It’s just the way I say it.

Welcome back to another blog hop, with #OpenBook. Here’s this week’s prompt.

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Can you speak in an accent that isn’t your own? Can any of your characters do this? How do you indicate that in your stories?

I grew up in Devon, England and apparently, when I was younger, I had a strong accent.  Devon has its own version of the English language, a dialect that featured in the works of author A.J. Coles, which I read as a child and was reasonably proficient in speaking.

While lots of people still used it in the 1960s, it’s sadly just about extinct now in general speech, unlike Cornish, which has had a resurgence. Anyway, Coles used misspelling to indicate the form of the words, which works brilliantly when you say it as written, either out loud or in your head.

However, when we moved to London my accent and use of dialect in speech immediately marked me out as different, not only that, while I could understand most of them, they had trouble working out what I was saying.

To solve the problem, I quickly adopted the speech of my new home. Now I can’t remember much Devon dialect, even though I’m living back in Devon, nobody here uses it much anymore.

When I was at work, working with people who spoke all sorts of variations of English, I tried to keep it simple. Basic commands and a lot of smiling got me through. But I listened to how non-English speakers said the words and learned to understand what they were trying to say.

When it came to writing characters speaking differently, I tried to bear in mind that as we colonise other planets, our speech will develop in the same way that it has on Earth. That is to say regionally, just on a larger scale.

As well as my memory of Coles methods, and my own experiences, when it came to writing my own stories I also used the work of James Clavell for inspiration, titles such as Tai-Pan and Noble House. He also wrote people speaking accented English, indicating it by the simple act of misspelling.

When I tried to inject an accent into one of my characters in my novel, Freefall, I found that it’s a lot harder to do than you might think. If you’re not careful, you can overcomplicate things and end up with an unintelligible mess.

Here’s how the dialect looked in a passage from the book.

As usual, there was a gang of scruffy looking kids and young adults hanging around; they offer to ‘look after’ your ship for a few coins. The gangs go by different names on different worlds, but here they are all female and are known as the gyrls. It pays to use them, if you don’t you will find your stuff gone.

It doesn’t matter if you lock it up or not, they are insanely good with the tech. In fact, many companies recruit from them, and a lot of the things we take for granted come from their ideas.

“Guard your ship mista,” the roughest one said, “Doan have one of them”. She waved vaguely at half a dozen others lurking in the background. “They ain’t up to the job like us’n.” Once again the slang and the accent were hard to understand.

“Where’s Jev,” I asked her, she usually looked after my ship, how she knew when I was arriving I had never managed to work out, but she was always here.

The gyrl shrugged. “You won’t see her again, she’s dead, mista. Someone killed her ’bout seven days ago,”

I was shocked, apart from teenage gangs and petty theft at the port there was little serious crime on New Devon, and I couldn’t remember ever hearing of a murder. The place was prosperous, everyone had enough, and as long as the Federation kept out, people were happy.

“What happened?” I asked, but that was well beyond her knowledge.

“Dunno,” she answered. “Just ’appened, we heard from the Guards, they was lookin’ for anyone who knew her.” She shrugged again. “Life.”

I was so taken aback that I was about to say that she could guard the ship when I spotted a small, dark-haired gyrl over in the shadows, she made nervous eye contact, and held up a small bag, Jev’s bag. There was something about her, something that I couldn’t place.

“She can do it,” I pointed.

“She ain’t no good, mista,” said the first gyrl. “We ain’t seen her before, she woan do it right.”

“Her.” I insisted, I thought for a minute that there would be trouble, as they collectively stiffened, then thinking better of it, or maybe because another ship was commencing its descent, they trooped off.

“Come over here,” I called. “Who are you, and where did you get Jev’s bag?”

 The original version was much more complicated, my editor suggested that I tone it down a little, just leaving enough to indicate the differences in the way the gyrl speaks.

Until the next time.

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8 Responses

  1. Stevie Turner

    I do like the Devon and Cornish accents. There was a series on TV recently about Brixham. I loved listening to the locals talk.

    • Richard Dee

      They sound right but they have lost the words, nobody says they’re “middlin” anymore. They’re just “alright.”

    • Richard Dee

      Nice plan, my language would be all “teh” and “tehy”.

  2. Daryl Devore

    I can hear it. Sounds great and adds depth to the story.
    Sad you lost your Devon accent.


    • Richard Dee

      Every now and then, I hear a word that reminds me of my youth, they’re getting less and less now.

    • Richard Dee

      In the Devon of my youth, a person would say “middlin vitty.”

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