Accents Without Accents

Less surreal than Garfield Without Garfield, rest assured….


Alright, so while tossing the minority representation into my story (sarcasm yes, but it’s also kind of true–how does this apply when the writer is a minority?) I needed to put in some accents. Well, colloquialisms or idiomatic ways of speaking. You catch my drift.

The question is, how far should this be taken? I’m sure this is very much a personal preference, but I think using full-blow apostrophes everywhere and drastically changing the spelling is too far. Yes, I have Mark Twain as the greatest counterexample to that of all time…but idiots see that phrasing and the language and insist Huckleberry Finn be banned from school reading. (I’m thinking ‘Othello’ avoids this by being so old teachers just skip over the anti-Jew sentiments.) But I digress.

For the purposes of language alone, laying a thicker accent on obscures the meaning of the words a bit. Let’s face it, the sound and spelling of a word impact how we see it, because they tell us the context of the writer (or speaker, as it were).


Thinking of examples, and I’m going for some pretty cliché examples here, so don’t be surprised…I’ve avoided changing the actual words used, though. I don’t think subverting someone’s grammar is the way to go.

“Whutchoo talkin’ bout?” vs. “What you talking about?”

“Aye aye, thar she goe” vs. “Aye aye, there she goes”

“You do not understand my culture!” vs. …eh, this one you need to hear in person. It’s pretty funny, although of course it’s also a real accent, albeit rarely that exaggerated, blah blah blah.


So anyway, I don’t actually need accents that often, I’m happy sticking to the dubious intricacies of American culture and speech. If it’s the South I can throw in a ‘y’all’ here and there and if it’s urban I can screw with the possessives.


How do you deal with these? Examples appreciated–believe me, they’ll be better than mine.


3 thoughts on “Accents Without Accents

  1. The golden rule is to avoid anything that would pull your audience out from the immersion. Like you list above, spelling changes and extreme grammar will do that. I’ve found, at least from my beta readers, that the apostrophe is so ingrained in how we read that they had no problem following a character that spoke with letters emitted frequently. But that’s as far as I will go, personally. Purists will tell you that you should rely on local vocabulary and word structure alone. I’m not that good or familiar with accents and styles.

    I’ll dig around for some examples. There’s one, particulary, that purists uphold as the golden example.

    • Oooh–sounds awesome. I love seeing what purists have to say on the topic because they’re so much more finicky than anyone else will ever be.

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