I'm always so impressed by the thoughtful comments people leave on this blog, but the comments in response to the post On Dialect deserve a post of their own.
I wrote a scene set in Australia and limited most dialect-specifics to "Oy" (Hey) and "Yer" (Your/You're).
Ian, though there may be some debating this point, I think "Oy" or "Oi" might count as a word in its own right. I'm curious about something. I understand that "Oy" is used in places other than Australia, but whenever I hear or read it, I connect it to Australia. Am I alone in this?
This leads to another point. When you're using a phonetic like "yer," you may find that it is too broad or common to indicate any particular dialect. We also say "yer" in Chicago, as in, Yer gotta coupla to-tree hoses in yer gratch? To those spared the hideousness of my local dialect, that would translate to, Do you have any extra hoses in your garage?
What's the strong written dialect in that sentence, and what is the weak? The weak is yer and gratch. That may be precisely how we pronounce those words around here, but we ought to be too ashamed to commit it to paper.
And the strong dialect is coupla to-tree, or, couple of two-three, which is Chicagoese for some number greater than one and which usually indicates there are items to spare. See, e.g., coupla to-tree beers in da fritch, which we all know is what one offers a guest on a hot summer day. Anybody who knows the Chicago dialect will recognize that phrase and pin it to this area. I don't think any non-Chicagoans run around saying coupla to-tree in place of extra or plenty.
One of the most commonly used phonetic indicators is an apostrophe in place of the g in a present participle. Walkin'. Talkin'. Thinkin'. Sleepin'. But can anyone pinpoint a specific dialect which can claim this speech mannerism as its own? It belongs to just about anyone and probably signals informality more than dialect.
All of which is to say, phonetic dialect is slippery. For Australian dialect, Oy may work better than yer. But as a general proposition for any dialect, it's a good idea to pick just one or two phonetic representations (if any) and stick with them. Pick ones that are easy on the eyes so that they won't slow the reader. Ian picked Oy and yer, and left the rest of the text in standard English, and that's probably not a bad thing.
Two commenters mentioned reading gwine in books as a phonetic Southernism for going to, and being uncertain what gwine meant. This perfectly illustrates the danger in this kind of writing. It's confusing. It's non-standard. And it's probably best not to attempt phonetic dialect at all.
Green Knight says,
Where do you stand on use of language in historical novels? Few people will attempt to write dialogue in the language of Chaucer, but once we get to the 16th century onwards, where we have a lot of examples of colloquial as well as formal language, and readers will be familiar with them - how do you evoke the language of Shakespeare without actually borrowing from him?
It's a very tricky business to write historicals that sound authentic but still appeal to readers. There are so many factors to take into consideration. First, who is your audience? Genre novels probably have less room for writerly acrobatics than do litfic or genfic. Consider for example Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon, which was written in an approximation of the dialect of the Revolutionary War period:
Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs, starr'd the Sides of Outbuildings, as of Cousins, carried Hats away into the brisk Wind off Delaware,--the Sleds are brought in and their Runners carefully dried and greased, shoes deposited in the back Hall, a stocking'd-foot Descent made upon the great Kitchen, in a purposeful Dither since Morning, punctuated by the ringing Lids of various Boilers and Stewing-Pots, fragrant with Pie-Spices, peel'd Fruits, Suet, heated Sugar,-- the Children, having all upon the Fly, among the rhythmic slaps of Batter and Spoon, coax'd and stolen what they might, proceed, as upon each afternoon all this snowy Advent, to a comfortable Room at the rear of the House, years since given over to their carefree Assaults.
Yeah. It goes on like that for about eight hundred pages. I'm told the dialect becomes more transparent once you get through the first hundred or so pages. I wouldn't know. I've never read past page 6. This is one of those books I intend to read "someday," because it must surely be brilliant. All the scholars say so.
So if your name is Thomas Pynchon, you have a lot more leeway in historical dialect. If your name is J.P. Crimewriter or Melisandra LaRomantique, probably not so much leeway. Aim for hints of dialect rather than outright imitations. You wouldn't want to imitate Shakespeare, for example, because he wrote verse. Not prose. Dude was all about iambic pentameter.
But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
You can practically hear the drumbeat in that line. Yeah, okay, he threw in an extra downbeat here and there, but I think we can let him slide on it.
So be careful what you're imitating. You might be able to toss in an occasional anon, thee or knave with far less risk than outright imitations of historical speech. And those kinds of things will feel more natural to modern readers if they're used during more formal moments. It would be one thing for a man to say, "I beg thee, madam, for but a moment's consideration," during an evening ball to his dancing partner. It would be quite another thing for him to say it as he's ravishing her in the coat closet.