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If, for example, someone said : "How are you today?", how would you go about "translating" this into sounding like they were talking with a full-mouth? Like, phonetically.

  • Distantly related question: How do you handle slang with questionable spelling? – Goodbye Stack Exchange Oct 1 '18 at 15:25
  • Do you want to the reader to get the full meaning of this speech, or there's some ambiguity that has to be resolved later? – Alexander Oct 1 '18 at 17:09
  • As Thomas Myron mentioned in a comment on Matthew Dave's answer, JK Rowling uses this a few times, and is a pretty good example. It looks like at least one case occurs somewhere in the Order of the Phoenix, but I don't know where. – Ben Sandeen Oct 1 '18 at 19:50
  • This question would be improved by indicating whether you intend to explain, outside of the quoted speech, that the speaker's mouth is full. Are you looking for a method which makes that apparent without coming right out and saying it? – Beanluc Oct 1 '18 at 21:11
19

If you intend to phonetically represent speech with one's mouth full, there's a very easy way to do it; speak with your mouth full. Listen to how it distorts your speech and think about how it alters the phonemes.

That's a good starting point if a phonetic spelling is what you're after.

  • 3
    I would also like to note that JK Rowling has a passage where Ron speaks with his mouth full and she alters the spelling appropriately. I cannot remember the book or chapter, but if found, it could also help shed some light. That being said, this answer will definitely yield the most complete resource. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Oct 1 '18 at 17:06
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    "‘Aaah, 'at’s be’er,' said Ron, with his mouth full of mashed potato." Is this what you were referring to? – klippy Oct 1 '18 at 17:34
  • or "No diddem eentup sechew"? :P – Ben Sandeen Oct 1 '18 at 19:48
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    Terry Pratchett in general is also pretty good at altering dialogue text based on speech-impeding factors. – John Doe Oct 1 '18 at 22:39
12

For me, phonetically translating mouth-full speaking would deter my focus and make me dwell on words missed and other incomprehensible text which would arise.

Instead, I would focus on the experience of the interaction:

There the three of us sat talking about the business proposal. Sam was focused in reading the details while Eric continued eating and interrupting with questions.

Eric asks "So, what are the (munch) proposed (chew) percentage distributions?"

Sam responds that she hasn't made it to that section yet all the while Eric gulps his drink and tells her to read faster. He also muttered something else but I was too grossed out by the sputter of potatoes and gravy which was exiting from his mouth.


But, if you are truly set on phonetically spelling mouth-full words then you can write the dialogue and read it out loud while eating and record yourself. This will provide the most realistic result.

However, you might need to provide context to avoid confusing the reader:

For example:

As I entered their office, they greeted me with "Hi, mmph, ghow are you?"

versus:

As I entered their office in the middle of lunch hour, they greeted me with "Hi, mmph, ghow are you?"

The former makes you question:

  • Did the person have a stroke upon greeting?
  • Did the person hold back a sneeze?
  • Were they totally caught off-guard at an awkward time?
  • Did they hit their funny bone?
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    I think both phonetic spelling and your method is unnecessarily distracting, tbh. A better way would be to just say that the words are obscured by their chewing, but OP has commented that they want phonetic spelling, alas. – Matthew Dave Oct 1 '18 at 16:20
  • Yeah, there's always more than one solution to a problem but I've amended my answer. – MonkeyZeus Oct 1 '18 at 16:25
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    Very distracting, not good writing at all. Not to mention you shifted tense twice in five sentences. – Wildcard Oct 2 '18 at 19:07
5

The easiest way is to state another character guessed that's what they said.

  • yeah but I'm trying to work out how I'm going to write it phonetically – klippy Oct 1 '18 at 15:19
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    @klippy Edit that into the question then. – J.G. Oct 1 '18 at 15:27
3

Although I don't recommend trying to reproduce the phonetic sound; it is pretty easy to figure out. The tongue cannot touch the palate (roof of the mouth) or the teeth because it is blocked by food; so plosives like "T", "K", palate "G" (like in "Get"), "D" are suppressed. Lip plosives ("P", "B") could still be voiced.

Replace the plosives that cannot be voiced with single apostrophes.

"That's better" would become "'a's be'er". A Word like "dog" that begins and ends with a plosive would be unintelligible; "'o'".

  • 'The tongue cannot touch the palate (roof of the mouth) or the teeth because it is blocked by food', that depends where in the mouth the food is, if someone pushes a bolus of chewed food into their check to talk, rather than literally trying to speak with the vault of their mouth full, you get a different set of conditions. – Spagirl Oct 2 '18 at 14:56
  • @Spagirl Under those conditions; with the food in the cheek, I think visually that is different but audibly not phonetically different than when the mouth has no food at all. Offhand, I cannot think of any sounds that would be different. If the OP wants an audible difference, the food must block a normally used pathway for producing words. – Amadeus Oct 2 '18 at 15:47
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It depends on what sort of speech you tend to write. Personally, I would approach this like method acting. Write the character's script, make a sandwich, turn on a voice recorder, then read the script with your mouth full.

When listening to the playback, write down what you hear. If it is meant to be unintelligible, don't try to shoehorn your original script in there to make words guessable. Have the narrator indicate why there is confusion and (probably) have the other characters ask for clarification (depending on the power dynamic of the group).

I walked up to her and she greeted me with a "ghffuh mmnet". "What?" came my reflexive response. After she swallowed the bite of what looked to be a deliciously ripe tomato, she clarified herself: "'Just a minute', I said."

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