Sunday, February 28, 2010

Does Vernacular Matter?

Does Vernacular Matter?

My question to readers and writers out there is this:

If a character is Russian, French, Scottish… well you get the idea. Does that character need to speak with an accent, therefore the writer needs to write the dialog in that accent?

Or would you get the idea of what the author means by changing just a few key words: like this.

“Aye there lad, you have learned all you can from me.” Is Aye and Lad sufficient to plant the rest of the accent in your mind?


“Wee, I agree with you, say ‘ello to your mot'er when you see her.”


“Please Comrade, don’t kill me… I  h‘ave your money you vant in car.”

Or should I just say: he said in a Scottish, Russian, French accent. And leave out any attempt to show dialect.

Thx for any advice you might leave… or any sample you might share.


  1. I've seen it done both ways well and both ways poorly. It is a lot more difficult to write with an accent than you might think. The way you write something and the way its read may differ from person to person.

    All too often I have found myself lost when authors try to write like that. So, my suggestion is to use it only for characters whose nationality plays a large part of their character.

  2. Word I've heard is, don't write in accents. Use the appropriate terms, perhaps some word shortening (fixin'), but no more. Period.

    I think it can be done well. James Herriot, managed to put into text a huge variation in local dialect and I don't have any trouble reading it. And it's hilarious.

    But I can count the number of people I've read who do it well on one hand. And I won't use all my digits.

    The number who butcher it, however, are legion.

    I would skip the accents, but watch sentence structure and terms. I think it will come across.

  3. A few choice words should be enough--like "Aye," and other common terms... but I would steer clear of anything more. I agree completely with your other two commenters...

  4. Her is a persons comment they couldn't leave. thx for sending me an email...

    For reference on using local/regional accents in literature, I would
    suggest reading James Joyce's Dubliners. He was a Dubliner himself, and
    a gifted storyteller. If you master any accent well enough to give your
    characters a bit of (genuine) local touch, do it. If you don't, use
    standard language, and hint on the local colouring by way of general
    description. Especially so, if your character is speaking with really
    heavy accent. Like, "your one blody buhstad, but your uhcent is ex'lent"
    - you wouldn't want to use (and expose your readers to) such for pages
    on end. Now, wouldya?