Friday, May 21, 2010
Stories set in London among the upper classes are no problem. (I have spoken elsewhere of my concern with authentic period language.)The beau monde all spoke much the same and the writer needs only to reflect individual speech patterns in dialogue. When a story moves beyond the boundaries of London and the upper class however, interesting language possibilities occur. The writer of course has to find a balance of dialect use--too much annoys, confuses, and ultimately alienates the reader. But a little, just a touch, can add an authenticity and charm to a story that nothing else can provide. The accent can be elusive, hard to capture, but the archaic, location-specific words themselves have a fascination all their own.
"Daggly - wet or showery"
"Ovil - conceited, supercilious"
"Daffish - shy and bashful"
Old words are, for the most part, highly evocative and in many cases ungrammatical. One or two of these words in the mouth of an appropriate character will bring an authenticity to the story that nothing else will.
The "Shropshire Word-Book" is available for download from Google Books.
(Gray's 1824 map of Shropshire, left)
"English Accents and Dialects : An Introduction to Social and Regional Varieties of English in the British Isles" by Trudgill and Hughes looks like a very useful reference.
BBC has an excellent page of audio dialect references called Voices, and for a more scholarly take on British dialects, go here.
I just read a historical fiction book that used at least twice the expression 'how come'. That is poor contemporary English, and that it does not belong in a book set in Ancient Egypt goes without saying. The language must be right to convince the reader of your setting. And if you can add a charming old word or two, so much the better.