Dialect in Writing

Beach near Morden, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Beach near Morden, Nova Scotia, Canada.

I’m from Nova Scotia. A small, beautiful, coastal province in Canada where oceans wrap their arms around the earth and lush green hills roll for miles. It’s a place where you know almost everyone, and if you don’t, you know their cousin (or aunt, or mother, or sibling, etc.). It’s a place where Celtic roots tie our souls to the land and shape the very soil on which we stand.

My family is like most Canadian families—we’re made up of just about everything. We’ve got German, Scottish, Native American, and Irish blood in our veins. Not to mention the kinds we don’t know about just yet. This, among other things, leads us to have fierce pride in our province. A place of history, both long and short.

Although many people believe us to have accents similar to that of our fellow East Coasters, the Newfies, we do not. We speak a fairly standard form of Canadian English, except that we say house and mouse and out with an “oa” sound (like oat), and car and bar and far with a soft “a” and a long “r”. Sort of like a pirate would.

My grandmother, however, hails from a part of Nova Scotia where they have adopted an accent that is a hybrid between a Boston accent and how a fisherman from a Disney movie might sound. She is from the South Shore, which she calls the “Sout’ Shoa”. When she says “gahbeej”, it means “garbage”. The same goes for message (messeej). My grandmother has even passed on some words that could possibly be exclusive to our family. Rutching (as in rutchin’ and tearin’) means to toss and turn while in bed and no one ever seems to know what I mean when I say it.

She also loves to say that so and so is “living the life of Riley”, but that is not something that she created. When experiencing extreme weather, Nova Scotians love to say it’s “right cold” or it’s “snowing somethin’ fierce”. We say “eh” more often than we should. We take vowels and either stretch them out or roll them around on our tongues.

I have been living away from home for about 7 years now, and I have lost some of my “accent”, but I can tell you that it makes a return every time I talk to my grandmother on the phone, and not on purpose.

When attempting to use dialect in your writing, make sure that you understand the dialect that you want to use inside and out—have a phonetic comprehension of every single word. When using phrases or terms specific to a certain dialect, have no doubts about the usage. Incorrect usages and pronunciations will throw your reader off and it will be hard to get them back on track. If you’ve got an editor, this is something that they will know to look for and research.

I love to read books that include characters with accents and dialects. It offers depth and substance to both the character and the story. It can even add detail and connection to your setting. If it’s done right.

Do you come from an area with a specific dialect? What does it sound like? Would you ever use it in a story?

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10 thoughts on “Dialect in Writing

  1. Yes I do. I live in Massachusetts and we have a way of talking that irritates most of the world, LOL. I never considered it with my writing. I do it without realizing it, and incorporate it into my blog posts & stories without realizing it… whoops! 🙂

  2. LOL! This was a great post!. Yes, I am from Florida also known as “The South” and there is a distinct drawl and twang here that I have worked my whole life to overcome. We say things like “y’all” and “fixin’ to” and we drop the G off of ING. We also say a lot of Sir and Ma’am and merge words together like gonna and wanna. So my family says something like, “Are y’all gonna come over for dinner? We’re fixin’ to eat.” “Yes, Ma’am. I wanna eat with you. I’m leavin’ now.” And when they say these things, I run and hide. 🙂

    • Thanks! I have a tiny bit of experience with the southern drawl, but not enough to actually write it into anything. It’s difficult once you become conscious of the way that other people are speaking around you and you want to start correcting them! I just gave up trying with my grandmother, it’s just who she is, haha.

  3. I’m sort of the opposite – I speak “proper” English (by this I mean, almost Queen’s/RP English), but when I write, it always seems to come out in a weird South Australian / Strayan slang mixup. Maybe that’s because it’s what I hear. Maybe I really think like that, and something happens between my head and my mouth which means it comes out in proper English. I don’t know, but when I write, I stick “, but.” on the end of every other sentence, and say “I reckon” at the beginning of every paragraph.

    South Australia has a bit of a different accent to the eastern states (the “Aussie”/Strine accent you’re probably more familiar with). We have lots of long vowels, such as pronouncing the A in branch, advance, grass, castle and so forth, with the A in father. The other states have a short A like cat. And, sort of like a Southern accent in the US, we stick a diphthong in places where it should be – like grown and shown end up sounding like “grow-wun” and “show-wun”. (Which means we can hear a difference between “grown” and “groan”, though. Also, Ls simply don’t exist at the end of a syllable. It’s a strange oow thing – and an “al” combination results in a drawn out “oooooww” sort of sound. We have some vocab that they don’t have in other states, too, like saying “sarnie” rather than “sammie” for sandwich, “kindy” for preschool rather than “kinder” for reception, “bathers” rather than “togs” or “swimmers”, and “fritz” instead of “devon” or “luncheon” (it’s a sort of cold sausage). When South Strayans are interstate, they get asked a lot where they’re from in England!

    Where appropriate in my writing, I *can* write in Scots and be pretty confident my usage/meaning is correct, but I spell it to Australian phonetics rather than Scottish ones, and I think my dialects are all mixed up because my Scots influence has come from people from all over the country.

    • That’s really interesting! I love the sound of “proper” English. I think I can hear what you mean by the phonetic writing, but I have never heard of a sarnie or a fritz before!

  4. Pingback: Dialect in Writing | JOSHUA MUINDE

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