What’s After Happening Now: Dialect and Operating Principles

Newfoundland Trip #24 - 'The Rock'

Ah, home sweet home. Don’t she look inviting? (Photo credit: dibytes)

I had an entirely new experience the other day: I read a screenplay.

Not just for my own amusement, though I did enjoy it. Kat Nicholson, a very talented friend of mine who blogs over here, had asked me to look over one of her screenplays for dialect. See, it is set on the east coast of Newfoundland, where I’m from, and that province has its own…distinctive accent.* Several of them, as a matter of fact. We mostly do it to confuse outsiders. It works very well.

Only a few of the characters, and none of the main ones, really have the strong form of the accent, but that’s enough. Kat knew that she wasn’t familiar enough with the dialect to reproduce it perfectly, so she made the smart decision: get someone who is familiar to check it for accuracy.** So I went through it and changed “where are you” to “where ye at” and so on. Even changed to curses to the pseudo-Catholic sacrilege that I grew up with. There weren’t many changes, and nothing that really affected the story at all, but they still make a difference. Especially if you run across any readers who know the area, or are from it. That’s when you’ll be happy you checked your sources.

You can do all the research you want, and sometimes that’s all you can do on a particular topic. But if you have the opportunity, get someone who knows what you’re talking about to check your facts, your turns of phrase, your basic operating principles. Otherwise you might have the embarrassing experience of being called out on that shit. Or you might just annoy your reader with an inaccurate depiction. Trust me, it happens. I’ve been seriously annoyed by it in the past. Everything from accents to basic physiology to omg that’s not how a goddamn gun works.


People make mistakes. I get it. But a smart person gets someone else to check their work so those mistakes don’t get further than they need to.

And now, if anyone gets pissed with Kat over her representation of the dialect, she can just point at me and say, “Her fault.”

*If you want to know how distinctive, check out this video from CBC’s The Hour. Slays me.
**The fact that I live across the street and can easily be bribed by butterscotch cookies is just a bonus.


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