Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Local Dialect

As writers, we all like to give a flavour of the area where we have set our stories. Accents and local terminology are there to be played with and if you tell the reader that a character is from a certain region then they will automatically attribute the accent to their dialogue.

The issue is explaining local terminology to the reader, as the characters who inhabit the story know what the local lingo means.

The best example I can think of for dealing with this problem is the Lennox series of novels by Craig Russell. His main protagonist is a Canadian living in Glasgow. Through his first person viewpoint Russell will use a passage like “I followed him into the alley, or close as they call it here” near the start of the novel and then later on when Lennox “ducks into a close” the reader already has the information needed to translate. Matt Hilton did something very similar when he had one of his characters travel to Manchester from America for a chapter or two.

 I’ve set my novel in Cumbria which has a very distinctive dialect all of its own. Some phrases which are used everyday include (apologies to all Cumbrians for any spelling errors)

“a’s gan yam” – I’m going home

“seck like” – such like

“charver” – man / lad / boy

“bewer” – woman / lady / girl

“nashed after I went chawing” – Ran away after I was stealing

There are only so many times that you can have one character explain to another the local lingo, so a lot of the time I have had to refine the language used. Also with Cumbrian being a largely unknown dialect I also have to remember that idiomatic phrases like “why-eye” or “or-hey are kid” are not even slightly relevant.

I still want to include the local language into my novel though so I made an important character a stranger to the region to allow me some wiggle room. After giving you five examples of local language I can now let you read this line of dialogue which is written in full local patois.

“This charver and bewer nashed past me as a was gan yam. I bet they’ve been chawing or seck like.”

Naturally that line is way way to regional to actually use in a novel but if I can find a way of giving a wee info dump on the local dialect (without it being obvious) then I can scatter odd words or terms into the characters dialogue to keep things authentic.

Feel free to comment on how you do or don't deal with this.


  1. Interesting, as ever....not sure I could cope with too much dialect, however "authentic" it might be....but then I'm not that good at understanding people with thick accents.

  2. Just a sprinkle is enough. The reader knows where the character is from, so maybe two or three regularly used words throughout (so they become accustomed) should suffice. For a Manc' - "Innit, an' (for and), and nowt," adds flavour. But obviously, there are Mancunians, like me-good-self, who speak proper England, innit! ;-)

  3. Good stuff, Graham. English / British dialect is a real trick for Americans like me. My novel features characters from America, Ireland, Scotland, England and Israel. In editing what I've tried to do is to pick one "localism" that each character uses almost exclusively. There's one who addresses women as "love" quite a bit and another who uses "innit" etc. etc. Hopefully it has the desired effect. One writer who seems to accomplish characters of different locales quite well is Ted Bell.

  4. I'm with Col on that one Graham. A sprinkling is enough. If I wrote all my stuff in Geordie it would be seriously limiting for readers, as well as too much like hard work.