolk or Somerset.

Cockney is the most often used in my work. I usually pretend I'm down the pub with my brother-in-law and listening to him or his friends saying the dialogue.

However, even if you watch East Enders you'll notice that in addition to a bit of Cockney banter to keep the punters happy, the actors rarely miss a hard 't' sound - which Londoners do. I think the reason is that many viewers would find what the actors are saying impenetrable if they did, and the programmers don't want to lose their audience.

I do a similar thing. If a Cockney's talking, I'll miss out most 'h' sounds but make few other changes perculiar to a pronounced London accent.

As I recall, Thomas Hardy was good at projecting accents with his rustic characters.

For an example of over the top accents, try 'The Secret Garden' (Northern accents). Excellent story, but myself and my daughter gave up reading it.

So I think the rule is not to overdo an accent. Just have enough of it, if it's needed, to convey character.

DW Cheesy
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Ed
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« Reply #2 on: September 10, 2010, 01:13:58 PM »

Yeah -- good point. One that a few of us here read and had problems with the accents on was The Ghost Pirates by William Hope Hodgson. It took me ages to figure out what 'piday' was meant to mean. In the end I gave up and continued reading, only to find it explained on the next page. Trouble was, by then my fictive dream had turned into a fully conscious conundrum, which isn't the experience I look for when reading grin
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« Reply #3 on: September 10, 2010, 03:32:10 PM »

I try to say a character has an accent rather than writing it, unless it feels quite important you get a sense of it, like an old man talking about a sinister legend.  I would never try and write a German or European accent, for instance, unless I was doing a comedy.  Dovink ze CUMAIRDEE!
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« Reply #4 on: September 10, 2010, 06:37:06 PM »

So, are you sayink zat if zis vas a comadie it vuld be acceptable to speak like zis vereas if it was serious it vould be annoyink?
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« Reply #5 on: September 11, 2010, 04:12:40 AM »

If I see phonetic speech in a book before I buy it, I don't.
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« Reply #6 on: September 11, 2010, 08:42:53 PM »

So, are you sayink zat if zis vas a comadie it vuld be acceptable to speak like zis vereas if it was serious it vould be annoyink?

Ja! Case in point:



"I was just pissing by ze vindow"
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« Reply #7 on: September 12, 2010, 01:00:55 AM »

There's a character in H G Wells' Food of the Gods with such a thick and bastardly difficult accent to read that I gave up on the book.  A little bit of accent is fine, or a regional accent that is well known (ie: the American South or American east coast, which is well known to Americans), but it can easily become intolerable, particularly for readers from other countries, which was part of my issue with Food of the Gods.  Wells used a British dialect that, being an American, I severely struggled with.   

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« Reply #8 on: September 12, 2010, 04:06:56 AM »

when writing in a thick not easy to understand easily 'accent' [its probably going to be in a dialogue], perhaps help the reader by adding into the text, at a suitable moment and manner*, something like this:- Herr Gubter's accent bacame so thick it was difficult to understand what he was saying. ..... if the prot is having trouble understanding - the reader will sympathise and make the extra effort to stick with the text.....

its a 'manipulation' -- you are spoonfeeding the reader to easier enjoy the text without him/her being aware of it

* moment and manner  -- remember the dankawanka rules-of-thumb [sucked from] for writing #17: if the reader realise he/she is being spoonfed information or being intentionaly 'manipulated' you are stabbing his/her suspension of disbelief in the back and shooting yourself in the foot
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« Reply #9 on: September 12, 2010, 04:11:45 AM »

As with Robert, I gave up on 'The Help' much for the same reason.

Getting back to Ed's point, if I had a German and a Frenchman talking in a common language - English - I Would occasionally include a familiar, i.e. common, word or phrase, ja!?

Another technique writers use to indicate a foreign language is to do away with contractions - something that also makes me put a book down since the language becomes stilted to my ear.

DW Cheesy
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Ed
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« Reply #10 on: September 12, 2010, 05:19:23 AM »

Or mess with the grammar. Many languages use the subject and the verb in a different order from English. Such as, in English you would say, "I will go to the market," but in Dutch, for instance, I believe you would say, "I, to the market, will go."

You've got to be a bit careful, though, otherwise you turn all your foreign characters into Yoda.

I think any kind of accent is a bit of a risk, because you can trigger the wrong voice in the reader's head, and then they're stuck with it for the duration of the story. That happened to me in last year's comp -- there was a serious story written in a kind of, I suppose, hillbilly kind of voice, but by the end of the second paragraph I had the voice of an 'aw shucks comedy retard' playing in my head, which made it impossible for me to read.
« Last Edit: September 12, 2010, 05:26:24 AM by Ed » Logged

Planning is an unnatural process - it is much more fun to do something.  The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression. [Sir John Harvey-Jones]
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