D is for Dialect

On this fourth day of the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge, I’m supposed to write about something related to the letter “D.” Staying in my usual theme of writing, I chose the word, DIALECT.

18th century African slave dialect

Dialect is something I’ve had to address in my The Spanish Coin manuscript. One of the main characters and one of the minor characters are slaves in South Carolina in 1771. Another character is a free woman of color living in the community.

Dialect can be overdone. As a novice writer, that’s a fair assessment of where I was. I had those two slaves dropping the “g” at the end of every gerund. I gradually realized that they sounded like Uncle Remus or worse.


I grew up in the 1950s loving Uncle Remus stories, but writing a novel in the 21st century and assigning a speech pattern to that extreme is just wrong on so many levels.

Being a beginning writer, though, perhaps I had to go through many stages with the slaves’ dialect. I gradually changed dialectal words to today’s language – or to the standard language of the time and place. (The “find and replace” feature on the computer became my best friend.)


Even if it weren’t offensive to overuse dialect in a novel, it would be exhausting to the writer and the reader. It would be something akin to having to read Beowulf as it was originally written in Old English. I had to read Beowulf in high school, and I think I’d rather have a root canal than have to read it again. (My apologies to the late Mrs. Estelle Cline, my senior English teacher.)


Foreign accents

A consideration related to having a character speaking in dialect is having one speaking with a foreign accent. Since most of the characters in The Spanish Coin are Scottish or Irish immigrants, they use some words that we no longer use in America or they have ways of pronouncing words that differ from my 2017 pronunciation in North Carolina. For instance, the word “wee” is still very much used in Scotland and would have been used by Scottish immigrants and probably by one or two more generations, whereas today in America we use the word “little.” Having a character in The Spanish Coin say “wee” is a way I chose to remind the reader that a particular character is a native of Scotland.

Another character in The Spanish Coin is a French immigrant. There are a few French words he says when he cannot think of or doesn’t know the English word he needs to use. Perhaps I watch too many cooking shows on TV, but in my mind the Frenchman is my book sounds just like Jacques Pepin.


Until my next blog post tomorrow

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.




2 thoughts on “D is for Dialect

  1. Hi Janet, 😊
    Using too many archaic words could frustrate the reader…it is a find line between authentic sounding and sound comprehension. I like the idea of using words that are still being used like, in your example, wee.


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