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Language of the Period

  • Thread starter Alistair Roberts
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Alistair Roberts

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This is an important question that to be honest I am not certain of the answer, hence my asking. As I write in the period of the early 16th century, the spoken language is vastly different to todays. Also my main character is proudly Welsh, and others are Scottish or English. As the true language is sometimes difficult to read for the average person, I use a blend of what was used and modern language, with also a hint of the local dialect. However my good partner thinks I should stick to modern language and ignore the local dialect as well.

So my question is, what does everyone else think? I've had a few friends comment on this question and it seemed equally split. In the end it needs to be what the average reader would prefer, though I think some hint of the language of the time, and a hint of a Welsh or Scottish accent adds to the flavour.
 

1408

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I think some hint of the language of the time, and a hint of a Welsh or Scottish accent adds to the flavour.
I like reading a hint of it. Maybe slang that was common in the time, or something similar. As long as it isn't throwing off the reader I don't think it will be too huge a problem whichever way you swing it. Admittedly though, not many people will know what dialect sounded like in the 16th century. So, the minute they discover a character is Welsh, Scottish or English I think they'll hear the voice in their head according to what they think it sounds like now, regardless of how you try to make them hear it. I hope this makes sense, I'm trying to explain what I mean while my neighbour is blasting samba music. :confused:
 

Brian Clegg

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That's a different aspect - I don't mind slang or dialect words, it's when people try to represent an accent phonetically. For example, I'm from Lancashire, and I find it horrible when people write something like 'I'm goin' t't owse.' for 'I'm going to the house.' It feels condescending.
 

Carol Rose

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Unless it's done skillfully and with only a smattering here and there, it's almost impossible to read because as a reader I have to work too hard to figure out what the characters are saying. As Brian said, slang or dialect words are fine, but changing the spelling to something that no one but the reader (and maybe five other people!) can figure out is a sure way to make your readers put down the book permanently. :)
 

Steven McC

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Accents can be a useful way of distinuishing characters from one another and can build character, if used properly, I think. I agree with others that it's easier for the reader if you only use a smattering of slang/accented words, though. One of my favourite books is 'Wuthering Heights' and the one fault I would pick with it is the character, Joseph, who Yorkshire accent is rendered phonetically - no idea what he's saying!
 
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Dudley

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On the same page as Mr. Clegg. I look at books like Harry Potter and the Hagrid character. I reread some of his lines over and over and I still don't know what they mean. Too much dialect takes a reader out of a story.
 
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tabby3

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The below is taken from Elmore Leonard's 'Ten Rules' and sums it up for me:
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Ann Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.
 
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Karen Gray

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I have, oh, probably 5 or 6 different Scottish dialects in my series, though the characters are mostly background characters (especially the two who are particularly broad) The MC swings between being proper spoken and really quite slang based on her mood (rather like myself.)

As long as you do it carefully, it can add a lot to the text. I love using it for comic effect with phrases like; "It's no my fault you're lankit and gangly as a tattie boggle on a wobbly pole."
 
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K.J. Simmill

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I absolutely love the use of old English, I love reading it when it is done well. There are some brilliant words lost in time, for instance how often do you come across the word whittawer these days? I think the main problem you would have is that spelling was much different and may alienate an audience as well as intimidate them with unfamiliar terms. My personal opinion would be to keep true today's spelling whilst adding a dose of old words.
As for accents, well written ones are brilliant, I prefer different dialect to each character speaking in the same manner :)
 
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K.J. Simmill

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On a side note, have you ever read Neverwhere Neil Gaiman did a brilliant job in introducing old dialect to a modern setting, it was easy to read but gave the distinct impression of time pockets.
On a different note I remember the first time I tried to read M.R. James I don't recall the tale but it was difficult and detracted from the story.
 

Marc Joan

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I think it is a question of need and degree. If your story really needs to show that the characters have distinct and different accents, then obviously you'll have to show it in some way; but if so, I think it would be wise to strictly control the degree to which you attempt to reflect the spoken accents in the written word. My personal feeling is that it hardly ever works well and can easily get annoying.
 
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Alistair Roberts

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Thanks for your thoughts, it does make it easier to decide have far to go, or not. ;)
 

Richard Sutton

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If there is a particular syntax form, specific diminutives and odd common names of objects, you might be able to adapt those while still using relatively modern English. Of course, there would be more formality except among close family. My first two books used slight style traits and out of common usage words to try and flavor the writing voice. Some of the readers got it and some were annoyed by it. I've read some books, (notably, Mason and Dixon by Thomas Pynchon) which were carefully constructed in period parlance and dialect and almost impossible to read quickly. While a chore, I still respected the commitment to research, etc. that it represents. In the end, it's your work and you have to decide how hard you want your readers to work.
 
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