I often need to introduce one, if not several, made up dialects. We're talking about fictional worldbuilding: so any real world dialect is ruled out. They can be used as a source of inspiration, but they can't be straight up applied.

Creating a dialect from scratch is easier than making a completely new language, since it relays a lot on an already existing and estabilished tongue. If English is the base, we'll have a lot of vocabulary and grammar to draw from.

Yet making a dialect comes with its own challenges.

I'm specifically looking for ways to change, distort and "misuse" the base language in a convincing way, while mantaining readability for the readers. More on this point:

  • I'd rather not use nonces and completely made up words. While dialects usually have a lot of new terms, it's hard for the reader to familiarize with new vocabulary. And I'd rather avoid the squanch effect (Source: no less than a a rick&morty scene).
  • For a similar reason, I'm kinda wary of accents. They are hard to convey without telling the reader (she was speanking with a southern accent ... she used to drag on the vocal at the end of each word ..) and can't be transcribed in text effectively*.

As a point of reference, I consider Brandon Sanderson' High Imperial a well made dialect, albeit delightfully confusing: link.


*N.B.: to be fair, some accents probably CAN be transcribed effectly, but while this is somewhat doable for real dialects with actual references, I feel it would be significantly difficult for an invented one.

  • 1
    I don't have time for a real answer yet, but there were some publicity articles about the patois invented for THE EXPANSE tv show (Wired magazine). I also found some quick articles on patois vs creole vs pidgin – these are all "lower" versions of the language(s), developed by "lower" working class people to accomplish their job (world-buildy, practical, immigrant labor). The opposite of a hoity-toity language just to be deliberately obfuscating as in your linked example (academic, religious, esoteric).
    – wetcircuit
    May 17 '19 at 12:00

This is a difficult conundrum. Some sounds and ways of pronunciation are simply not made for paper. For example, the dragging of the vocal on the end of a word is impossible to onomatopoetically convey. You cannot write "wooord", that can be very misleading, takes the reader out of the reading and just looks goofy. Unless you're writing an absurd, goody comedy, then this is not an option.

So what is the alternative? Illustrate the language. Take this example:

"Never have I seen a man like you".

The vocals of his words stretched out like a river in the fields, bending and breaking along the way.

This is a comparison, a metaphor would work just as well (if not better). Note how I am no actually explaining how he pronounces the words, I am explaining the nature of the river, who I have claimed to be the same.

This is a more colorful way of explaining the quirks of someone's dialect, instead of just straight up saying "he dragged on the vocals, often converting them into diphthongs". And writing that way would also make it sound like a linguistics lesson, and perhaps even leave the reader completely lost on what was described, due to a lack of knowledge in linguistical terminology.

So instead of writing every quirk of their dialect in the dialogue, describe it. But, there are a few exceptions.

Take the Irish accent for example. Whenever I write people with an Irish dialect, I do feature some quirks of that accent, but I don't go full pseudo-phonetic transcription. Here's an example.

"Get yer halfwit bum over her'e ye bloodie pollock!"

Sorry if that wasn't accurate, but it shows the point. Quite recognizable is the use of "yer" instead of "your" and "you're".

With a made up dialect, you loose a lot of the recognizability, but a lot of altered words are understandable, given context and a consistent phonetic alteration. That's important, when creating your dialect, create a pattern. Readers are smart, they'll catch up quickly on the traits of the dialect, just as we do in real-life. And the consistency is essential in making it believable and convincing, and giving it an actual tone. Is it a rugged language/dialect of savage people, or is it a delicate language/dialect of highborns?

Good luck. I recommend looking at phonetic tables, and what sounds are used by different dialects within the English language, and find out how you want to transcribe them.

  • 1
    As you note, using comparisons and metaphors could be a nice way of conveying pronunciation. I appreciated the point on consistent phonetic alteration more; guess I'll have to research in that direction. May 20 '19 at 10:21
  • Yes, the consistency of really any constructed language, or dialect is essential in making it believable and convincing, and giving it an actual tone.
    – A. Kvåle
    May 20 '19 at 10:37

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