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I was wondering if anyone was aware of a quality guide or text translator that would allow for realistic accented dialog speech? Say I wanted to write a character with a Texan Drawl or a heavy Brooklyn accent and wanted his dialog to have a consistent style, is there a resource that could help me portray this accurately without being offensive. At the very least, one of my rules for writing is that British citizens always speak with British Spelling while Americans do not, like the following:

"What colour is that?" asked the British girl.

"I don't know," said the American, "I'm color blind."

Basically, just wanted to be un-intrusive as possible while still denoting a particular style.

  • Do not confuse the accent of spoken language with the spelling of written language. Your text must be written with consistent spelling, either British or American or any other, depending on your target audience. If you want to emulate the pronunciation of a specific character in your writing, you need to either tell: ... she asked in her cute British accent. ... said the American in his Texas drawl ... or use fake phonemic orthography: Tha's enough, innit? (for Cockney), but that is difficult. By the way, there is a noun spelled "color" in British English, meaning a certain musical device. – user26338 Sep 8 '17 at 9:14
  • @what: Guess I was getting into a tangent there... that would be for someone... I guess has John Oliver would be a good example... who has a generic accent (at least to my American ears)... I don't recall him using many British idioms and phrasing unless he forces it. Cockney would get actual spelling changes to try and make the sounds that the accent makes. – hszmv Sep 12 '17 at 13:39
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The best way to write dialogue in different accents is to hear your characters speak with those accents in your own head, first.

That said, there are some differences that are well documented:

  1. Spelling, as you've mentioned.
  2. Vocabulary, e.g. Apartment (US) vs Flat (UK), Sidewalk (US) vs Pavement (UK).
  3. Prepositions, e.g. On the weekend (US) vs At the weekend (UK).
  4. Past Tense. Americans tend to use the past simple when describing something that has recently occurred, while people in the UK are more likely to use the present perfect. e.g. I went to the store (US) vs I’ve been to the shop (UK).
  5. Irregular Verbs. e.g. leaped, dreamed, burned, learned (US) vs leapt, dreamt, burnt, learnt (UK)

There are numerous others.

One thing to watch out for is that people in both countries tend to emulate the speech patterns of the other. American TV and films are popular in the UK, and they have had a significant effect on the language. Moreover, when Americans and Brits talk to each other, their speech patterns tend to be more similar than when they are apart.

Something else worth mentioning is that there isn't a British accent, nor a US accent; there are many. Here in the UK, accent can vary considerably between people from different parts of the country, as well as by age, social background, education, context, and who a person is talking to. These differences are sufficiently pronounced that locals can often tell which part of town someone is from. As a result, a native can guess a lot about a person's back story from the way they talk. (I imagine a similar thing occurs in the US - even as a Brit, I can tell the difference between speech from, say, Texas and California.

The past is, as they say, a foreign country, so the way my parents talked at my age is different from the way I talk.

Interestinly, if someone moves (physically or socially) they're likely to take on speech patterns of their new neighbours, but revert to older patterns when they meet people from their original background.

One consequence of all this is that it is easy to get it wrong. Every Brit knows how jarring it can be when a non-British actor plays an Englishman, but they get the accent wrong. The English just don't say, "What-ho chaps!" these days.

If you're really stuck, your best bet might be to ask natives of each country to check your writing to verify that it seems natural to them.

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Focus on

  1. words
  2. phrasing

Most readers find reading dialog that contains accent very annoying.

There are many words that are regional.

For example, if I read one sentence like the following, I figure it is a British person speaking.

"I'm going to go to the pub, whilst you finish up your work."

This makes for much better reading.

Just read a couple of sentences from Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and I'm sure you'll agree that reading accented dialog gets old quick.

But it didn’t budge. So I hollered again, and then Jim says:

“De man ain’t asleep—he’s dead. You hold still—I’ll go en see.”

He went, and bent down and looked, and says:

“It’s a dead man. Yes, indeedy; naked, too. He’s ben shot in de back. I reck’n he’s ben dead two er three days. Come in, Huck, but doan’ look at his face—it’s too gashly.”

However, there is also, an example of phrasing and word use in Huckleberry Finn that shows how that can be employed while still allowing the reading to be smooth.

I wanted to go and look at a place right about the middle of the island that I’d found when I was exploring; so we started and soon got to it, because the island was only three miles long and a quarter of a mile wide. This place was a tolerable long, steep hill or ridge about forty foot high. We had a rough time getting to the top, the sides was so steep and the bushes so thick. We tramped and clumb around all over it, and by and by found a good big cavern in the rock, most up to the top on the side towards Illinois.

That's much more readable (makes the reader stop and work things out much less) but still provides the reader with the regional feel of Huck's dialog.

If you concentrate on the words used and creating phrasing -- sentence length etc. you'll see that your dialog will be very readable and enjoyable for the reader and yet still convey the regional flare.

  • As a Brit, the “whilst” in your first example feels completely unnatural — at best, hopelessly archaic. This exemplifies a big caveat about all approaches to writing “dialect”: if you get it not-quite-right, it’ll stick out like a sore thumb to the people you’re trying to imitate. – PLL Sep 7 '17 at 21:29
  • @PLL Fair enough. I agree with you too. If it isn't exactly right then it isn't right. It was because I too quickly pulled an example when I should've researched it more. Thanks. – raddevus Sep 8 '17 at 1:41
  • @PLL Honestly, I felt the "whilst" part was out of sorts in general. As you said archaic. It's a word not really used in spoken English in quite some time and mostly only used in literature to sound more eloquent/literate. I have a lot of English speaking friends ranging from Scotland, England, Australia, New Zealand, and of course US and Canada and I have not seen it used in any daily conversation. Many people here who comment tend to throw in big or foreign words to sound more literate but it simply does not flow and the average reader does not understand it. – ggiaquin16 Sep 8 '17 at 16:19
  • So it would seem pointless to really add in words that someone would have to double check the reference or look up the meaning. You are simply trying too hard to sound literate at that point. – ggiaquin16 Sep 8 '17 at 16:19

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