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Describing an Eastern European accent in a universe without Eastern Europe

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Cool-Beans, Jan 8, 2022.

  1. Cool-Beans

    Cool-Beans Dreamer

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    Hey guys,

    sorry for the long title, well, not really. I figure this is the best way to ask the ‘how to’ question when it comes to describing something in literature.

    when I think of an Eastern European accent, everything that translates into my mind is non fictional, exists in my universe, and cannot be turned into fiction.

    I wouldn’t know where to start to describe something, even as simple as this.

    Any experienced writers up to the task of - quite literally - writing a few sentences in an assumed universe where your task is to describe a foreign language?
     
  2. Ban

    Ban Troglodytic Trouvère Article Team

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    Eastern European isn't a singular entity with a singular language, let alone a singular accent. I'd advise narrowing your inquiry down to a specific country in Eastern Europe and reading through the wikipedia page of its language(s). Better yet, read through the pages regarding the dialects of its language(s) to find out how wikipedia describes their specific pronunciations and characteristics. All dialects vary in orthography, just as they do in English.
     
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  3. Lynea

    Lynea Sage

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    Hm, that is an interesting question. I once had to describe an Irish accent without Ireland existing in the fictional world, so I went with the characteristics of it like, "He spoke in a foreign accent, more lively and musical than that of those around her. The peaks of language were sharper, more dramatic, yet she understood his words all the same."
     
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  4. Cool-Beans

    Cool-Beans Dreamer

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    Of course, just to get the general idea across.
    In my mind I had a specific region in mind but I’ve totally lost it now, thought narrowing it down (I know the irony in that) to a wider area would make it easier lol.

    German?
     
  5. Cool-Beans

    Cool-Beans Dreamer

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    Haha musical, that’s good. I would probably pick on stereotypes, drunken, fast paced, hard to understand, and over enthusiastic.

    edit: but then again, realistically - you could describe any language in the world with these terms, they are more personality traits than language
     
  6. Ban

    Ban Troglodytic Trouvère Article Team

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    Not Eastern European, but let's go with it ;) German is a diverse language composed of many dialects which differ to such an extent from one-another that they veer into languages of their own (Bavarian, Franconian, Westphalian...), but for simplicity's sake we'll just assume a stereotypical Standard High German accent. A simple way to convey in your writing that this is a faux-"German" accent is to (in-world) describe how your average German pronounces words when speaking English. You can preface the character by writing a description such as: "When he spoke my language, his words were clear, but something was amiss. I realised throughout our conversation that it was the manner in which he spoke. He pronounced his w's as v's and his g's as k's. At times he elongated a sound that should be short, and pronounced consonants which should be silent. I noticed he pronounced the K in Knight and the second B in bomb. He must have learned my language through reading not hearing I reckon."

    If on the other hand the character in question speaks their (again in-world) "native" language, as opposed to the language of your main character(s), I'd advise you simply focus on describing the sounds as unfamiliar and unintelligible to the main character. You can spice it up by adding adjectives of your own to the mix describing how your character thinks the in-world German sounds, but I wouldn't focus on any details of the language. Simply listen to some recordings of German or any other language/dialect you fancy and think for yourself what you believe they sound like. Do they sound melodic? Harsh? Clear? Muffled? Subdued? Forceful? And so on and so on.
     
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  7. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    You don't need to reduce your prose to stereotypes. Language gives us the best ways to talk around a subject.
    upload_2022-1-8_16-53-8.jpeg
     
  8. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    In my opinion, always try to ask a pro.



    For me, I would take some of these points and describe them in the narrative rather than mimic them in the dialogue.
     
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  9. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

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    You can also use character names, place names, and so forth, including invented phrases or terms, that are written in a style similar to the languages you are using as models. This gives the reader a fair indication of the sort of language set involved in the region.

    I have a nation in one of my fictional worlds that has a language similar to Hungarian. So character and place names are built like Hungarian names—but fictional creations, so not exact copies of Hungarian names.
     
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  10. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Archmage

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    Meh, everything east of Utrecht is Eastern European... ;)

    A few approaches to use. If it's not a character who speaks a lot then you can mangle the grammar and spelling of words the character uses. Think of Joda (though he's not Eastern European), but perhaps not as extreme. Just be aware that this will get tiring and annoying to readers if done poorly or if it's done a lot. If you want some help, there's a few "translation" tools online which do things like re-write your english to old english for instance.

    You could also have characters remark on it or think on it, as BanBan mentions. Describe what it sounds like, or that it's hard to understand for the viewpoint character in some way. And FifthViewFifthView has a good point in using names, places and descriptions to reinforce the idea.

    One thing to keep in mind though is that with writing, the reader will form their own idea of what a character sounds like, and that if you need something specific, then you have to keep reinforcing it otherwise the reader may very well forget. Something like the occasional "his thick accent made him hard to understand", or "he said in his musical voice" or whatever.
     
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  11. Ban

    Ban Troglodytic Trouvère Article Team

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    As a Limburger I've been called a German and a Belgian plenty of times by the northern Dutch. Eastern European is a first :p
     
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  12. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >Meh, everything east of Utrecht is Eastern European...
    OK, that got a chortle.

    To the OP, what are you trying to do here? I'll anticipate your reply.

    When you posted, you had some particular accent in mind. It sounded a particular way in your head, and you wondered how in the world you could get across to the reader that accent. You thought this accent would distinguish a character, or maybe get across how a village sounded. Either way, it was in contrast to one or more other characters. A distinguishing facial feature is easy, right? But what about an accent?

    At least wrt this, fuggedaboudit.

    Whatever sounds are in your head, there's no way in the world you can be sure that's what your reader is going to "hear." In fact, I can pretty much guarantee they'll get it wrong. They're going to "mispronounce" character and place names, fail to get references, and in general your descriptions aren't going to come across with 100% fidelity.

    So it comes back to the original question: what are you trying to do? Emphasize a difference in speech. Kewl. Do that. You can have characters lisp, stutter, drawl, and so on. They can use distinctive turns of phrases. Any of these will give the variation you want.

    Also, just to echo what others have said, "east European" is way too vague. Heck, even German is (don't ever overlook the difference between north and south Germany). Then there's how a Frenchman pronounces German words. And so on. If you are an English speaker, just take a look at how various peoples pronounce American dialogue. Even better is hearing them try to imitate someone from the Bronx or Boston or New Orleans. An accent is not just one thing, though there are a hundred ways to get it wrong.
     
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  13. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    To butt in, there is no such thing as an "Eastern European accent". Yes, Eastern European (Slavic) languages are quite distinct from Germanic or Romaic languages, but... there is a massive difference in accent between Split and Dubrovnik, let alone between, say, Zagreb and Moscow.
     
  14. johnnyfoges

    johnnyfoges Dreamer

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    You can always stick to broader descriptions of the how the accent sounds. For a broad generalization, Slavic languages, for instance, tend to have lots of neutral diphthongs and shortened consonant structure. Especially if whoever has this accent is educated, they would have used the written word to help them understand your world's English leading to quirks in their speak because of what letters mean to them in their native tongue. This would come across in description as something like this: "They spoke with a curious modal tone. Their's was a flowing monotone of short but accurate articulations but curious inflections of which I was not accustomed. Frankly, I found it made their speech far gruffer than their excellent vocabulary would suggest."

    (Sometimes is helpful to mix in some characterization so as to make the accent vague and more within the imagination of the reader)
     
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  15. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Johnny, you reminded me of this bit by Trevor Noah, which just makes my linguist wife crack up every time.

     
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  16. johnnyfoges

    johnnyfoges Dreamer

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    Lol nice!
     
  17. johnnyfoges

    johnnyfoges Dreamer

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    Lol nice!
     
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