For example, if you have a guy who is an Indian (from India), and you say something like,

Sukant answered in his Northern Bhojpuri accent, "Yes. It is indeed true. Many people come into my store but not everyone for buying something."

Now later in the story, do I have to write things that "sound" Indian. You know, I don't have to make them somehow sound like the Indian guy in The Simpsons. I figure that as long as I subtly mention it a few times in the story, the reader will supply it naturally. Maybe I can use some idioms from his hometown, if it is important to the story, but other than that I don't know.

Say like a guy was from the South (like Alabama). Does he really have to say "y'all all the time"? "Howdy"? "Fixin'"?

3 Answers 3


I can think of at least two ways to demonstrate your character's nationality and accent without having to mention it constantly or write the dialogue crazily:

1) There is a difference between accent and dialect.

Accent is more or less the generally recognized version of the language, taught in textbooks, but with regional flavor to pronunciation. Maybe there's a lilt to the voice, or a drawl, or the Gs get dropped, or Rs added.

Dialect is when vocabulary and grammar change along with accent.


Accent: "I'm gonna do something about that."
Dialect: "I'm fixin' to do somethin' 'bout that."

Accent: "Maybe something could happen."
Dialect: "Somethin' might could happen."

Accent: "Should I call you in the morning?"
Dialect: "Shall I knock you up in the morning, then?"
Dialect: "You want I should come call f'you tomorrow morning?"

The upshot is that you want enough differences from General American/English Speech to indicate that your speaker is of Indian descent speaking English as a second language, but not so much that it's impossible to read his dialogue written down.

2) When someone is learning English (or whatever) as second language, the speaker will often use the grammar of the native language, because s/he is still translating.


Native speaker: "My hair is so straight."
Native Italian, English ESL: "It's so straight, my hair."

  • 1
    Are all those dialects... um, real?
    – Mussri
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 12:11
  • @Mussri Yes. One and two are American rural South. The third example has one British and one Brooklyn. The last one is Brooklyn as well. Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 14:12
  • I understand what you mean with the wrong order of the sentences when translating, but I'm not really sure if that Italian example is correct at all.
    – serfe
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 14:22
  • 1
    @Mussri Yeah they're real. I use them all the time.
    – johnny
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 17:25
  • 1
    Husband: "Shall I knock you up in the morning, then?" Wife: "NO!"
    – dmm
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 19:49

I'm reading a Spanish book and there is an Argentinean guy in the story.

The writer says it once or twice at the beginning and after that he just simulates the oral accent. He uses typical idioms or words like, for example, "carro" instead of "coche" when they say "car". They also put the accent in different syllables in some words (this is easier for a Spanish writer, since we can use graphic accent to mark it; he uses italics if the word is wrong written because of this).

Sometimes, the use of stereotypes can be useful, for example the people from Argentina are known as good psychologists.

Now when I read it, I imagine him talking with Argentinean accent and I don't need the author to remind me anymore.


Don't make it too heavy unless you're aiming at comical effect. It's better to keep it as a part of the story (show) than tell it like you did.

Personally, I have no clue how Northern Bhojpuri sounds like. I'd feel estranged by such a mention. Instead, we can base this on someone else's knowledge, taking it at face value without dwelling on deeper meaning, and driving the point home stronger than just by such narrator's interruption.

"Yes. It is indeed true. Many people come into my store but not everyone for buying something," Sukant said.

"You don't live here very long, do you? Where are you from?"

"Yes, I am from India, Northern Bhojpuri. Does it show in my speech so much?"

"Quite a bit."

That way informed reader will know what they see, uninformed but curious can look it up, and the rest will just accept it and let their imagination fill in.

It's great if you can make character's lines stand out as his own by the way they speak alone, but don't overdo it, don't turn them into parody of themselves. It's better to make a character sound bland, than fake. So - balance, and rather err on the side of "too little accent", than on the side of "too much accent".

Unless you write a comedy. In this case accent bordering on intelligible is a valid comical device.

  • I'v seen bad accents used effectively in non comic situations, such as in mysteries to draw attention to different character outlooks or away from clues.
    – hildred
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 15:31

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