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Date Posted: 15:33:42 11/08/02 Fri
Author: Gyrus
Subject: British and American dialogue

Recently, I've read several fics by authors who are British or otherwise educated in British English, and I find that some of them frequently write British-sounding dialogue for American characters. I find this somewhat jarring, especially when it's Buffy, Xander, Gunn, or any character whose speech patterns are especially American. (For example, I recently read a fic in which something bad happens and Giles tries to tell Buffy that there was no way she could have anticipated it. She replies, "But I should've done!" That just looks weird to a Yank like me.)

So I ask the non-Americans in the crowd -- how often are American fic writers getting Giles', Wesley's, and Spike's dialogue right? (For that matter, how about Doyle's and Liam's?) What are the most common mistakes you've seen?

Come to think of it, are the BTVS and ANGEL scriptwriters themselves portraying English and Irish speech realistically?

-- Gyrus

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Replies:

[> Re: British and American dialogue -- lakrids, 12:30:46 11/25/02 Mon

http://www.livejournal.com/talkread.bml?journal=o0hugsnkisses0o&itemid=10003#cutid1
Here is link where some of discussion is about your question

I do not register, if a writer as English or American, except if they come with dr. Who jokes (Defiantly a sign to me that the writer is English).
Bye the way, my comment on the thing"I can't believe this hasn't been recced before", I hope that you didnít take it as insult to you. I have found that I can be a little Anya in my comments ( Same region so perhaps do I have ancestor in common with herĒ

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[> [> Re: British and American dialogue -- Gyrus, 12:49:19 11/26/02 Tue

>Here is link where some of discussion is about your
>question

Thanks! I'm not surprised that at least some Brits have complaints about the way Americans write dialogue for British characters, especially in the HARRY POTTER fandom. At least, in BTVS/ANGEL fic, American writers can always make the excuse that most of the English (and Irish) characters have been in the States for a long time and could have picked up some local speech habits.

Anybody know if there is some kind of on-line guide to Britspeak out there?

>I do not register, if a writer as English or
>American, except if they come with dr. Who jokes
>(Defiantly a sign to me that the writer is English).

Clearly, you don't know enough nerdy Americans. :)

>Bye the way, my comment on the thing"I can't believe
>this hasn't been recced before", I hope that you
>didnít take it as insult to you.

Not at all. I was just trying to say that there may be times when the "I can't believe..." comment is appropriate.

>I have found that I
>can be a little Anya in my comments ( Same region so
>perhaps do I have ancestor in common with herĒ

Ha ha ha! (Apologies if you haven't seen "Selfless" yet). :)

-- Gyrus

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[> [> [> Re: British and American dialogue -- joan the english chick, 14:05:13 11/26/02 Tue

>>Here is link where some of discussion is about your
>>question
>
>Thanks! I'm not surprised that at least some Brits
>have complaints about the way Americans write dialogue
>for British characters, especially in the HARRY POTTER
>fandom. At least, in BTVS/ANGEL fic, American writers
>can always make the excuse that most of the English
>(and Irish) characters have been in the States for a
>long time and could have picked up some local speech
>habits.

I am not part of the Harry Potter fandom but I have read some of the books, and I would point out that part of the problem is that the books are Americanized for sale in the US. The American publisher replaces British slang with American slang (e.g. torch->flashlight, bonnet->hood, revising->studying) in order to dumb-down the books, er, I mean make the books accessible to American kids. So it's probably not that easy for a Harry Potter fanficcer to get the hang of the British dialogue style unless they are reading the British versions of the books.

Uh, but that's off-topic, sorry.

>Anybody know if there is some kind of on-line guide to
>Britspeak out there?

I have seen them, but they are generally just slang guides, e.g. "when a Brit says this, it means this in American" which would not necessarily solve the problem. Many of the things that fanfic writers get wrong are more speech-pattern/style things, which you can only pick up from association, you can't really exactly learn them from a list.

>>I do not register, if a writer as English or
>>American, except if they come with dr. Who jokes
>>(Defiantly a sign to me that the writer is English).
>
>Clearly, you don't know enough nerdy Americans. :)

Well, it depends on the characters too. I would buy Willow or Xander making a Dr. Who joke. If it were Buffy, not so much. (Dawn did make a Monty Python joke in a recent episode, just proving that Willow and Xander are having a positive influence on her!)

Anyway, in conclusion let me just agree with the original post -- it irritates me as well when I read fanfic where the BTVS characters (other than Giles and Spike) use British slang.

-joan the english chick
(who is in fact American, long story)

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[> [> Re: British and American dialogue -- Gyrus, 12:52:25 11/26/02 Tue

>Here is link where some of discussion is about your
>question

Thanks! I'm not surprised that at least some Brits have complaints about the way Americans write dialogue for British characters, especially in the HARRY POTTER fandom. At least, in BTVS/ANGEL fic, American writers can always make the excuse that most of the English (and Irish) characters have been in the States for a long time and could have picked up some local speech habits.

Anybody know if there is some kind of on-line guide to Britspeak out there?

>I do not register, if a writer as English or
>American, except if they come with dr. Who jokes
>(Defiantly a sign to me that the writer is English).

Clearly, you don't know enough nerdy Americans. :)

>Bye the way, my comment on the thing"I can't believe
>this hasn't been recced before", I hope that you
>didnít take it as insult to you.

Not at all. I was just trying to say that there may be times when the "I can't believe..." comment is appropriate.

>I have found that I
>can be a little Anya in my comments ( Same region so
>perhaps do I have ancestor in common with herĒ

Ha ha ha! (Translation: Ha ha ha!) (Apologies if you haven't seen "Selfless" yet). :)

-- Gyrus

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[> [> [> Re: British and American dialogue -- Louie, 10:09:27 04/22/03 Tue

The Buffy writers don't write typical British dialogue. So when you're trying to write as Brit Buffy characters, you have to write atypical English too.

However, these aren't typical Brits, are they? Giles went to Oxford - and there really are people that speak like him there. It's an affectation on their part - but Giles is playing a role too, trying to paper over his violent past with china cups and tweed. Posh Giles is a fiction, as far as I'm concerned.

Wesley went to the Watcher equivalent of Winchester (where Joss Whedon went, so, he's writing from experience - even if it's out of date). A Very Posh School.

And Spike....well, he's not lived in England for a very long time. And he spends his days watching American soaps. So he's transatlantic? That's perfectly plausible.

The Mockney accent he adopts as a vampire is a nice touch - exactly what any public school ponce would do if he wanted to establish his street cred.

The only inexcusable accent is Drusilla. One word example: "Spoike". A bad hybrid of Dickensian tart-with-a-heart and Pat Butcher off of Eastenders.

As to writing Americans...it's kinda easy to like slip into total parody mode - with, like, the valleyspeak. I think it's harder to write Yank than Brit. Cos Brits adopt American slang, but Yanks don't usually return the favour.

Louie

>>Here is link where some of discussion is about your
>>question
>
>Thanks! I'm not surprised that at least some Brits
>have complaints about the way Americans write dialogue
>for British characters, especially in the HARRY POTTER
>fandom. At least, in BTVS/ANGEL fic, American writers
>can always make the excuse that most of the English
>(and Irish) characters have been in the States for a
>long time and could have picked up some local speech
>habits.
>
>Anybody know if there is some kind of on-line guide to
>Britspeak out there?
>
>>I do not register, if a writer as English or
>>American, except if they come with dr. Who jokes
>>(Defiantly a sign to me that the writer is English).
>
>Clearly, you don't know enough nerdy Americans. :)
>
>>Bye the way, my comment on the thing"I can't believe
>>this hasn't been recced before", I hope that you
>>didnít take it as insult to you.
>
>Not at all. I was just trying to say that there may
>be times when the "I can't believe..." comment is
>appropriate.
>
>>I have found that I
>>can be a little Anya in my comments ( Same region so
>>perhaps do I have ancestor in common with herĒ
>
>Ha ha ha! (Translation: Ha ha ha!) (Apologies if
>you haven't seen "Selfless" yet). :)
>
>-- Gyrus

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[> Re: British and American dialogue -- teagoblin, 19:58:18 02/17/03 Mon

Something that drives me absolutely nuts is badly written SpikeSpeak. Cor, pet! Right, then! It's so obnoxious.

You can't nail his voice just by using a few tired-ass phrases over and over and OVER again.

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[> Re: British and American dialogue -- DiabloTrout, 04:43:43 04/03/03 Thu

I'm Australian, so my perspective on this is a little different.I think the most important thing about finding a character's voice is the rhythm or cadence in which they talk.

Of course, a badly used phrase or innapropriate expression can suddenly jar the reader, but I find the fairly common inability of fic writers to capture those more subtle differences between American and English speech can grate the mental ear as well.

Then again, nobody ever said it (writing) was easy, did they?

The other very common mistake in fic which annoys me, and which the actual show has been guilty of at times is making either Spike or Giles a caricature of an Englishman. It's probably a manifestation of the writer only having VERY limited knowledge of what England and her people are actually like, so the things they put into the characters to show their "Englishness" are just total cliches, and we get lots of references to tea, crumpets and scones, Manchester United, etc.

I'm getting off topic here, but one more thing while I'm rolling.Spike calls people "poof" a lot, but James has never once managed to say the word in the correct manner.I think he does a pretty good job of the accent generally(although which part of England he is supposed to come from is completely impossible to determine), but he says "poof" like an American, with the "oo" portion pronouced the same way as you say "shoot" or "fruit".

People who actually use this word in their daily speech pronounce the it the way Americans say "book" or "look", with a short vowel sound.

>Recently, I've read several fics by authors who are
>British or otherwise educated in British English, and
>I find that some of them frequently write
>British-sounding dialogue for American characters. I
>find this somewhat jarring, especially when it's
>Buffy, Xander, Gunn, or any character whose speech
>patterns are especially American. (For example, I
>recently read a fic in which something bad happens and
>Giles tries to tell Buffy that there was no way she
>could have anticipated it. She replies, "But I
>should've done!" That just looks weird to a Yank like
>me.)
>
>So I ask the non-Americans in the crowd -- how often
>are American fic writers getting Giles', Wesley's, and
>Spike's dialogue right? (For that matter, how about
>Doyle's and Liam's?) What are the most common
>mistakes you've seen?
>
>Come to think of it, are the BTVS and ANGEL
>scriptwriters themselves portraying English and Irish
>speech realistically?
>
>-- Gyrus

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