“’Nelly,’ he said, ‘we’s hae a Crahnr’s ‘quest enah, at ahr folks. One on ‘ems a’most gotten his finger cut off wi’ haudin’ t’ other froo’ sticking hisseln loike a cawlf. That’s maister, yah knaw, ut’s soa up uh going tuh t’ grand ‘sizes. He’s noan feared uh t’ Bench uh judges, norther Paul, nur Peter, nur John, nur Mathew, nur noaon ‘em, nut he! He fair likes he langs tuh set his brazened face agean ‘em! And yon bonny lad Heathcliff, yah mind, he’s a rare un! He can girn a laugh, as weel’s onybody at a raight divil’s jest."
This is a quote from Wuthering Heights, a book I should probably read again since my high school experience with is was just that, a high school experience. I remember skipping over the dialect because I had no hope or interest in decoding.
When I started writing Elizabethan dialogue, I tried to make it understandable but still an honest representation. I focused on the thee/thou/thy versus you in regards to informal versus formal address. The pressences of thee/thou/thy also affected the pronunciation of the verbs. Word order was a factor. Use of abbreviations, but not modern abbreviations. I showed class differentiation in patterns of speech and accent. I even looked up some of the regional dialects.
I sent my query, then my first three chapters to an assistant editor at Avon. She wanted to read the rest of the ms, but WITHOUT the dialect. After some low grade cursing about the lost work, I quickly translated all the Elizabethan speak into BBC English. Fair enough. I left in the occasional 'anon' and 'in sooth' for flavor.
I am a fan of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. They are rife with dialect. It never distracted from the read and helped to add depth to her environment. Then again, many commercial highland romance novels don't go indepth into the brogue and just throw 'Och, lassie' in a few times for flare. Gabaldon's books are more fiction than romance, so maybe that is a factor -- I don't know. I have also read all of Phillipa Gregory's Tudor era books. No dialect. In fact, the editor from Avon cited Gregory's work in her explanation of why I should cut mine out.
So where does that leave me?
The history teacher and the entertainer in me are constantly engaged in battle. The compromise is to make history entertaining, of course. But in order to do that, I feel like I have to sacrifice some of my credibility. If you read historical romance, don't you want to escape into that era? Wouldn't the language used lend realism? Then again I have read historical fiction set in France and enjoyed them, and they were not written in French.
What are your thoughts on dialect? Does it detract or add to the story?