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writing accents:

I was writing the dialog of one of my characters with a different country of orgin, and I realized that it is hard to convey accents.

How do you guys do it? The only accent I ever knew how to write was a slight, or even heavy, southern accent. Then again, I DO live in West Virginia so it IS to be expected =p

But really, how do you do it if the speaker has no 'slang' words of their own? Like you can tell if someone is British because they use words that mean something different in american english, like a 'boot' is the trunk of a car.

But what about when, for example, someone has an Eastern European or Asian accent? Or even a middle eastern one?
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 2 Merlo, Sun, 28th Aug '11 1:27:22 AM from the masochist chamber
*hrrrrrk*
Syntax is something you can use. I hear it's easy to tell when a German or Russian native speaker is speaking English due to the way they place subject/objects in the sentence. I might be explaining this wrong though grammar isn't my strong point.

Chinese native speakers have trouble pronouncing "r", and Japanese native speakers have trouble pronouncing "l", at least that's how the stereotype goes.

My parents' language doesn't have gendered pronouns, so they often get mixed up between "him"/"he" and "her"/"she". That could also be an issue.

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I often see examples of writing where people change the spelling of the words to emphasize the different pronunciation, a sort of phonetic speech. {I believe there might be a trope about that somewhere.} Mark Twain was famous for it.

Other times, the accent is mentioned only in the narrative and the sentences are written normally. {"Her accent warped the vowels/he spoke stiffly and with sharp enunciation/etc etc..."}

I've also seen authors who play with syntax to great effect, good point!
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 4 Rainbow, Sun, 28th Aug '11 5:38:38 AM Relationship Status: Puppy love
Sailor Moon Fan
Yes, the trope is Funetik Aksent and gives a lot of examples that one could use.
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 5 Ronka 87, Sun, 28th Aug '11 7:19:27 AM from the mouth of madness.
Maid of Win
Please avoid using Funetik Aksent— it's really annoying. It's part of what makes Mark Twain, an otherwise fantastic author, so hard to read. If part of the point is that the characters can't understand the speech, or if it's intended to be funny, that's okay, but otherwise, it's needlessly confusing.

Also, while people in other regions do have different words for certain things, when they're used in stories it often seems forced— something added to make the point that this person is, indeed, from X region. An exchange like this:

"It's in the trunk."

"Trunk? Oh, you mean boot."

... makes me wince. It's forced and unnatural, and not good dialogue.

Frankly, the best way to deal with accents is to mention in the narration that the character is from region X and write the dialogue normally. Change the syntax, diction, and vocabulary only if it's how you envision (enlisten?) the character saying it in your head, and even then, judge to make sure it doesn't look or sound ridiculous.

edited 28th Aug '11 7:20:22 AM by Ronka87

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patience, young padawan
I would only do a Funetik Aksent if I was intentionally making the character hard to understand or a genuinely poor English speaker.

I use other methods to show a character's accent, such as having my British characters use British terms and spellings, or having them fumble for obscure words every now and again.

Would it be gimmicky to portray animal noises using onomatopoeia from the language that they hear most often? Such as a cat belonging to a Russian family saying 'myau', a Japanese-owned cat saying 'nya', and a cat that listens most often to Chinese saying 'mao'?
 7 USAF713, Sun, 28th Aug '11 10:54:11 AM from the United States
I changed accounts.
This is one of those things where I try to avoid Painting the Fourth Wall too much.

Usually, I'll note what accent a character has, and possibly add an apostrophe and broken word here and there, but going all out isn't appealing to me. It just looks kind of sloppy, to me, I guess.

It only bothers me when I try to write it. I read it in a book done by another and it usually seems like it's done well. Perhaps I'm just biased against myself...
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 8 Ori Doodle, Sun, 28th Aug '11 11:23:07 AM from Uhm....i dunno? Relationship Status: Sharing a spaghetti noodle
Best thing to do with accents, if it's a main character's accent, is to write their first few line sof accent into the dialogue so that th reader gets a feel for it and then gradually slip into "translated speech". Take, for example, the deep south character. He might say something like "Wahl, naw, young lady, I dunno what you maht be lookin' fur around here, but you shure won't find it in mah barn." Leroy drawled. "Come on into the kitchen, and we'll talk about it there." Keep the character's speech patterns, but leave the funny spellings behind you. Make sense?
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 9 Mister Always, Sun, 28th Aug '11 2:35:25 PM from The Netherlands.
Go away.
In dis thing I'm be writin' I've gots f' this man speaks a bit all like dis. 's suppose t' be f' a li'l trouble t' understand it. Lampshade Hangin' all abound, d'yaknow.

It's some kind of futuristic dialect/accent that's kinda based on Jamaican, a bit.
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 10 Noir Grimoir, Sun, 28th Aug '11 10:51:46 PM from San Diego, CA
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[up][up]That's a bit of a jolt.

Well when I do characters with accents, I have other characters comment on it aloud or in their thoughts, and usually have them describe how it sounds different or how certain words are said occasionally, if it's notable.

Like a Philadelphia accent is notable for the word 'water' sounding like 'wooder'. So a character might ask "Can you get me some water?" and the character they are asking can think something like: It took me a second to realize what he'd asked for because he said 'water' like 'wooder', but then I nodded and went to get him a glass.

Or say a character has a German accent, the first time your other character hears him say something—say like "That isn't where you will find what you are looking for, "—you can then have the other character describe it in their head by thinking: The way he said the words made the sentence sound like "Sat isn't vhere you vill find vhat you are lookink for."

Whatever you do, don't have them saying random words in their first language, especially if it's only the easy ones like "thank you" and "yes". It sounds half-assed, and those are likely the first things they learned in the language they are now speaking. It's just unnatural.

edited 28th Aug '11 11:26:57 PM by NoirGrimoir

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 11 Merlo, Sun, 28th Aug '11 10:56:46 PM from the masochist chamber
*hrrrrrk*
Oooh, what about swear words?
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am...
 12 Noir Grimoir, Sun, 28th Aug '11 11:26:20 PM from San Diego, CA
Rabid Fujoshi
I would say the only things you would replace with the home language would be pet-names, swear words, and very occasionally a nouns or verb (if they've forgotten how to say it in that language or never learned it, but they should then probably be corrected or the other person should be confused). They might use hello and goodbye in their home language if they were trying to be cute or something but with the average person they wouldn't.

I wouldn't be too crazy with swear words though honestly, it starts to look silly if it happens enough. Just say they cursed or forcefully said something the other character couldn't understand.

edited 28th Aug '11 11:28:36 PM by NoirGrimoir

SPATULA, Supporters of Page Altering To Urgently Lead to Amelioration (supports not going through TRS for tweaks and minor improvements.)
 13 Loni Jay, Mon, 29th Aug '11 1:45:53 AM from Australia Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
@Mr Always: Have you read the Polar City books by katharine Kerr, by any chance?

The dialect spoken by most characters in that book is supposed to be the result of a group of Americans colonising a small planet, and the accent evolving on its own for a while.

I don't have the book on me and I can't remember any good examples of what it was like, but I think it was done well.
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 14 Rainbow, Mon, 29th Aug '11 6:27:34 AM Relationship Status: Puppy love
Sailor Moon Fan
@ Ori Doodle: I'd personally find that to be annoyingly inconsistent, to start out writing a character's dialogue in a Funetik Aksent and then suddenly stopping. To me, if I saw that in a story, I would wonder if the character's voice suddenly changed. I'd rather be consistent and write all the character's dialogue as a Funetik Aksent or not at all, unless the character is supposed to change his/her accent in the plot (like with My Fair Lady).
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 15 Bobby G, Mon, 29th Aug '11 7:04:40 AM from the Silvery Tay
vigilantly taxonomish
I think Funetik Aksent is pretty much always annoying and unnecessary. Just note that the character is speaking with an accent, and use dialectal terms when appropriate.

edited 29th Aug '11 7:04:57 AM by BobbyG

I have a French character and a character from Brooklyn that I currently write using Funetik Assent. It took me awhile to remember to do it when I was writing dialogue for them. It comes naturally now.

I've only used them for roleplays so far though. When I do get around to placing them in a story, I'm not entirely sure if I'm going to keep the written accents or not. I agree with what earlier posts have said about some examples of written accents being hard to read.

I'm hoping to avoid that by making the changes to the dialogue minimal. So the character from Brooklyn has his "th" sounds replace with a "d" sound and words that end with a "er" sound get an "ah" sound. So basically the Brooklyn Rage page.

If it gets annoying enough I can take it out. I kind of like it though, I can write bits of dialogue for them without saying it belongs to that character and people will just know automatically.

 17 Mister Always, Mon, 29th Aug '11 10:03:41 AM from The Netherlands.
Go away.
@Loni Jay: Nope. Are they any good?
Always touching and looking. Piss off.
 18 annebeeche, Mon, 29th Aug '11 10:08:09 AM from by the long tidal river
watching down on us
I hate when people replace 'w' with 'v' and such for German and Slavic accents, because I don't know about German, but Slavic speakers rarely do that. Just because a word would be read differently in the Polish orthographic system does not mean that it is pronounced that way in a Polish accent. And I should know—my family is Polish.

Rather, accents result from approximating English phonetics that don't exist in their own language. For example, English has /ə/, found in "luck". Polish does not have /ə/ (Polish has only six non-nasal vowels), but /a/ (found in "father"), which is a common approximation. Thus "luck" in a Polish accent sounds the same as American "lock", which may lead to confusion.

The general rule of thumb is to just write the accent as the main character understands it. If the speaker tried to say "luck" and the main character understood it as "lock", write it "lock".

EDIT: What I mean is, even if it sounds like "lock", if the listener understood the word as "luck", write it "luck".

edited 29th Aug '11 10:32:12 AM by annebeeche

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 19 Night, Mon, 29th Aug '11 1:49:37 PM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
I think accents can be written in fine, by other people.

However as I'm not writing to be published, it's extra work and I'm not doing it.
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 20 Blue Ninja 0, Mon, 29th Aug '11 1:59:50 PM from The Middle of Nowhere Relationship Status: Non-Canon
Plotting my Escape
In one of the writing panels at Nor Wes Con, with several published authors, I asked this very question. The united response from all of them was For the love of God, don't you dare use a Funetik Aksent.

edited 29th Aug '11 2:00:10 PM by BlueNinja0

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 21 vijeno, Mon, 12th Mar '12 9:10:32 AM from Vienna, Austria
Okay, I'm fiendishly necro'ing and hijacking this thread.

What I would like to talk about is characterisation of accents. (As opposed to Funetik Aksent or using the appropriate vocabulary.)

I also think it would be nice to work on actual examples. I don't mind if a few cliches run into the description - that's what accents in literature are, most of the time, anyway (and thus are often used for comedy). It's a lighthearted topic, methinks.

So - how would Americans characterize a british accent? To me, being European, it sounds vaguely upper-class, stiff, harsh, with short vowels and hard consonants; and also, filled with complicated, multisyllabic vocabulary nigh unintelligible to the lower class populace such as you and me.

Also, I have one character that is American - I would like to give him some special accent, but I don't know my way around in America, despite the all-too-familiar Texan accent perhaps. Currently it's Wisconsin (purely by chance really).

I'm thinking, how about a New York accent. How would you characterize that?

edited 12th Mar '12 9:14:48 AM by vijeno

 22 Bobby G, Mon, 12th Mar '12 2:11:30 PM from the Silvery Tay
vigilantly taxonomish
I suspect, though correct me if I'm wrong, that the reason "British accents" sound upper class to you is because you're thinking of the RP accent, which is indeed associated with the upper class in Britain. I certainly wouldn't consider a Valleys Welsh accent or Yorkshire accent particularly upper class.

To my (English) ears, a New York City accent, broadly speaking, sounds nasal, with lots of "uh"s and "aw"s, and maybe suggests a laidback, streetwise character. As with the British accent, though, there's regional variation. A Bronx accent, to me, sounds rougher, punchier and even more streetwise than a typical New York accent.

And of course, these are just regional stereotypes, and actual tone of voice trumps them.

edited 12th Mar '12 2:12:08 PM by BobbyG

 23 Mr AHR, Mon, 12th Mar '12 2:13:24 PM from ಠ_ಠ Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
Which new york accent? A city accent, yonkers, bronx, or one from somewhere else, what?
 24 Bobby G, Mon, 12th Mar '12 2:20:05 PM from the Silvery Tay
vigilantly taxonomish
Of course there's no such thing as a single New York accent. Same goes for any other regional accent you want to name, though. In that sense, "British accent", "Southern accent" and "Midwest accent" are much vaguer.
 25 vijeno, Mon, 12th Mar '12 11:39:39 PM from Vienna, Austria
@Bobby G, re Upper Class Brit Accent: Yeah sure, and I know it. That's what I have in mind, probably because I know a guy who talks like that, and I could listen to him talking for hours on end. It's hilarious and charming at the same time. (Yes, I have a brit in my story as well, just for that reason.)

About which part of New York: Um, let's try and categorize a few? After all, this thread is not just for me, it's for everyone who would like to write an accent.

I found a trope for it, by the useful name of American Accents, maybe someone cares making it even awesomer than it already is?

Different non-english accents would be very interesting as well, by the way. I'm actually writing in German, so the New York thing is just a sidenote. Maybe I'll come back later to try and describe a few of our accents.

edited 12th Mar '12 11:40:17 PM by vijeno

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Total posts: 25
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