Accent spelling in writing


I’m currently trying to write a story (not CoG) that takes place in a New England town but the main character is a newcomer from Philadelphia and he speaks with a Philly accent (wooder, adeetude, you know what I’m talking about). Now I’m having problems writing his dialogue. I don’t know if I should just mention he speaks that way and spell his dialogue using regular English or write phonetically? The problem is that if I choose the former, it will seem like he speaks like everyone else but I want that difference be apparent. However, if I do the latter it may be annoying and distracting to read it plus as someone who’s never been to Philadelphia (or USA for that matter) I may not write it correctly. Any advice on how to handle this?



Haven’t even thought of that. Thanks for your input.


I hate seeing Scottish accents typed out. They always seem like an inaccurate parody to me. I’m the same seeing USA ones. Ya’ll have accents to me.


Speaking as someone who lives in Philadelphia, I suggest you be very careful with using accents like that. Since I live here, I know how those accented words are meant to be pronounced. The Philadelphian accent comes from our strange need to talk fast and mumble at the same time (With poorer areas tending to have more mumbling and richer areas tending to have more fast talkers). Wooder for example is often pronounced vocally as w’der with philadelphians often leaving only a short w sound before a harsh ‘der’ sound. Basically, say wooder really fast and and that’s roughly how we say water.

The major problem with writing this though is though not everyone understands how accents are meant to be interpreted. People from the south of the US for example, tend to speak more slowly and when they see wooder the “woo” part becomes more pronounced. Then, instead of making it sound like a quickly spoken mumble, it makes it sound like a dumb ogre is speaking. “Me smoosh puny human! Me want wooder!”

So yeah, try to keep accents to a minimum. Instead, try to incorporate slang and other simple hints and people will usually fill in the blanks.


I would drop in an occasional word once in a while. I think a little goes a long way in dialogue. It can be mentally tiresome having to interpret long strings of dialogue.

For example, if a character says “y’all” or “yuse guys” or “pahrk the cahr” just once every few sentences, I think that’s sufficient to get the accent across. Just my opinion.


Perhaps the first time he says something (and maybe a few times later as a reminder) you can say the dialogue “In a quote,” and then say something like ‘but due to his accent it sounded like “innuhquote”’

And/or just type it in regular english but change the cadence, diction, syntax and words that the character uses, and also phrases like “he said in his heavy accent.”

“I don’t understand,” he said in a heavy accent, “they are like a cross between dolphins and zebras.”


I agree with @CitizenShawn’s thinking. Accent or not, if the protagonist can understand said character, then the player shouldn’t have an issue, either.


I generally hate reading accents written into something, it really grates on me and when it gets to accents I’m familiar with it’s rather easy to spot inconsistencies because a lot of people don’t put too tremendous an amount of research into these. If the accent is understandable, you can put it in normal text and specify the accent if the character is able to do so. If not, you can put in that the character was only understanding some of the words and write what they were able to figure out.


“Park the car in Harvard yard.” :stuck_out_tongue: Personally I like accents, I feel they add a bit of flavour. But yes, consistency is key. And don’t do it with every word, only with the ones likely affected, and even then step back and look at the word, it’s one thing to see 'ere as here, but maybe not as easy to see uncunsjuss as unconscious.


What about words that are famously pronounced differently in Philadelphia, like attitude (adeetude), water (wooder), eagles (iggles), etc. How should I write those?


Maybe get creative with when you use the words?

“Water,” he croaked, the word coming out mangled in his Philly accent.

Maybe use italics when writing the other ones you mentioned? I’m actually not familiar with that accent so mentally I’m just using a Boston one :wink: that’s a quandary.


I am not familiar with Philly accent, but if you do use those words, make it apparent what he’s talking about, e.g. “Gimme dat wooder!” He said and reached for the water bottle.


A few points.

Accents add flavor to characters, but they are like descriptions, in that they need to be shown once in a while. If you use them too often, they distract the reader.

When mentioning specific words, you can spell it phonetically once, but then it just gets repetitive every time.

Be careful of mocking or stereotyping, as overusing regional words/phrases may be derogatory.

Not everyone knows what a Philly accent means, so don’t refer to it as a Philly accent unless you define it. So a sentence may be: “I’m going home to watch the Eagles,” she said but stretched out the team’s name so it rhymed with wiggles. Her thick Philly accent took getting used to.

Disclaimer: I’m from South Philly, born and raised.


Thanks for the tips. To be more specific about what kind of accent I mean, I imagine the character speaking like Chris Matthews for example. Whoever’s interested can look him up to see what I mean exactly.


I love writing accents! My favorite one ta write is this cockney kid what talks like this an’ always leaves off the g at the end of ‘is words like swimmin’ an’ fishin’… There’s a lot of apostrophes.
Basically, I’d say that trying to write an accent is a good idea and gives characters a lot of personality, but you don’t have to do it with every word. Just pick out the main parts of the accent and emphasize them. Like, if you’re writing a Brooklyn accent, you’ll use a lot of Ois. For example: “Get your doity paws offa me!”
The main thing is that it should be easy to read. The reader shouldn’t be staring at every word, trying to figure out what they all mean. Also with accents, you can get a lot across in how they form a sentence as well as how you spell a word. So, if you wrote: “One must be sure to maintain an heir of dignity at all times.” You’re going to imagine them having a different accent to someone that says: “What do you mean I don’t talk proper? I’m the pinnacle of high society is what I am!”


The Brooklyn example is a little comically exaggerated. I don’t think anyone really talks like that, apart from walking stereotypes.


And Harley Quinn :stuck_out_tongue:


@Briar_rose Harley Quinn, nice!

Although, sometimes I think it would be interesting to write an almost unintelligible accent, if your character really couldn’t understand it. You might have to actually try to read it, and make your decision based off of what you think the guy is saying. Perhaps you could write two versions, and if the character is native to the area then he doesn’t see the accent, but if he’s out of town then he has a hard time understanding.

Though to be honest this would be most fun with a heavy Western accent coming from the town drunk. You could put some vital information in those words that 80% of people would just give up and gloss over.


Or Fred Fenster!


Lol. Yeah, that could be cool. I’ve seen something similar where a character’s talking with food in their mouth and I have to read every word carefully to try and figure out what they’re saying. One thing I’m having fun writing right now is a character that doesn’t speak English very well:
So when she do talk, she make talk like this, yes? People no understand when she is say the words wrong and no make sense much. Is fun for to write :slight_smile: