Jun 5 2012 8:04am

I Dinna Ken What Ye Mean, Lass: Rendering Dialect in Romance Novels

Readers of historical romance, if their heroes and heroines are from places other than England, often have to read an author’s attempt at getting the accent right. For example, Scottish historicals feature a lot of “dinna”s and “lass”es, and oftentimes servants’ dialogue is written more broadly, to make it clearer that there is significant class distinction, defined in terms of accents.

But how much is too much? Are there authors whose accent recreation take away from the enjoyment of the book? Are there authors who do it particularly well? What’s your take on dialect in romance novels?

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1. KateNagy
A great topic! I was just reading something the other day where I was thinking "Och aye, enow' wi' th'accent, lass, WE GET IT." Of course, now I forget exactly what the book in question was...

Anyway, it can be really hard to depict, but not over-depict, dialect. Diana Gabaldon does it pretty well, for the most part. At the other end of the spectrum, we have Janette Oke's inspirational classic "Love" series (Love Comes Softly, Love's Enduring Promise, etc.) In the early books especially, Oke's characters speak in this sort of homespun dialect that had to have been as exhausting to write as it was to read. Interestingly, as the series progresses, the central couple's children, depicted as better-educated and perhaps a bit more worldly, speak more conventionally.
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
@KateNagy: Kate, what inspired this topic is that I am currently reading Elizabeth Hoyt's Scandalous Desires, and the hero is a pirate from St. Giles (whose mom is Irish), and he speaks in a distinctively written vernacular that I find distracting. Now that the book is further along, the dialect is reduced, and I am finding the book easier to read. I understand why authors do it--I've done it myself--but I think there's a very delicate balance.
Darlene Marshall
3. DarleneMarshall
OMG, that film clip made me bawl! Thank heavens I haven't done my mascara yet! It's too early in the morning for me to be drooling and crying over Colin Firth.

Anyway, I like a little bit of dialect done right rather than a lot of it done poorly. Joanna Bourne has an extremely deft hand with this. When her characters are supposed to be speaking French, or German, it's the structure of the speech rather than dialect that brings it across seamlessly. Love how she does that.
4. Miss_D
The Scots brogue can be weird. I think the first time I came across it was a Johanna Lindsey book. I got used to it but still. I hate when authors do historical South books and there are slaves. The lingo used for how they speak just bothers me. I know it's going for authentic but I just see "Minstrel Show." :(
5. Sally Quilford
Elizabeth Kostova's novel, The Historian, introduced a character who was part Greek and part Scottish. Her use of the Scottish dialect for him was excrutiatingly bad, and I never did work out what important information he was giving to the hero and heroine. When using dialect I think it should add flavour to a story and to a character's dialogue without detracting from the message.
Kiersten Hallie Krum
6. Kiersten
I'm so glad you mentioned Joanna Bourne, Darlene! That was what I found so amazing from the get go of The Spymaster's Lady, the fact that she conveyed the essense of the heroine being French in the structure of her speech rather than relying on dialect trick's or French phrases to do it for her. The language and writing instead was fluid and gorgeous.

Dialects are hard from both sides. I find if I read too much Gabaldon in one sitting, I start thinking in Scots dialect and that ain't pretty for anybody. I do think the Outlander books manage to convery a lot of dialect without drowning you in it; speech patterns and phrases are also utilized.
Jennifer Proffitt
7. JenniferProffitt
I actually really enjoy it when an author does the accent for me in the text. I can know that a hero/heroine has an accent, but not be able to put it on while I read it. Honestly, one of the authors that sticks out for doing this often and well is JK Rowling (I'm thinking Hagrid and Madame Maxime). I know it's not romance but I always read the books aloud to my family and loved putting on the accents.

Does anyone remember a HEROINE with an accent? I can only think of heroes with strong accents written into the text.
Elizabeth Halliday
8. Ibbitts
I don't have a problem with the Scots brogue, or the Irish for that matter. And I can read Greek, so that's no big deal for me, but it's the Welsh that bothers me, especially when the words are written in Welsh and I have to stop reading to translate the pronounciation in my head - serious train of thought disruption there...
BTW @darlenemarshall: It's never too early in the morning to drool and cry over Colin Firth!!!
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