Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fait' and Begorrah, Finley Dunne Does Overdo t' Brogue

There seem to be two types of dialect writers out there.

The first is the kind that recognizes dialect as an intrinsic element of a character, one that may help set him or her apart from others, work as an effective “show, not tell” tool in offering information on a character’s background or otherwise offer up tantalizing bits of character rounding.

Then there are those who use a dialect character because, well, why not?

Those in the first category tend to use dialect sparingly, wanting the overall effect, but not so much as to overwhelm the reader.

Those in the second take a “dialect or nothing” attitude.

Finley Peter Dunne fits into the second category.

See if you can interpret any of this, or even tell me what kind of accent this is supposed to be:

What we want to do f’r our sojer boys in th’ Ph’lippeens besides killin’ thim, says th’ ar-rmy gurgeon, it make th’ place more homelike, he says. Manny iv our heroes hasn’t had th’ deleeryum thremens since we first planted th’ stars an’ sthripes, he says, an’ th’ bay’nits among th’ people, he says. I wud be in favor iv havin’ th’ rigimints get their feet round wanst a week, at laste, he says. Lave us, he says, ‘reform th’ reg’lations, he says, an’ insthruct our sojers to keep their powdher dhry an’ their whistles wet, he says.

Sounds like Sylvester the Cat on Novocain, doesn’t it?

The character who schpith out all that dialectial drivel is named Dooley, and he’s talking to a man named Hennessey, so one can assume they’re both supposed to be Irish. Untermeyer describes Dunne’s dialect as “tricky,” and he’s not just a-kidding. This is probably a case where the written word fails to capture the true essence of the situation. If this were being said rather than written – and read – it might be easier to understand. We’re used to hearing dialects, rather than reading them, as Richard Adams found out, painfully to my eyes at least, in his novel Traveler, featuring a horse with a British dance hall southern US accent.

The dialects used in this cartoon, for example, are easy to understand. Written down, however, they might prove difficult.

I have written a novel in which I have a character who uses a dialect. Now I’m going to have to go back over it to see if I’ve overdone it. Using a dialect is fine. Overdoing it kills your readers.

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