Friday, May 27, 2011

Dialect - Part III

Once I had the plot in place, it was time to put words in the characters mouths. That presented all sorts of problems. First, I have not immersed myself in the letters/diaries/newspapers of the day to even come close to approximating the speech of the time period. Secondly, these were mountain characters and I wanted them to sound Mountain. So, I made the goal of not having them sound Civil War Era, but to simply sound like Yancey County -- to the best of my abilities.

But heavens knows my abilities are limited. (Shoot. I was a high school English teacher from the Midwest!) I don't sound the least bit mountain, though I always pay attention to language. (Like how folks in Yancey County say "I've not..." rather than "I haven't..." I love that!) I really like the idioms, new words, and speech patterns of the mountains, but I wasn't sure I could get it right. In fact, I'm still not sure I got it right. (Fortunately several of the cast are from here and they have helped immeasurably, even calling their mothers and mamaws to make sure I've got it right.)

To begin, I read Horace Kephart's chapter on Mountain Dialect and wrote down words that I thought were awesome (like golmed and slaunchwise) that I absolutely had to use. Then I watched several YouTube videos that exemplified speech patterns and accents (one with playwright Gary Carden). And then, I'll confess, I would go out to eat all by myself at 'Lil Smoky's in town and just listen to the oldtimers talk to each other of a morning. Then, maybe, I'd hear it in my head long enough that I could go home and write.

As much as I know "writing in dialect" is not the best, you would truly lose one of the great things about Yancey County if you would perform this play without the Mountain lilt and twang. So I wrote it like I heard it, and later went back and cleaned up and standardized some of the spellings. Like fire is spelled fire, though everyone from hear knows to call it far. And flour is spelled flour, though the cast says it correctly as flar. But I did keep kilt and ruint spelled as such.

The longer I live here, the more turns of phrase I could incorporate. So would I rewrite it yet again? The short answer is: I wouldn't care to. And if you're from Yancey, you know that means I would be more than happy to do so.

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