Stevie Talks Funny by Jo Victor

bsb_revenge_of_the_parsons_daughter__80505Author Jo Victor dropped by to celebrate the release of her debut novel, Revenge of the Parson’s Daughter Or The Lass that Loved a Pirate. It’s available as of August 1st from Bold Strokes Books. Check out the awesome cover over there on the right.

Apparently, Jo has a thing for alternate titles and Stevie, the main character, has a thing for the parson’s daughter.

As you might have guessed, Jo has a website. You can check that out HERE. And you can be friends with her on facebook HERE. And, of course, you can (and should) buy her new book HERE.

Today’s blog is formatted a little different than most in that Jo talks about Stevie’s dialect and Stevie responds using quotes from the book. It’s a kick in the pants, so relax and enjoy!

Yeah, Stevie Talks Funny (How the Music of the English Language Led Me Astray)
by Jo Victor

There’s no call to go a-saying such things to me. Why, I am not neither ignorant! I can read an’ write an’ all.

For those of you who haven’t already read my debut novel Revenge of the Parson’s Daughter, or The Lass that Loved a Pirate (and what are you waiting for? It’s been available from Bold Strokes Books for at least five whole days), Stevie is the pirate in question, beloved of Kate, the poor but plucky parson’s daughter who…Sorry.

So anyway, Stevie is a pirate, born at sea and raised aboard a pirate ship by her foster father and the rest of the more-or-less-lovable ruffians of the Hispaniola’s crew. The pirates hail from all over England, plus quite a few foreign countries.

Aye, they was allus friends of mine. I know I miss me da som’at fierce, though it were many a year since he passed on.

Your individual way of speaking—your idiolect (and yes, that’s the same root as idiot, which originally meant a private individual, as contrasted with a public figure)—has a great deal to do with where you were raised, and by whom. Having grown up surrounded by that Tower of Babel, Stevie’s way of speaking is more than a bit unusual.

Truer words were never spoken, lass. I ain’t no gentleman, not a bit—nor no sir, neither.

I’m an amateur linguist in both senses—No training except for one college intro class, but I love the different ways people talk. Word choices, idioms, accents, rhythms—all of them are like music to me.

The prettiest English is, of course, spoken by people from Wales (it’s known as a Welsh lilt for a reason). My first Latin teacher was Welsh, and I used to love just listening to him talk. It was so beautiful, whether it was English or Latin [To hear some Welsh English, watch How Green Was My Valley or listen to the radio play Under Milk Wood (part 1 of 9).

Next prettiest is the way some South Asian folks (from India, Pakistan, etc.) speak, with a gorgeous rhythm and tone that’s like singing or chanting—very similar to a Welsh lilt. I expect it has to do with being a native speaker of Hindi or Urdu or one of the hundreds of other languages spoken in that part of the world, but whatever the reason, it makes for lovely English. [Sadly, this way of speaking is often parodied (think Apu on The Simpsons); I guess it’s funny to some but I think it’s beautiful.]

Speech differences can be a source of genuine humor, of course. There’s a hilarious scene in The Heat where Sandra Bullock’s character meets Melissa McCarthy’s family and encounters the Boston “missing r” [I pahked the cah] (which I’m pretty sure is the same as the Southern “missing r” [come ovah heah, dahlin’], which both probably come from the British “missing r” [You ah cehtainly pehsistent]—it’s the vowels around them that make them sound different).

Now then, just what in thunder are you a-going on about? What’s to do?

I think I’ve always been interested in English variations. I remember a conversation with a childhood friend where we solemnly assured one another that—unlike people who hailed from north or south of us—WE didn’t have accents. Which I suppose is true. No one has an accent until they leave home.

I also remember a conversation with that same friend where she helpfully pointed out that I said “i-dear” instead of “i-dee-ah” the way everybody else did. Ever since, I’ve been careful to sound out “i-dee-ah,” unless I’m in a hurry and “i-dear” slips out. [That’s fairly typical, I think—under stress, people revert to their original way of talking, no matter how many “improvements” they’ve made over the years. I saw an interview once with Lucy Lawless about barely getting away from Hurricane Katrina and it was in pure New Zealand (very nasal vowels—“the pen is on the bench” becomes “the pin is on the binch”) instead of the carefully neutral way she usually speaks.]

However did you come to be knowing about them goings on, a lady like you?

I suppose I come by it honestly. My mom grew up in New England, but her first language was Italian [and dialect Italian at that—I say ash-petta instead of aspetta (hang on) and shpero instead of spero (I hope) just like she did. Not that I speak that much Italian, but when I do, I sound like her.] My dad is from the fairly deep South but lost his accent when he spent a year in England on a Rotary Club scholarship. He retained only three traces: he pronounces often as off-ten, greasy as gree-zy, and cartridge as cah-tridge. Why those three? Who knows, but I’m glad he was able to keep something.

When I was a teenager, we spent several years among the British. My school had people from all over England, including Scotland and Wales, and I was in amateur linguist heaven. Everybody spoke a little differently, with all kinds of rhythms and accents, including regional and class differences—with much more variation in the way working class kids talked, so they were a lot more interesting. Sometimes there were two or three different ways to say the same word—what Americans call a ga-RAHJ is either a GARE-ahj or a GARE-idge, for instance.

Oh, you’re a deep one and no mistake.

Plus I got to learn a whole new version of English myself, new vocabulary and syntax and spelling (if I used American spelling it got marked wrong). And it still lingers—when I sing a song I learned back then, I sing it with that accent. And sometimes when I’m talking and I’m in a hurry, a sentence will come out of my mouth and I’ll think, “That’s not how Americans talk; I hope they understood me.”

So what does all that have to do with Stevie? Well, she talks in a very particular way, not so much an accent as a way of constructing sentences. I could hear her voice in my head, the words and expressions, she used, and I wrote them down the way I heard them.

There’s ways and ways of getting folk to talk.

One problem I ran into almost immediately was how to write Stevie’s internal language—what did she sound like when she was thinking? It felt completely wrong to have her do her thinking in dialect—maybe because thinking is direct; it’s all about meaning, not words—but at the same time I couldn’t very well give her two completely different voices, internal and external. I solved the problem by keeping her thoughts indirect as much as possible, and I think it works.

Well, if you say so, lass, but I can’t be easy in my mind about it.

When I was writing, I wasn’t focused on anything except trying to do as good a job as I could getting the whole thing down on paper. Of course I know that you’re not supposed to use dialect in novels—which I thought was just because it’s so easy to do badly, creating stereotypes instead of characters and causing moments of unintentional humor.

I seen some of ’em, and they’re none too pretty.

But I thought of my book basically as a parody, so I figured the humor part didn’t matter, and as long as Stevie sounded real to me, I figured she was fine. What I wasn’t thinking about at all—until my editor gently pointed it out to me—was that I might be asking rather a lot of the reader.

I’m that disappointed in you, miss, truly I am.

As in, I was making it harder for the reader to actually, well, read. Oopsy. So herewith my apologies.

I’m that sorry, lass. I do speak afore thinking sometimes.

But as my voice teacher used to tell me (as her own voice teacher had told her): if you’re gonna make a mistake, make it loud. Or to (mis)quote Martin Luther, “Sin boldly.”

Oh, aye, I know about that ’un. I were in church once.

Perfection is neither possible nor, for a human being (real or fictional), desirable. That’s because if you spend all your time trying to avoid making mistakes, you will soon discover that the only sure way to do that is to do nothing at all—which, is, of course, the biggest mistake of all. If Auntie Mame was right that “life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death,” why quibble about a little indigestion?

{Actually, I’m a huge perfectionist, so all of the aforesaid is a delightful theory that I’m continually struggling to practice.}

One thing’s for sure—writing Stevie was an awful lot of fun.

Right you are, lass. Give us a kiss.


  1. Interesting article. I like yo be challenged. The way this bookie written would entice me to read it. Can wait yo read it


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