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Let's say a piece of writing is being composed. That piece of writing can, of course, be crafted with a slew of different techniques and artistic choices, but, one of those is the language used. How does the use of regionally-diverse diction, such as that used in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", contribute to a work holistically? Is it better to match the context of a piece with diction relevant to the given context, or simply to retain a consistent and standard styling?

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    You are asking for opinion. I've seen if both ways. Regional diction is most often used when the narrator is trying to express a sense of strangeness or confusion, rather than authenticity. But not always! As I recall, in LOTR everyone spoke the Common Tongue the same way, with only minor colloquialisms distinguishing Elves from Orcs (or even spiders). On the other hand, I believe that in every English (England) novel I've read, the Scots speak English with Scottish dialect.
    – user23046
    May 23, 2017 at 5:00

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How does the use of regionally-diverse diction, such as that used in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", contribute to a work holistically?

It can create a better sense of immersion. It can allow the reader to play with stereotypes (eg. people with a certain accent/slang come from a certain region/class and typically display certain behaviours) whether by reinfocing them or opposing them. It can help disntiguish characters quickly.

Is it better to match the context of a piece with diction relevant to the given context, or simply to retain a consistent and standard styling?

The keywords when choosing to go this route are 'depends' and 'consistency'.

First, make sure it really makes sense to use this type of writing. Secondly, you ought to mimic it accurately, or not at all. By this I don't mean every detail of the regional diction needs (although you can certainly do so) to be presented but a few obvious indications. I believe idioms may be more important even than diction.

Naturally, consistency is key. Once you have a French character 'speak' with an accent, you can't go back or it will 'sound' as if the character chooses to speak with an accent only when it suits them.

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It depends on your market and the quality of your readership. There is a battle between two major forms of the English Language - British English and American English. US culture is very internal - American's interest rarely extends beyond its borders. But the rest of the world has been fed American English via film and other media. The result is that most of the English speaking world is well versed in both British and US English whereas Americans tend only know their own.

e.g.

"Hurry up," shouted Liz. "If you two want a lift to work you need to get a wiggle on."

Maria yawned. "I am not going to my job today. In this moment I feel too tired."

"That's because you stayed out half the night - you slapper." Liz laughed. "Heidi, you ready?"

Heidi appeared in the kitchen doorway. "Sure, I'm ready," she said, entering Maria's room and shaking her by the shoulder. "Anchor baby, I'll tell 'em you're sick."

  • From gleaning the text a reader may suspect that Liz is English, Maria is Hispanic (even is she was born in the USA) and in all likelihood Heidi is American.
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    I am a native speaker of AmEng and I have never heard "get a wiggle on" or calling someone "you slapper" before. What region of the U.S. are your characters supposed to be from? (which just highlights the point: even in the "dialect" of AmEng, there are regionalisms which are not heard outside a geographical area.) May 23, 2017 at 9:46
  • Ms Ipsum. I think you've highlighted my point. Read it again. (1) 'Get a wiggle on' and 'Slapper' are UK expressions. (also an American would likely say 'ride' as opposed to lift). (2) Going to 'my job' is not UK. UK would say 'work'. (3) Many European languages do not have a direct translation for 'now'. The translation of results in 'in this moment' - also they tend to avoid contractions. (4) UK natives do not use 'sure' for 'yes'. (5) The expression 'Anchor baby' is American.
    – Surtsey
    May 23, 2017 at 10:12
  • My confusion is that I'm not sure what point you were trying to make. Are they in America with Liz as a British transplant and Maria code-switching from Spanish? Are they in England with Heidi as an American expat? that's why I asked. May 23, 2017 at 14:18
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Dialect writing was quite popular among authors in the 19th and early 20th century. Both Twain and Kipling indulged in it extensively. In an age where few had the opportunity to travel and there were no movies to bring the sounds and sights of foreign lands to people, the appeal of the exotic in fiction (and nonfiction) was quite strong. It was the golden age of the circus for much the same reason.

But dialect writing, whether it is reproducing the sounds or the vocabulary of local speech, is difficult to read, and modern readers have many other ways to experience the exotic flavor of any place or people they are interested in. Want local color? You will get more from watching Anthony Bourdain than you will from reading a book.

So, regional diction writing seems to be much less in fashion these days, and most authors seem to avoid it entirely. When I have seen it done, it is done with a very light touch. All dialogue is artifice, and other forms of artifice can be used to get the point across about a character's origins, habits, or patterns of thought.

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I may also add: somebody mentioned that consistency is the key - this is not necessarily true.

I've no advice for fantasy writers but 'real world' writing is totally different. Heavy dialect can become a chore to read - what is needed is an initial 'instruction' plus reminders.

You can set this up by a character talking to his peers or countrymen, whether they be stereotypical Jamaican drug-dealers, African-American gang-bangers, Mexican illegal immigrants, or Terrorist refugees.

Your character is using heavy dialogue when speaking to his peers. But on receiving a phone call from his boss, school-teacher etc . . . reverts to the Queen's English.

'International' characters will change their dialect in accordance with who their are communicating with.

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