Regional dialect in the U.S. – Pardon me for my nerdiness

two women talking

“I’m sorry I laughed at you for calling the ginger ale, ‘Coke.'” “That’s alright, Mabel. I’ll forgive you if you pardon me for laughing when you called the spigot a ‘spicket.'”

Like most people who read and write SF and fantasy, I have a tendency towards nerdiness. I watched Star Trek loyally (until I ditched my TV at age 24). I read graphic novels. I watched foreign films as a teen and young adult and snubbed “Forrest Gump” and “Titanic.” And my idea of a fun day out could easily involve a museum, planetarium, or library.

Yes, I sat at the table with the nerds, geeks, and dweebs in high school. At least the social consequences of nerdiness drop drastically at some point during college.

One of the things I studied in college and graduate school happens to be sociolinguistics, and the topic still fills me with geeky glee, so when Discover Magazine directed readers to Joshua Katz’s work at NC State University, I had to give it a look-see. Continue reading

How Texans lost their accents and the newly religious found one

How do we place a person? Partly by the way they talk. But the accents that we use to locate people are constantly in flux.

Apparently Texans are losing their distinct accents. Still others have mastered mainstream American dialects as well as their own distinct drawl and codeswitch according to the demands of the situation, a recent study at the University of Texas asserts. The L.A. Times article on the subject explains some of the reasons, which include exposure to mass media and immigration to Texas from a variety of sources.

The article piqued my interest in part because I happen to be reading Sarah Bunin Benor’s new book Becoming Frum which contemplates the ways the newly religious adopt the language and cultural markers of Orthodox Jews. Like with the Texans discussed above, some use of the in-group dialect is conscious, while other use is not. But in either case,  it marks the users of certain types of speech as members of a distinct group.

What this means to writers: A sprinkle of regional dialect or in-group word choice can help establish a character in the social landscape of our story/book and make them sound authentic. But misuse of language based on out-dated understandings of a community could annoy readers just as much as heavy-handed overuse. Pretty soon, we might not be able to write characters with Texan drawls anymore without sounding ridiculously retro. It’s good to have a handle on these nuances of language use before jumping in to this writing strategy.