The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors (halfshellvenus) wrote,
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

Narrative and Spoken Dialect

I'm reading Kathy Reichs' Break No Bones at the gym, which is one of the Temperance Brennan novels. It's surprising how unlike the TV Bones the book character is—she's older, was married for 20 years and is now divorced, has an adult daughter, and while fiesty also has a boyfriend and actual people skills. The TV "Bones," by contrast, has an almost Asperger-like personality more than just a highly analytical personality. She doesn't seem to understand the psychology of social interaction, at least not when she's personally "in the moment," which makes her character pricklier, funnier, and possibly more interesting.

Reichs claims that her character grew up in the South, but there's no hint of that in the narrative. There are a few word choices that sound more British than anything to me (I actually Googled Reichs to see if she was Canadian, after hitting mobile (cell phone), queuing up, and "the bit that"). While some of the secondary characters sound "local," the narrator doesn't. Reichs apparently grew up in Chicago, and that fits with her character better. It's puzzling.

By contrast, I read a mostly dreadful mystery (one of my mother's hand-me-down books) by JoAnn Ross a few weeks back where the setting and narrative were rich in Southern atmosphere (set in Louisianna). Unfortunately, it was hard to focus on the plot because the author kept unexpectedly veering off into porn. Apparently she usually works in a different genre, to judge from the bare-chested men on the covers of her other books. :0

Written dialect is often easier to read in word choices than when the writer attempts to reflect the sound of the language itself. Reading Dorothy's dialogue in the Wizard of Oz is excruciating (it's full of apostrophes for the dropped endings). Spoken dialect, via pronunciation, is wonderfully regional, but hard to handle well in writing.

Begin tangent: Years ago, when I worked as a radio announcer, the station received some hate male regarding my "pretentious vocal style." The letter was from a foreign language professor at the local university who, in a fantastic turn of irony, was apparently unfamiliar with the concept of regional dialects.

"'Noon' and 'moon' do not rhyme," she claimed. "Nor do 'warm' and 'farm'."

But where I come from, they DO. 'Noon' is not pronounced 'newn' where I grew up, and 'warm' is not pronounced 'woarm.' My mother, who grew up in the Willamette Valley, has the same dialect I do except for unreliable words like "creek" (her mother was from Indiana, and it creeps in from time-to-time).

While on vacation a few weeks back, my Dad played us recordings of some casual interviews with his father. My Dad grew up in Utah, and we're familiar with his 'LAW-yer' (for lawyer, and it often sounds like "liar") and 'thee-AY-ter' (for theater) quirks. His own father grew up in Arizona, later moved to Wyoming for awhile and then spent the bulk of his life in Utah. This doesn't begin to explain the following:

My grandfather was discussing how he came to join the Republican Party. I couldn't quite get a bead on how he was pronouncing 'Republican'—it was somewhere between 'ree-POO-bli-can' and 'ree-PYEW-bli-can'—but he was definitely saying 'porty' instead of party. WHAT ON EARTH? It's not as if the rest of his pronunciation was unusual, and he grew up in Tombstone and not some rarely-visited corner of the desert. Who taught him that?

Maybe it's like my Dad, and the way he says 'breakferst' instead of breakfast?!? Though I sometimes think that might be from conflating his Welsh-speaking mother's "brechwerst" with "breakfast." :0

Tags: me

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