about writing and life and God

Do you just hate dialect?

on August 30, 2012

Just back from watching Disney’s wonderful Brave at a local cinema. My sister had warned me that it was spoken in Scottish accents so I was expecting genuine accents rather than Dick van Dyke’s mockney style Scots. What I hadn’t expected was genuine dialect.

As a born and bred Scot with nary a trace of Sassenach blood in my veins, I was bemused that I had trouble following one of the character’s words. Till I suddenly realised he was speaking Torry. Or a version of Aberdonian English. At the time I understood him completely. Now all I recall was something about the quine, ken?

I went to university in Aberdeen. the nearest uni to my home, but still a ten-hour train journey. And when I encountered the broad humour and even broader accents of the serving staff in our refectory, it was like struggling with a foreign language. (For those without any of that language, ‘quine’ is a girl, and ‘ken?’ simply asks whether the listener is following and understanding.)

My own accent and dialect are generally packed away as ‘not wanted on voyage’ . At my mother’s insistence. She learnt early on that unfamiliar accents and strange dialect words do not assist either communication or acceptance.

The novel I’m currently writing (1500 more words today – total 23,493) is peopled by folk who would have spoken in their own individual dialects and accents, including my own Wick variety. (They are all fisher folk who had travelled from the fishing ports of Scotland to work at the herring fishing in Great Yarmouth in autumn 1921.)

But when I read a regional novel, I am irritated by funny spelling and  too many apostrophes thrown in to give an impression of dialect or accent. Yet something must be done to indicate that the speaker is not using the Queen’s English/Received Pronunciation or whatever the reader considers to be standard. Which of course will vary from reader to reader.

What I’m doing (so far!) is to use the occasional abbreviation that I think will be easily understood – wisna for ‘was not’, no’ for not, and so on. These of course are for my Scottish characters.

I’m aware that my Great Yarmouth folk will speak with their own distinctive accent and dialect words but I’m a stranger here and want to be able to go on living in the area so feel I should tread gently. However, my sense so far is that much of the Norfolk dialect is characterised by a distinctive use of vowels: yew for ‘you’, for example. I think – I hope – I may get away without having to produce a pidgin type transliteration.

I’d be interested to know what you think. How much dialect and funny spelling is acceptable to convey accent? Can the Yarmouth accent be conveyed easily in writing? And how do Americans cope with our funny regional variations of the English language which is already so distinct from theirs?

Oh and one word used in the film which brought joy to my heart: galoot! What a glorious word. I must remember to use it, though it isn’t what you might call complimentary…


One response to “Do you just hate dialect?

  1. Pat says:

    For me the answer to how much dialect, is not much.
    Better, I think, to find a phrase or single repeated pronunciation,as you are trying to do. A turn of phrase that will jar sufficiently to give an indication of an accent, but not so much that we turn away.
    Reading has to flow and bringing it to a complete halt each time someone speaks will not help that. Even short bursts of something unintelligible, but whose meaning is obvious from the context, are fine. Just don’t make me wade through incomprehensible treacle!

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