View Full Version : Dialogue, Accents, Spelling and Grammar.

01-15-2007, 11:51 AM

That's the essay I'm arguing against--and here's a snippit of a convo Shweta and I had RE the essay:

{Shweta Posts the above link. I ask a question about Internal-State vs External State stories.}

[01:31] Shweta: ^^ That's a good essaylet on dialect in speech, I think
[01:31] Shweta: Let me try to clarify internal-state
[01:31] Shweta: and tell you why it didn't seem lacking to me.
[01:32] Bartholomew: *reading*
[01:33] Bartholomew: The author of this essay believes that it is demeaning to alter the spelling, but that its okay to bastardize the grammar? o.O
[01:35] Bartholomew: "The result? It's amusing and condescending -- the misspellings seem to indicate something about her intelligence, or her illiteracy."
[01:35] Bartholomew: No, it isn't. :p
[01:35] Bartholomew: I'd have a very nasty arguement with this person.
[01:35] Shweta: It's not bastardizing
[01:35] Shweta: it's alternate, perfectly fine, grammars.
[01:36] Shweta: People *do* speak differently, grammatically, in different places
[01:36] Bartholomew: Right.
[01:36] Shweta: and you can hear the accent just fine if you get the grammar right for it.
[01:36] Shweta: I have to agree with that author, you know. The phonetic spelling just *does* make the people sound illiterate. Especially when you do it for one character and not others.
[01:36] Shweta: Nobody talks like written English
[01:37] Bartholomew: She's argueing, it seems to me, that incorrect spelling makes him look stupid. I'm arguing that his grammar makes him look uneducated, which is exactly what the character is
[01:37] Shweta: When you take pains to point it out about one character, they *do* sound dumb. Because "the writer must have a reason for showing this"
[01:37] Bartholomew: When he changes Scarlet's spelling, it doesn't alter the sound in my mind--a point in your favor-- but it also doesn't make her seem trivialized or someone less intelligent to me, either.
[01:37] Shweta: It definitely does to me
[01:38] Shweta: In the first, the other persn sounds stupid and not worth taking seriously; in the second, she does. Very distinctly.
[01:38] Bartholomew: I just don't get that impression from that.
[01:38] Bartholomew: More important, though
[01:38] Shweta: Possibly it really depends on which accents one does phonetically
[01:39] Shweta: Like, the Southern ones might not to you
[01:39] Bartholomew: Is this the general consensus of *editors?*?
[01:39] Shweta: the Scots ones might not to me
[01:39] Shweta: I haven't seen many published pieces with ialectal spelling.
[01:39] Shweta: I don't know any editors though
[01:39] Shweta: put it in the ask an editor forum :)
[01:39] Shweta: anyway, I responded to your story
[01:40] Bartholomew: hmm.
[01:40] Bartholomew: I've always been of a "anything goes in dialogue" person.
[01:40] Bartholomew: Harry Potter has a few dialectal spellings in it.
[01:41] Bartholomew: Mostly when Hagrid speaks.
[01:41] Bartholomew: " 'Arry "
[01:41] Shweta: And Hagrid is not too bright.
[01:41] Shweta: Lovable, but not too bright. He does stupid things, he makes mistakes, the kids have to explain things to him.
[01:41] Shweta: He has a lower class accent, and he brings certain stereotypes with him.
[01:41] Bartholomew: An erronious assumption. The man tamed a giant spider and a threeheaded dog.
[01:42] Shweta: He's good with animals
[01:42] Shweta: He's also got very little sense
[01:42] Bartholomew: He has *different* sense.
[01:42] Shweta: and he sets small children against nasty mosnters and is surprised when it doesn't work out.
[01:42] Shweta: "Good with animals" and "simpleminded" go together in many fairy-tale traditions
[01:42] Shweta: and Hagrid is a pretty good example of that.
[01:43] Bartholomew: A hands-on learning approach. Nothing any of the other teachers, except History of Magic, perhaps, is any less dangerous than Hagrid's class.
[01:43] Bartholomew: *teachers does.
[01:43] Shweta: Sure. But not because they just plain don't understand the danger.
[01:43] Bartholomew: Didn't a girl lose an arm in the last book learning how to teleport?
[01:43] Shweta: I haven't read the last book
[01:44] Bartholomew: Well, she did. :p
[01:44] Shweta: I stopped at #4 because I hated it.
[01:44] Shweta: doesn't change my opinion.
[01:44] Shweta: But then, I'm not an editor.
[01:44] Shweta: Like I said, if you think the only important question is "Do editors care", I think you should ask an editor :)
[01:46] Bartholomew: I'm just saying Hagrid isn't stupid. And his accent doesn't make him stupid. The essayist here picked Gone With The Wind because she knew that the characters had a distinct Slave-Master relationship----one of them is already being portrayed as dumb. But what about Jack London's work? All the humans there had dialects, and most of them were pretty damn sharp.
[01:46] Bartholomew: And, actually
[01:46] Bartholomew: better place for this
[01:46] Bartholomew: the new forum for theory and stuff
[01:46] Shweta: sure :)
[01:46] Shweta: I'm not really up to arguing here. The author's intuitions match mine pretty well
[01:46] Bartholomew: Mind if I cram this convo into a thread?
[01:46] Shweta: I will put books down if they have dialectal spelling
[01:46] Shweta: No, go for it


I'll add more to this tomorrow, I just think its an interesting thing to debate.

01-15-2007, 12:24 PM
I'm with Shweta.
Use the marked vocabulary, even contractions, and syntax changes of a dialect, but don't screw with the spelling.

English spelling is already perverse and using it to suggest dialect is making a difficult thing worse.

01-15-2007, 12:29 PM
But a frictive D and a TH are not the same sound. Phonetic spelling is used in dictionaries to show the proper pronunciation; why can't a writer use it to show how a word is being pronounced?

01-15-2007, 12:32 PM
Because dictionaries use the IPA, and even that isn't standard from dictionary to dictionary.

And really, pronunciation is the least marked part of a dialect, and the one that changes most rapidly.

01-15-2007, 04:33 PM
Because dictionaries use the IPA, and even that isn't standard from dictionary to dictionary.

And really, pronunciation is the least marked part of a dialect, and the one that changes most rapidly.

It would be annoying to see mispelled words every sixth word.

But it can be effective to show a dialect by choosing which word you're adjusting.

"I'm going to the store." (Proper.)

"I'ma run to the store."

"I'm gonna go to the store."

Same three statements--(although the second one says something other than what it means, its common usage where I live)--Three different dialects. Adjusting the grammar wouldn't reflect the dialect in a case like this; and if this is the only character's line, and (for one reason or another) I need to make the fact that he has a dialect known, I'd rather show than tell the dialect.

"I'm gonna run to the store."

K. Bring me some chips.

"I'm going to the store," she said with a midwestern twang.


Gonna is semi-acceptable in dialogue because a lot of english speakers hear it.

But what if the speaker had a strong cockney dialect, and had a badly swollen tongue? He certainly wouldn't say, "I'm going to the store." Try as he might, that series of sounds wouldn't be able to escape his mouth at the moment.

When Bilbo had a cold in The Hobbit, he said, "Thag you berry buch," or something very like that. It was understood that he said, "Thank you very much" but that it just didn't come out right.

Hagrid's example not withstanding, in Harry Potter, Ron has several dialectal oddities, the most blatant being when he says Hermione's name slowly.

Butchering the spelling of words in dialogue, if done carefully, can be effective and even helpful.