Writers often come to the problem of dialogue in fear and trembling. ‘How do I make people speak naturally?’ ‘What would they say here?’ ‘What would he keep to himself there?’ In our everyday lives we learn about people in many ways: the way they eat, their clothes, their scent, their movements, the way they hold themselves. But speech is one of the most revealing aspects of a person. We listen to the tone of their voice. Does it rankle and jar or do we feel at home with the sound? In Britain we often listen for a person’s accent. It tells us where they come from. Often it tells us about their background or which social group they identify with. A dialect, too, where syntax and grammar work differently to ‘standard’ English, the sort taught in our educational institutions, shows that someone has consciously or unconsciously chosen not to abandon the speech patterns of their region for the blander cadences of BBC English.
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