Accents - Jan Edwards

Just to be controversial - not a further mention of viruses!

Instead a reprise of a subject that often arises at my writing group. How to portray accents on a page.
I had to smile at a young shopkeeper today commenting on my accent. It reminded me of a piece on radio recently that touched on the BBC’s Received Pronunciation and how it was once seen as essential for anyone hoping to be on air.
“Received Pronunciation, or RP for short, is variously referred to as the ‘Queen’s English’, ‘BBC English’ or ‘Oxford English’, and has, in the past at least, been seen as the accent usually described as typically British.”
It is something I have to be very aware of within the Bunch Courtney Investigations, not just because Bunch herself would have had a rather ‘cut glass’ (posh) accent but because it would have been normal for  radio broadcasts of the time that the character might ‘listen to’ within the books. The upside off this is that writing dialogue is generally easier, though syntax of the era still needs to be taken in to account.  Things such as telling time. You would seldom hear people now saying five and twenty to three.  To modern ears two thirty-five would be far more natural.
Yes, I have locally born Sussex folk dropping aitches and extending vowels but I try to give a flavour, rather than reproduce it as it would have sounded, because, like many local accents it would be impenetrable, especially when written down. I had a fairly strong Sussex accent as a young child, despite a Welsh mother and Surrey-raised father. The South-London I dived into as a teenager was different again and drew a lot of teasing from my father  whenever I said ‘ain’t’ or ‘innit’.
Going back to today’s shopkeeper, she did not have a local midlands accent, but something akin to southern counties. It was not quite RP, but close, and she asked me in passing if I was South African!
Now people hereabouts have often marked me down as Australian, and occasionally Canadian, but this is a first for  South African, and it made me wonder what my accent is.
Not RP, or London, nor even Home Counties in the usual fashion.
So what then? Given that I have been designated a native of three other continents perhaps I should call it World English!

Jan Edwards can be found on:Blog: jan.coleborn.edwardsTwitter: @jancoledwards

Jan's crime novel Winter Downs : Bunch Courtney Investigate #1 and  In Her Defence : BCI #2  is available in paper and kindle formats.

Listed Dead : BCI #3 is scheduled for a summer release.

Other Jan Edwards titles in print (all available in print and eformats) Fables and Fabrications;  Sussex Tales;  Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties


Jan Needle said…
Fascinatin stuff, innit? After I'd lived in the north for twenty years plus, I asked for a pint and a half of bitter in an Oldham pub. The landlord said 'What part of Hampshire do you come from?' I come from Portsmouth...
Griselda Heppel said…
Oh I'd love to hear your Sussex accent. I worry that so many local accents are dying out under the influence of television, with its tendency to homogenise the way everyone speaks, into a kind of estuary/Sarf London/Geordie/ending each-sentence-with-a-question-mark/growly mix. When I first moved to Oxford I was sad to find no Oxford accent... until I realised there is one, it just takes time to tune your ear to it. A lovely, soft way of speaking, leaning very slightly towards the burr that increases as you head further down the road to the West Country. I do hope it survives.
Portraying these accents in fiction is really difficult, as you say, and I think I'd only dare to by a particular turn of phrase (I'd have to be sure of my ground though!). Otherwise the writing can so easily sound gratingy stereotypical.
janedwards said…
Jan, my other half is from Fareham :-)

The sussex accent is not unlike Hampshire or Dorset - slow with extended vowels and a habit of dropping not just H's but also w's (and a few others). :-) All but died out Now.
Jan Needle said…
Well according to this Oldham (or Roughyed, in the local usage) publican, the 'Amsher accent is still discernible. As for coming from Fareham - ah well....
janedwards said…
I suspect its the hint of lost Sussex that people hear in my voice, which they can't quite place. Especially my inability to pronounce the word 'squirrel' - which I am told by himself sounds more like squuuuuurl :-)

Popular posts

Writing Cold Environments - Elizabeth Kay

Is Anyone Shooting At Me? - Surprise Lessons from an Ocean Race. -- Julia Jones

Dudley's Devil by Susan Price

Is a picture worth a thousand words? by Julia Jones

Writing to help children save the world - Kathleen Jones