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Thread: Character Accents

  1. #1
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    Character Accents

    I have a Russian character and I was wondering if there is a more professional way of presenting his accent? for example:

    "Hey! Vat do you dink you are doing?” Vlad said through a very thick Russian accent.

    or

    "Hey! What do you think you are doing?” Vlad said through a very thick Russian accent.

  2. #2
    Huh. kkbe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James simpson View Post
    I have a Russian character and I was wondering if there is a more professional way of presenting his accent? for example:

    "Hey! Vat do you dink you are doing?” Vlad said through a very thick Russian accent.

    or

    "Hey! What do you think you are doing?” Vlad said through a very thick Russian accent.
    My thinking is, if done well, you would not need to filter said dialogue tag with a notation that your character is speaking with a very thick Russian accent. I would suggest you refrain from writing accented dialogue unless you are 100% familiar with said accented dialogue, lest your dialogue comes across as forced or fake or semi-ridiculous. Perhaps you should peruse novels in which a Russian character speaks English. Another thought: don't forget dialect, which encompasses both vocabulary and accent.
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  3. #3
    The Crazy Man in the Sun. Feel me. WillSauger's Avatar
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    What kkbe said.

    Just say he's a Russian and convey that his English is enough. Maybe, sometimes, have him stop and question what word he should be using or if he gets it wrong. But any grammar changes or word changes like "Vat" is annoying and can trip a reader. Lessen the damage as much as possible.
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    I aim to misbehave Myrealana's Avatar
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    When it comes to writing dialect and accents into dialogue, less is more.

    The occasional reminder that his speech is accented should be enough. Don't sprinkle every sentence with Checkov-isms.
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    permanently suctioned to Buz's leg Putputt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WillSauger View Post
    But any grammar changes or word changes like "Vat" is annoying and can trip a reader. Lessen the damage as much as possible.
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    The Crazy Man in the Sun. Feel me. WillSauger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Putputt View Post
    Unless you're Terry Pratchett.
    Anything done well...

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  7. #7
    figuring it all out Luprec's Avatar
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    Instead of saying he has a Russian accent, convey this through your other characters' reactions.

    I think it's fine to throw in a word here or there with an accented pronunciation, just keep it limited, and nowhere near as often as your character would actually use it. You want to just convey they flavor.

  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW Dreity's Avatar
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    Also make sure it's a real Russian accent, and not the Cold War era stereotype (unless you're doing some sort of subtle post-post-modern satire). Russian doesn't actually sound that harsh or hostile, but Hollywood painted it that way to make their Soviet villains that much scarier.
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    has no socks JulianneQJohnson's Avatar
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    I agree that less is more in this circumstance. The odd word written in an accent will have more impact that whole sentences. I recently had a look at a historical novel where all the characters had thick old-timey accents. I didn't care how historically accurate it was, it was annoying, and made the dialogue almost unreadable. Never make a reader have to guess what's being said.
    I have found that the odd word written consistently in dialect, or choosing words and idioms from the culture you are portraying, is more effective.
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  10. #10
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    I am going to go with the less is more idea, it seems very popular :P He does sound quite standoffish but that is due to his past not being Russian.

  11. #11
    The One Ring? Teinz's Avatar
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    So, how did Rowling tackle Hagrid then? Both dialect and accent, right?

  12. #12
    Reinventing Myself Scribhneoir's Avatar
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    Give his dialogue a non-native English speaker's syntax. Maybe he doesn't use contractions, for example, or sometimes structures a sentence using Russian syntax rather than English or throws in an occasional Russian word when the English one doesn't come to mind. That sort of thing gets the point across without resorting to phonetic spellings.

  13. #13
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    Russians speaking English typically leave out articles, which don't exist in Russian. So, "Where is hotel?" for example.

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    practical experience, FTW Sunflowerrei's Avatar
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    You could also throw in the occasional "da" or "nyet." And as Scribhneoir said, the character's word choices and syntax are important.
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    here and there again fadeaccompli's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sunflowerrei View Post
    You could also throw in the occasional "da" or "nyet." And as Scribhneoir said, the character's word choices and syntax are important.
    Do people really do this? "Yes" and "No" are usually easy words to remember in a foreign language. They seem like the least likely words for someone to use their own language on, if they have any knowledge of the other language at all. Throwing in an occasional non-English word is fine, but when I see people doing that only with the super-common words, it seems gimmicky and jarring, because the really common words are exactly the ones that the speaker is most likely to know in English anyway.

  16. #16
    Huh. kkbe's Avatar
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    I imagine something akin to, "You want hotel key?"

    Or, "I bring you waffle. No? Yes?"
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    My little blog: /i-do/

    Rep'd by Brent Taylor,
    http://www.triadaus.com/





  17. #17
    Creepy Centipede Chasing the Horizon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Teinz View Post
    So, how did Rowling tackle Hagrid then? Both dialect and accent, right?
    Hagrid is one of my favorite modern examples of accent within dialogue. I never had to stop to decipher what he was saying, but I could hear that accent in my head so clearly, despite not being familiar with it.

    A little definitely goes a long way with phonetic dialogue, but I really dislike the modern trend of not using phonetics at all. Telling me a character has an accent and then writing everything they say in proper English just doesn't give me the sound in my head that phonetic dialogue does. Show, don't tell, you know?

    Watch out for intentional misspellings that turn one word into another, though, like 'what' to 'vat'. That gets confusing. I would write that, "Hey! Vhat do you think you are doing?" Gives the sound in my head just fine without being too hard to read. The lack of contractions contributes just as much to the sound of the accent in that sentence as the single misspelling too, at least for me.


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  18. #18
    practical experience, FTW Sunflowerrei's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fadeaccompli View Post
    Do people really do this? "Yes" and "No" are usually easy words to remember in a foreign language. They seem like the least likely words for someone to use their own language on, if they have any knowledge of the other language at all. Throwing in an occasional non-English word is fine, but when I see people doing that only with the super-common words, it seems gimmicky and jarring, because the really common words are exactly the ones that the speaker is most likely to know in English anyway.
    The many, many Russians I went to high school with did, along with inserting other Russian words in the middle of English sentences. Or they'd say something in English and say "da?" at the end, the way we'd go "yes?" if we were looking for an agreement.

    It may have had to do with code-switching for them, but I know Japanese people who know "Yes" and "No," but "hai" just slips out of their mouths more easily.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Putputt View Post
    Unless you're Terry Pratchett.
    Absolutely; the OP's example instantly put me in mind of Otto von Chriek, which can surely only be a good thing.
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  20. #20
    Not responsible for bitten fingers Shadow_Ferret's Avatar
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    Having not read Harry Potter I have no idea about Hagrid and the use of accent. I have, however, read Dracula and there are whole passages, pages upon pages of dialogue written in some Scottish sailor a cent that are totally unreadable. If there was anything important to the story within that dialogue, I missed it as I skipped those parts.

    So based on that experience, my vote is to never ever write In Accents or dialects.
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  21. #21
    figuring it all out Luprec's Avatar
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    My boss was born in Russia. He says the hardest sound in English is "th", as in "the". He usually pronounces it as a "z".

  22. #22
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    I agree that Hagrid is a great example of a well done accent

    I would say you should mention do it the second way, but if it his accent is really thick then it should affect some of his words. Phonetic accents can either aggravate or come off as so well done that the voice comes easily to the reader.

    When I was a kid, I read a lot of the Redwall books. The moles (burr aye), the hares (wot wot!), the shrews (goodagood), and a lot of other woodland creatures also had an accent of some sort. Everything was spelled out for you, and I actually enjoyed the accents now that I think about it. Heck, I still remember what most of them sound like

    If youíre going to spell out the accent, make sure it isnít too obnoxious and do it really well.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shadow_Ferret View Post
    Having not read Harry Potter I have no idea about Hagrid and the use of accent. I have, however, read Dracula and there are whole passages, pages upon pages of dialogue written in some Scottish sailor a cent that are totally unreadable.
    Dracula was written in a period of time in which "phonetic" rendering of an accent was the accepted norm. It generally isn't, anymore (except maybe Irvine Welsh, who I find unreadable).

    English is not a language even close to phonetically-rendered as normally written, and even native English speakers feature a wide variety of accents and pronunciations (think Jamaica, South Africa, Australia, Appalachia, Brooklyn, Boston Southies, Maine Downeasters, English Geordies, etc.).

    If you don't believe this, say these words aloud:

    bomb
    comb
    tomb

    or, better yet:

    tough
    though
    through
    bought
    cough
    bough

    An occasional little tweak might be effective, but comprehensive use of variant intended accent spellings is going to get hammered by just about any editor. A much more effect way of rendering speech from a character for whom English is not a thoroughly fluent tongue is by word choice.


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  24. #24
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    For the French characters in my book, I throw in real French phrases or words now and then (not in every conversation) and ensure that whatever my American characters say in response clarifies to the reader what was said in French.

    I've got one Boston accent minor character, where I use "ya" instead of "you" in his few scenes. Still pondering whether to leave it or not.
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    I write weird stories. phantasy's Avatar
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    Please don't overdo it. I skipped a few chapters in The Name of the Wind because of it. A headache to read.

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