Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dialect success in books -- your help?

Because of the cruelty that is 'marking season' (AmE prefers grading over marking), I am unable to do a 'real' post at the moment--but I'd like to follow up on the last one, which opened with
I'm giving a talk called Whose Language Is It Anyway? at the first Brighton Book Festival ("Bookstock") on 9 June (click the Whose... link for details). Since it's a book festival, I'd like talk about some books.
...and then asked for examples of bad AmE dialect representation in works by UK authors and vice versa.  Thanks to everyone whose given suggestions in the comments at that post--please feel free to add more there.

Having so much evidence of poor dialect writing is useful, but a little depressing. So, I ask you avid book-readers: can you think of any authors who switch dialects with real skill?  (It might be their editors doing the heavy lifting, but still...let's try to find some examples that give some hope.)

Thanks in advance for anything you can offer me!  And if you're in/near Brighton, do come along for the talk--it'd be lovely to meet you!

11 comments:

Jan said...

I just finished (Liverpool-born) Linda Grant's "We Had It So Good," which is set in England but has scenes in the US (and a husband from there, with an English wife). I didn't notice any goofs in the American parts -- which doesn't mean they don't exist, of course.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

To be absolutely fair, although I did mention her in the last post, Elizabeth George does mostly do it extremely well - there are only one or two indications in her books that she's not actually British (and, in at least one instance, has never actually been to the place where she set the action). Mostly, you can't tell.

Anonymous said...

I'd second that. "What came before he shot her" (about working-class Londoners)is an uncomfortable read but extraordinarily convincing.

Kate (Derby, UK)

Anonymous said...

In his later work, Neil Gaiman does quite well. Its actually interesting to watch, in Sandman the American dialect is pretty good, the failures are less glaring errors and more things that sound subtly off. Then there is something like American Gods, written with better editing, and after he'd lived in the US for a long time, and the dialect is flawless.

ella said...

It's CanE rather than AmE, but Helen Forrester wrote a book called 'The Latchkey Kid' set in 1960s Alberta, and the dialect is really well done. Ms Forrester is from the Liverpool area originally, but has lived in Alberta since the 1950s.

juliaL49 said...

How about Christopher Moore's Fool?! I did not know he was Amercian until he admitted so in the epilogue.

But then I am not British and would not notice anything too off.

Andy JS said...

British author Zadie Smith had an attempt at doing American dialect in her book "On Beauty" but it would obviously require an American to assess how successful she was.

Ben T-S said...

In my mind, Tom Wolfe does a pretty good job at this (although there's a lot of controversy about his skill in this regard). I think he forces his linguistic virtuosity a bit, but at least he does his research.

The best examples I can think of, unfortunately, are the works of long-deceased writers: Ulysses, Lady Chatterly's Lover, Huck Finn, pretty much any Faulkner novel, Little Women.

Sarah said...

Had I not seen him interviewed on tv, I would never have believed Lee Child to be British.

the_sybil said...

Am I too late for this to be useful? William Gibson's characters hop back and forth across the Atlantic, he's masterful with language and I don't believe !'ve ever been irritated by a dialect fail. The books you'd want to look at are Pattern Recognition, Spook Country and Zero History - his earlier science fiction won't help you much.

Anonymous said...

Late late late, but Andy, I doubt a middle class American black woman would say, as Zadie Smith has one do, "How am I meant to react?", even if she has been married to an Englishman for decades. "How am I supposed to react?"

Now, the interfamilial trans-Atlanticism muddles things somewhat, but I am still confident in that assessment.