Before I launch into my observations about reviews, from those who admit to not completing their reading of a book because they found the dialogue “unreadable”, I would like to state what is meant by the two words in the title i.e. dialect and dialogue.
To take the second word first as it is fairly simple and clear:
The dialogue is a conversation featured in a book, play or film which is between two or more people. Whereas dialect is a particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group; in other words a way of speaking. When an author uses dialect in literature they are attempting to make his or her characters well-rounded, more developed and balanced in all aspects of their personality. By using a certain dialect for a character the author is actually telling the reader more about that character’s background without directly stating anything. It may include different spelling, pronunciation and grammar used by a particular group of people and it distinguishes them from other people around them.
So using dialect in a book can be a very powerful method of characterization, adding both the geographic and social background of any character in the story. It can be a very powerful tool for authors writing Historical Fiction novels of course, adding a sense of authenticity to time and place.
Why bother to write about it here? Basically because some “readers” who go on to write a review about a book they found “unreadable”, due to the use of dialect in it, are not helping anyone – neither the author nor a prospective reader of the book. A decent book review, ideally, should mention characters; story; pace and structure; use of language; narrative voice; dialogue; settings and themes. Then maybe adding a summary of those points and suggesting what type of reader they would recommend this book to e.g. older, younger, fans of the genre and so on. Even if they do not include all of those points if they have actually read the book to the end then at least their review could be classed as valid; but if they never completed the book then any review of theirs cannot ever be called valid.
It is also worth mentioning in this blog the use of vernacular and/or patois by an author in their literature. How are they different to dialect?
Patois is not that different in essence since it is the dialect of a particular region, often one with low status in relation to the standard language of the country. Vernacular is a literary style or category that uses day-to-day language in writing and speaking. It is different from written works, as they normally follow the more formal or standard variety of language. I have personally referred to all of the forms of dialectal speech in novels as “non-uniform text speech” or NUTS as an acronym. And by this I am comparing NUTS to RP, or received pronunciation as usually seen in dictionaries that are of the standard accent of English spoken in the south of England i.e. modern English. But of course there are many variations in “standard speech” in other parts of the world and NUTS in written dialogue is what this whole blog has been about. I hope it may be summed up by the word dialogism – the use in a text of different tones or viewpoints, whose interaction or contradiction is perhaps important to the text’s interpretation. In the end that interpretation must of course be left to the reader and the effects upon them can be as varied as the number of people in the world who are able to use the English language.
For extra information here is a short list of successful authors who are well known for their use of dialect or vernacular in their novels. It is not a restricted list but just some of those writers whose books I have read in the past:
Arnold Bennett; Anthony Burgess; George Eliot; Elizabeth Gaskell; Sir Walter Scott and Mark Twain.
Sometimes all it takes when reading a novel with NUTS in it is a little patience and usually understanding will come to the reader but, more importantly, that reader will also gain much more pleasure from the story by getting to know the characters better; the inflections in their voice giving tone and colour to their personalities. Some of the characters may even start to feel like friends or at least like someone you would like to have met and known!