Last weekend, a friend from Essex came to visit me and we went for lunch with my mother in St Andrews. My mum took great pleasure in confusing my poor friend by talking about “coos” and “breeks” and “baffies”. It’s a bit of a cheek really, since I was never allowed to use dialect words when I was a child. My parents would always correct me with the proper English words.

I don’t know if it is because of this or just coincidental that I find it very difficult to write dialect in fiction. I wrote a short story recently set in the middle of a wood somewhere in North America. I realised that it seemed too incongruous to have my characters speaking standard English but I had no idea how else they would talk. In the end I just made up a dialect for them. I figured that as long as I was consistent, nobody reading the story could be certain that there wasn’t somewhere in the world where people spoke like that.

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style contains the warning, “Do not use dialect unless your ear is good.” Later on in the same section there are a couple of tips for writing convincing dialect: be consistent and use dialect words sparingly. Hopefully I got away with it in my short story.


One thought on “Dialect

  1. I absolutely had to comment on this. My parents let me on the internet almost as soon as it came out, and so I grew up with a very global culture always at my finger tips. If you asked me what temperature it was, I would ask C or F? If you asked me how to spell color…I always got it wrong >.< There were two spellings, and neither one seemed to be correct.

    Being a horse person, I quickly learned the terms numnah, head collar, and that floating a horse did not always mean filing its teeth.

    Dialect is easy to mess up, but so is using the wrong words. I swear we should stop calling the American language “English” x.x

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