Following the Language Barrier, The Dialectic

So, let’s talk about dialects.

A dialect, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is ‘a particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group’. Dialects within the same language can vary pretty damn enormously. Remember the adorable but barely comprehensible Young McGuffin from ‘Brave‘? He was speaking Doric, a dialect of Scots which may be an obscure subdialect of English or may be simply a very closely related language, apparently that’s up for debate, which I didn’t know, so thank you Wikipedia.

I love Wikipedia. It’s not always perfect, but on average it’s usually reasonably close-ish, which as internet sources go is pretty good.

Anyway. Dialects within a single language can vary hugely and sometimes very subtlely. Varieties within one country can be pretty broad – between different countries, even bigger. I’ve been married to an American for nigh on ten years now, and I still occasionally come out with words or phrases he doesn’t know, despite the fact that we are both English speakers first and only. I comprehend Television American (the tidied up version, like BBC English) reasonably well, but when the slang comes out I am rapidly lost. Although to be perfectly honest I get confused by a lot of Australian slang too because I am a nerd in her thirties and didn’t know the cool things the kids were saying even when I was one.

This is relevant to writing because it is very very easy to get dialects wrong. I’ve been corrected multiple times, when writing Harry Potter fiction, for using words or phrases that are dialectically inappropriate. Ditto for writing American characters, though not as often. If you are writing a story set in a country or area or something with which you are not personally familiar, and you want to publish it, do really try to find someone who knows it to act as a beta-reader for your dialogue at the very least. People will usually do this for unfamiliar languages, but they don’t always realize how wildly dialects can vary among, the most prevalent example I know of, English Speakers Of The World. (I don’t read any other languages, so I don’t know how frequently this problem occurs elsewhere, but from what I have picked up here and there English-speakers are bar-none the worst for not realizing that their language has dialectic variations)

And don’t crack the shits if your source says you can’t tell your bogan from your wanker.

See? See what I mean? And I don’t even speak Strine! I’d be confusing you all if I could, I can tell you.

Seriously, English is not just English. Check your dialects, especially if you’ve set your novel in a country other than your own.



One thought on “Following the Language Barrier, The Dialectic

  1. Pingback: An Overview: Social-Class Variations in American English « operative7

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