Writing Dialect

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Neither black children nor children with other ethnic backgrounds responded favorably to reading folktales written in dialect. Black children preferred the stories in Black English and comprehended them better when they were listening to them. Children of other ethnic backgrounds did not prefer listening to Black English dialect and responded more unfavorably to Black English folktales than those in Standard English.

When listening to folktales in dialect, the children liked them slightly more than when read in Standard English. None of the children responded favorably to the folktales in Cajun or Pidgin whether read or listened to, and they had lower comprehension, although they did prefer listening to Pidgin slightly more than listening to Cajun.

It would seem that the majority of writers have given up the task of writing in dialect, perhaps for the reasons mentioned above, because no current examples could be found where the complete text is written in dialect in the same manner as The Cay , Uncle Remus , or Huckleberry Finn. But some incorporate dialect on a smaller scale, including the author of one of the most popular series today, J. The character of Hagrid speaks in dialect, depicted through speech patterns and incorrect grammar.

Harry, Ron and Hermione, however, approached the fence cautiously. Dialect written in this way is used in other current fiction for children and young adults as well. A Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray, a young adult novel that takes place in Victorian England, uses dialect to depict the lower class British accent of some female factory workers, male construction workers, and London poor folk.

Writing Accents and Dialects | Grammar Girl

The same dialect is used for all three groups: Out on the Thames, the boats sway with the current. Somebody at the top asked for it. Though some writers today use dialect, criticism of it persists.

Some present day arguments for not writing in dialect other than readability and comprehension include marketing considerations, editor preferences, how to accurately document dialect authentically and translate sounds onto paper, and the risk of portraying racist stereotypes. For children who have been taught to read in English, dialect may be too hard a task to decode text written in dialect. There is also the belief by some critics that certain dialects, such as Jamaican creole or South Carolina Gullah, cannot be put onto paper.

The recent middle grade novels, Somewhere in the Darkness by Walter Dean Myers, Each Little Bird that Sings by Deborah Wiles and Dragonwings by Laurence Yep have characters that use dialect of the region where the story takes place, but are written in perfect English, except where noted. Somewhere in the Darkness is set in the Bronx and the characters are black. Tony just nicked the dude and he was screaming and carrying on like he had stabbed him through the heart or something.

It is easy to hear the hardness of tone in their voices.

Writing Dialect

The sentence structure is short, concise, choppy, and direct. It is quite successful in depicting a Bronx accent. The language is more fluid than the Bronx accent. Declaration stayed put near the door.

Just look at you! She removed her apron. She was dressed entirely in purple. I plum forgot. Holm, the characters are described as Italian American.


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An excellent example of successful dialect comes from Dragonwings by Laurence Yep, who has Chinese characters speaking without using misspelled words. When the Chinese characters are talking in Chinese to each other the dialogue is written with perfect grammar. You must take the rest of the cookies with you. The Chinese accent is perfectly recognizable by the cadence and broken English, but is also very readable.

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All the words are spelled correctly, yet we gain a sense of accent. Part of the success of this method is because the reader does get to hear the Chinese men talking to each other throughout so much of the story. He can hear how they really speak to each other and gauge their intelligence, so that when the characters switch to the broken English the reader already knows them and knows they are intelligent and that they are struggling to speak in this foreign language the same way that he might in their position.

All three dialects shown here are perfectly readable, yet the reader recognizes that the characters have an accent through the use of other mechanisms other than verbatim dialect. I also asked about the reaction they received from the children. Responses given indicated that they were, in fact, reading stories with dialects including those of Jewish, Black, Southern, Cajun, French, and Spanish.

Several librarians laughed about their poor skills in reading the dialect, but all agreed that the children seemed to enjoy the stories. It is easier to find more picture books than novels that use dialect, perhaps because these books are generally read aloud. Again, there seems to be a distinction between writing a story meant to be read by the child and a story meant to be read aloud to a child. I use books in my storytimes that include dialect. What I like about using these stories is that I am able to change the way I talk to mimic the appropriate sound and place of the story, something I would not be able to do if the writing were not in dialect.

Writing Accents

I like the variety of speech in the stories and I like to let children know that not everybody speaks in the same way. In addition, I enjoy the variety in rhythms. It also explains that what they are about to read is a traditional Cajun tale set in the present time. The author also provides an extensive glossary and pronunciation guide at the beginning. Thomassie uses many tricks throughout her story to depict the Cajun dialect. Screamed Memere, clasping her heart. Zat nest ees mine! Maybe they just like the story. I notice that children are more apt to pick up a book or ask for a book if they have already been introduced to it by either a teacher or me.

It does seem that the words are too difficult for them to read on their own, but if they have heard the story before they can at least try to imitate what they have heard. To depict the life and language of a particular culture.

To introduce words and phrases used in everyday conversation while providing translations for the word or text used. To give a retelling of a popular story or fairytale from a certain area or region using the language of that area. Decide what dialect you are going to represent. Familiarize yourself with that dialect.

Identify distinctive words or phrases that a person of that group would use. Practice the dialect, verbally and on paper. Finally, pick the best and most representative parts for your character to use. The extent of dialect used seems to vary with what popular culture is willing to accept at the time. Its success is debatable. Rowling, for example, uses some dialect in her Harry Potter books and has not been attacked. If dialect is going to be used as a means of creating character, it appears that writing with the intention of it being read-aloud is the best route to take.

Picture books still seem to have measurable success with the use of dialect, especially as a way to provide setting. This may also be due to the format which allows some instruction in the text, as well as definitions and pronunciation guides in the back to aid in its understanding. Fiction, on the other hand, which is generally not intended to be read aloud, seems to fare better with the use of implied dialect, that is, using cadence and rhythm, as well as local colloquialisms to sound like the dialect without using misspellings.