Language devices

Characterisation can be achieved through accents. Accents and dialects give characters authenticity and also give the reader a sense of where the characters come from, their attitude and education. Accents can be created through spelling and grammar, using non-standard forms of both.

Students can:

  • identify accents in text
  • experiment with spelling and grammar to use accents in their own writing.

Activity 1

Show students examples of text rich in accent.

Oh, Huck, I bust out a-cryin’ en grab her up in my arms, en say, ‘Oh, de po’ little thing! De Lord God Amighty fogive po’ ole Jim, kaze he never gwyne to fogive hisself as long’s he live!’ Oh, she was plumb deef en dumb, Huck, plumb deef en dumb—en I’d ben atreat’n her so!
Huckleberry Finn (1884)

Discuss

  • Why has the author given his character/s an accent?
  • How does accent affect the meaning of the text?
  • What strategies does a reader use when reading accented dialogue?
  • What feelings does the accented dialogue evoke in the reader?
  • How does the accent make you feel about the characters?

Activity 2

Find a dictionary of 'Strine'.

Strine Online is a UK dictionary of terms: 'A comprehensive wordlist of real Australian speech. Curtsey O' the bloke onna street.'

In pairs have students write a short piece of text with two characters engaging in dialogue. Each student can take the role of a character.

Firstly allow the students to write all their character’s dialogue in ‘standard’ English. Then have the students accent one of the character’s dialogue by using misspellings (by spelling a majority of the words phonetically). '

  • How has the meaning of the text changed?

Ask students to experiment with the number of words accented.

  • How does this affect the meaning of the text?

(If you write too much of the dialogue phonetically, it’s interesting, but difficult to read. If you write it entirely in ‘standard’ English, you lose the uniqueness. The solution is to use accent in moderation).


Have students accent both characters, this time by changing grammatical features of the text, eg. tense

  • How has this changed the text?

Students read their writing aloud, each student depicting their character in the text.

Activity 3

Students find and read text and or books which use accented dialogue.

For example:

  • Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling
  • Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
  • Macbeth – William Shakespeare

Watch any of the above screenplays/videos and compare how the written dialogue of the book varies from the film adaptation. Ask the students: What is the difference? Why do they think there is a difference?

Resource

How to depict Australian characters

Standard English

English which, in its spoken and written forms, is the English of more formal communication throughout the Australian community. Standard Australian English adheres to broadly accepted rules of syntax and pronunciation and uses vocabulary that is more formal than colloquial. Standard Australian English operates to facilitate communication across ethnic, social, occupational and cultural groups and can be used as a benchmark against which to recognise Australian dialects and cultural varieties of English. Standard Australian English is a valuable and empowering communicative tool for use in contexts where it is the preferred mode of communication.
English K–10 Syllabus

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