The tongue is a funny beast to begin with. Team it up with the ear and strange things happen, new languages emerge, a base understanding happens. We often chalk up these news sounds as a lack of education but maybe it is closer to our beginnings than we’d like to admit. I mean, look at all the species that inhabit this planet. We are the only species that communicates with such a complex pattern of noises. That is, after all, what talking is to them, just noises. We’ve somehow managed to mould our noises into language.

Noises with fancy names made necessary by the alliance between the tongue and the ear.

Wikipedia gives us definitions for some of these unique noises.

  • A colloquialism is a word or phrase that is common in everyday, unconstrained conversation rather than in formal speech, academic writing, or paralinguistics. They are often used primarily within a limited geographical area, known by linguists to spread through normal conversational interaction of a language, although more often now through informal online interaction. Colloquialisms are sometimes referred to collectively as “youknowhatitis language.
  • The term dialect (from the Greek Language word dialektos, Διάλεκτος) refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language’s speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors, such as social class. A dialect is distinguished by its vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.
  • In linguistics, an accent is a manner of pronunciation peculiar to a particular individual, location, or nation. An accent may identify the locality in which its speakers reside (a geographical or regional accent), the socio-economic status of its speakers, their ethnicity, their caste or social class, their first language (when the language in which the accent is heard is not their native language), and so on. Accents typically differ in quality of voice, pronunciation of vowels and consonants, stress, and prosody. Although grammar, semantics, vocabulary, and other language characteristics often vary concurrently with accent, the word ‘accent’ refers specifically to the differences in pronunciation, whereas the word ‘dialect’ encompasses the broader set of linguistic differences. Often ‘accent’ is a subset of ‘dialect’.

Did you notice a commonality? All of these three terms refer to how a “language” is heard and varies from region to region as well as through class.

Ok, English class is over. Now before you all raise your hands and ask why I have bored you with definitions, I’d like to ask you a question first. Describe the noise a duck makes without using the word ‘quack’.

Not easy is it?

Describing what you see is a bit easier as you can draw comparisons to mutually familiar objects, but I can  make even that hard for you. Describe ‘blue’ to someone who has been blind since birth.

Wow, kinda bends the brain doesn’t it. Oh, and did you see the colloquialism there?

Ok, now you are comfortably in my shoes. Don’t get too close to them though, the smell makes the experience decidedly less comfortable.

My point? In writing Echoes and Appetites, I have a character in each that has an accent, dialect AND colloquialism and I have to try to put that on paper in such way that you as a reader can ‘hear’ it. It’s not easy. Too often, we as writers, tend to succumb to cliché, or caricature. We try to write phonetically rather than capture to flavour or true character of the speech.

Why? Because it is easy. It is the same as describing the sky as blue. Or worse yet, sky blue.

I am going to enter a writing contest. Five Rivers is putting together an anthology called A Method To the Madness: A Guide to the Super Evil. They are looking for “articles and essays written from the perspective of mad scientists, evil doctors, crazed super-villains and the like that provide advice for the up-and-coming super villain. Think Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies or Megamind, Gru from Despicable Me or even Agatha Heterodyne from Girl Genius” . I’m grinning maniacally in anticipation. Time to stretch my humour chops while still frolicking in the thriller/horror genre.

What got me thinking about the whole Accents, Dialects and Colloquialisms (oh, my), was that my main bad guy in Echoes is English. I got to thinking, why is it that the English make such great villains? Come to think of it, they make great super spies, are insanely funny and… dammit, I want to be English too. I’ll have to ask My fellow writers, Phil Dwyer and Pete Woolman why that is. I suspect it’s the accent. If you listen, England has so many different accents, dialects and colloquialisms so it can sound debonaire and cultured or it can sound crass and downright menacing.

While I was vacationing south of the border with my family, we were in Applebee’s and the server complimented us on our accent. I found that funny, coming from someone with such a pronounced southern accent. I think Canada’s accent is the total lack of an accent. Well, except for Quebec and our Eastern provinces.

But then that is our ear and tongue collaborating again. I would imagine that server doesn’t think she has an accent either.

Now if I can just connect my pen to my ear and tongue without the profuse bleeding…

About Dale Long

Writing ambushed me from the shadows. At first I pushed it aside as nonsense, but luckily my wife and two girls saw the potential. Since then I have had an article published by Metroland, placed as runner-up and in the top ten in humour writing contests and various other contests. The icing on the cake was placing as runner-up in the WCDR's Wicked Words contest (130 entries) and having my entry published in the contests anthology of the same name. My entry was an exerpt from my upcoming novel, Echoes.
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13 Responses to Tongue-In-Ear

  1. Is Ontario “one of our Eastern provinces” or are you just referring to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, etc? I have about 20 employees in Ontario and to me, they definitely have accents. Stuff like about = “a boat” and they mess up the short “o” sound in words like process by lengthening it. Now, since I live not too far from the Canadian border (about 4 hours), some say Pacific Northwesterners can sometimes sound like Canadians (which means B.C.’er Ryan Reynolds and I would have no problems chit-chatting).

    My parents and sister, however, live in the deep south and have very thick southern accents. I’m told, I revert back when on the phone with them but I think they’re just messing with me.

    Good luck with your story!

    • Dale Long says:

      Nope, I was referring to Newfoundland, New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia. I’ve heard some people say I have a Newfoundland accent, but I was only born there. We moved to Ontario when I was quite young. Then again, my mum has a thick Newfy accent. I think it may be the speed and volume at which I speak. ;P
      I think you may be right abot the Pacific Northwesterners. I think BCers have and accent. Slight but it’s there. Same with Buffalo. And Maine has a cool accent very similar to New Brunswick.
      I always wanted to ask, does it really sound like we’re saying “a boot”? 😉

  2. Pete says:

    I’ve always wondered why the English character was always the bad guy in American programming (it’s such a cliche, that you can guarantee any englishman will be the bad guy by the end of most stories).
    Is it based on the notion that we have this reputation of being terribly polite and dignified, that it would just be more fun to see the dark twisted side. Or is it because of the association to Shakespeare and some of his flawed, villainous characters. I probably could come up with a more logical answer if I pondered over it some more.
    But yes, there are so many different accents all over England, some radically different even between cities only a few miles away, and that’s before you get to slang words which are all too commonly used in one city whilst being completely alien to others.
    But then again, I couldn’t distinguish between many accents in the states and Canada. And god forbid I get it wrong. Can’t tell you how many times a Canadian friend of mine seemedhas offended when she was mistaken for American.
    (Incidentally, British Tv seems to be getting its own back in recent years by portraying the American character as the bad guy)

    Ps… that writing competition sounds right up my street. And best of all, it’s worldwide. I’m so in!

    • Dale Long says:

      Pete, I think you’re right about the notion that the English are seen as so polite and proper that it’s considered unusul to have them dark and twisted. I Don’t think Tim Curry has helped your cause either.
      See, we Canadians are seen as too bland to be either the villian or the hero. We’re apparently good sidekicks. 😉
      Go for it! I’d love to see what you come up with.

  3. Lisa Llamrei says:

    I hate the tongue in the ear. Not only is it slimy, the sound drives me crazy.

    Oh, that’s not what you meant …

  4. Bonnie says:

    Now Lisa’s comment is funny!!!!!

  5. Dale Long says:

    Oh great, like I need you two teaming up… 😉

  6. sjclarke says:

    Great post, Dale. You’re dead on with your comments. My only question?
    What’s up with picture of the bare bum on the photocopier? 🙂

  7. Nate Shenk says:

    This is really random and somewhat embarrassing that I am referencing it, but this post reminded me of “My Fair Lady” and how Rex Harrion’s character is into phonetics. I find it all so fascinating and really enjoyed reading this, Dale! Great article.

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