Written by | Posted September 8, 2015 – 9:51 pm Descent and Ascent

It didn’t take long to get from Thunder Bluff to the Echo Isles – Ankona took advantage of a wyvern so she could think and plan before getting to her destination. She had information to confirm with the spirits – was Gromnor dead? Was he really in the northern part of the Eastern Kingdoms, somewhere […]

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Abusing the Language – Using Accents in Roleplay
comment 19 Written by on September 17, 2009 – 8:47 am

One of the things I enjoy most about my current roleplay is the myriad of accents I’ve been using and developing for my characters.  You’ve all seen Aely’s apostrophe abuse, but she’s not the only accented character I have.

But how do you go about building an accent from scratch?

It’s a tough question, but a fun one.  And, like many things, it can require a bit of time investment out of game to do /really/ well – especially if you want to use an accent that’s very far from “normal written English”.  Of course, there are people who just “pick it up as they go along” – but I’m not one of them.  I like to at least have a framework, or a plan, before I jump headfirst into RP.  Plus, I find it a lot of fun, and learning about a dialect can really help flesh out a character!

Here are a few tips to get you started.

1. Do your research

Google is your friend.  The best way to adopt an accent is to start from one that exists in the world already.  That way, someone else has done all the work to catalog it, and if you’re lucky, you may even find pronunciation and vocalization charts on Wikipedia!  If this is the first time you’ve done any dialect research, you’ll probably want to look around until you find something with a good bit of information.  I’ve been able to find “dictionaries” and “phrase books” for the dialects I’ve researched, both of which are tremendously useful.  Some of my best inspiration for Annie Mae comes from lists of old cowboy sayings and jokes!

Youtube is another good place to look. Finding and watching movies and famous broadcasts from people with that dialect is a good way to get the sound of it in your head. It’s also a fun thing to think about, if your character ever had a voice actor, who would they be and what would they sound like?

For reference:

  • Aely’s accent is based on a Northern English dialect blended with some of the Lordaeron inflections of other characters
  • Annie Mae has a typical western drawl
  • Anzefi speaks a version of Patwa/Jamaican Patois.

None of these are set in stone, exact replications though.  Why? There is no rule that says “once you pick an accent, you must replicate it faithfully or you will be cursed with hairy eyeballs.”  Use the “real” dialect as a jumping off point and build on it from there.

2. Remember that you’re going to be using type as your main communication

If YOU can’t read it?  Nobody else will be able to.  You can put on the best Scottish accent in the world, but if it’s so far modulated your friends can’t make heads or tails of it, you’ve gone too far.

Also, if it takes you four times as long to type anything, even after some practice, you may want to tone things down a bit.  Of course, typing with any accent will take some getting used to, and you’ll be slower at first, so just try to keep it within reason.  That might mean starting smaller, and then adding to your accent as you get more comfortable with it, and that’s ok!

3. Adopt idioms and a manner of speech, not just sound modification

This is really the crux of making an accent sound “real” and not forced. You can mutate vowels and add apostrophes and spell things funny, but if your character is still speaking the same way YOU speak, it won’t have the same impact.

For instance, in Commiseration, she says “Cannae say ‘m fair proud t’ admit, bu’ w’s all I could do, really. Sent a letter.  Been our only way t’ talk f’r awhile, so I s’pose ’s nae so far off.” If you write that without the modifications, it becomes “Can’t say I’m fair proud to admit, but was all I could do really.  Sent a letter.  Been our only way to talk for awhile, so I suppose it’s not so far off.” The rhythm of her speech is still there, even without all of the “sound adjustment” to make her sound like a backwoods miner’s daughter from Lordaeron.

Annie Mae uses a variety of cowboy sayings – “ugly as a burnt boot;” “can’t tell a skunk for a house cat;” “built like a snake on stilts” (That last one’s about Tarquin actually…) – none of which are hard to understand, but they give her speech a flavor text, of sorts.

4. Be flexible, Be prepared to explain, and Know when to ramp it up or down

As you add in dialect words and manners of speech, remember other characters (and other players) may not have seen those words before, or used in a certain way.  Aely uses “fash” for worry/bother (“Dinna fash”) and “fair” instead of “very” – among other things. Anzefi has a whole slew of words, but my favorite is “bangarang” – which she uses to explain any kind of “badness” – disruption, disorder, or hubbub… but also to describe what it is that follows in the wake of the Lich King.

The first time either character used any of those terms, I had to explain – or she had to explain, if the question came IC instead of through an OOC channel.

Ramping an accent up or down is something you’ll have to get used to as you go, but I highly suggest thinking about a few “shortcuts” to use if you’re in a PUG for Chillmaw and someone asks you something IC, or if you’re at the bar with a bunch of new roleplayers.

5. Cheat!

As you do your research and get your accent set up, start a document or file of your findings. Before you start any serious RP, print off that document, and keep it with you – with a pencil nearby to mark things or add in new ideas.  Stealing things from other characters that use accents you like is fair game too (just try not to make your character sound like their clone).  You’ll especially want to have easy reference to basic things like pronouns, numbers, and common words.

You may even find phrase lists in your research phase that you can lift directly into an RP environment.  Just remember that you’ll need to be able to have normal, everyday conversation, not just stock phrases.  Having macros with the stock phrases in them can be a good way to keep them on hand.

Eventually, you won’t need your cheat sheet anymore – but it’s a HUGE help at the beginning!

6. Just Do It.

All the preparation in the world won’t help if you never break out the accent in RP.

You might even find the accent changing a little bit from where you started, and that’s fine.  As you settle into something that works for you, you may pick up a new idiom, or drop a certain spelling that you think doesn’t work as well.

Just know that, as with anything else, the more you use it, the easier it’ll be.I can slip in and out of Aely’s accent without even thinking about it these days – but Anzefi’s still needs my full concentration (and my cheat sheet).  Eventually, though, I’ll be able to drop into either without worrying about mixing them up.

A Note to The Non-Accented:

The best thing I can suggest to anyone trying to decipher the accents around them is to read them out loud. The vast majority of the time, they’re phonetic enough that you can get a pretty good idea what’s going on.  Sound things out in your head, and try to get the jist for what’s happening.  And if you’re still confused – ASK!  Bonus points if you ask in character!

Accents in RP aren’t something to be afraid of.  Sure, they require some planning and a little getting used to, but ultimately (as with all things RP) if it fits the character, it makes them even more believable.

And if your Night Elf is constantly hanging around folks like the Lordaeron crew in the Wildfire Riders, well, you can always have him/her pick up a few choice words and sayings.  That happens in real life too!


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19 Responses to “Abusing the Language – Using Accents in Roleplay”

  1. I find the more I read accents the more Bricu’s changes. If only this post was out at launch, then bricu would have had a consistent accent…
    .-= Bricu´s last blog ..Wrathgate Wednesday: Crone Edition =-.

  2. Davien’s has changed over time. I attribute part of that to her getting her memories back from before the plague, and part of it to the mix of places she’s lived. She’s a Westfall farmer’s daughter who moved to Stormwind, and from there went to study up north in Ambermill. She sounds more northern than anything these days, though she can, if she thinks about it, switch back to Stormwind proper.

    I didn’t realize it at first, but her accent is largely based on the way the citizens of the Territories speak in Stephen King’s The Talisman and his Dark Tower books. (Probably most evidenced by her use of “thankee.”)
    .-= Lauren´s last blog ..Wrathgate Wednesday: Crone Edition =-.

  3. I cannot WAIT to read something of Anzefi’s.
    .-= Wynthea´s last blog ..Guild Talent Point Wishlist =-.

  4. @Wynthea – Yoo jus’ be waitin’ for dat, den. I not be so sure ’bout dis whole Internets ting jus’ yet. Dat Anna, shi hafta let me be talkin’ moar dough, is troo.

  5. Love!

    I’m in the boat where bad writing has given me a serious chip on my shoulder for heavily accented characters (and I got the chip from published books rather than bad rp, but the two are closely intwined, imo).

    Accents can add such a great spice to a character, I love it when they are done correctly.

    “If YOU can’t read it? Nobody else will be able to. ” Much love for that advice in particular.

    Remember, rp and reading should both be immersive activities. Anything that peels the reader (or roleplayer) out of the fantasy because they have to stop and sound out each word to try and figure out what the writer was trying to say kills immersion just as much as roleplaying with a priest named “Druid” (tee hee)

    Accents are difficult to do, and VERY difficult to do properly, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth the effort. <3
    .-= Tami´s last blog ..New Short Story – Murder =-.

  6. I’m the sort of person who picks up speech patterns fairly easily in real life. Not accents so much as word choices and rhythms. So instead of doing accents in RP, which I often find over the top when other people do them without discretion, I for the most part stick to word choice and rhythms to distinguish my characters’ speech.

    I admire and enjoy other accents that are done well, but bad ones and thoughtless ones make me cringe.

    On the other hand, I’m always gleeful when the lisping gnome with the high-end vocabulary logs on. Thalutationth!
    .-= Nahyomi´s last blog ..Infused Mushroom Meatloaf =-.

  7. Haha! I had to ask what “bangarang” was… IC, of course.

    I adopted a ramped up, deep south accent with some modifications for my troll mage. Easy to do as I am born and bred Tennessean. Even my unaccented characters will have modes of speech though. Ezma’s is so formal as to be stilted while her half-brother is very lax, slangish and prone to cursing at times.

    It’s a fun way to get in character though. You start to think in that accent or mode and can feel yourself slide into that character’s shoes.
    .-= Ezma Shadedpath´s last blog ..Rise and Shine ((RP)) =-.

  8. Thomas Pynchon wrote a collection of short stories called “Slow Learner” where he tried to use accents without understanding what the areas he wrote about actually sounded like. In the foreword of the collection, he apologizes, but chalks it up to his writing the story early in his career and not understanding language fully.

    I respect that he didn’t change the story, but instead, left it as a lasting reminder of how writing and language are intertwined.
    .-= Professor Beej´s last blog ..True Blood Season 2 – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. =-.

  9. Then’liath’s language is horribly stilted for me. I actually have more trouble with it than with troll slang. She’s horribly formal and her language choices reflect that.

    Dorri, like Dir, has chosen a much coarser form of speech.

    And Pill, well aside from the few times she slips and talks like the native of Lorderan that she is, she’s just throws out what words she can. She is, rightfully, the only character I have that can say “wut?” or “Hai!” because she would say it, because it sounded funny.

    While I have two characters that have Lorderan characters, I chose to give them both reasons not to use the accent. Honestly, I can’t type it that well. The jamacian accent of trolls comes easy. In fact, part of the reason I like including Dorri’s bronze dragon in things is because I love the phrases and dialect.
    .-= ItanyaBlade´s last blog ..Rejected Recruitment ideas =-.

  10. Awesome! I’ve been meaning to write something similar, but more of the actual phonology of the accents represented in-game (Draenei/Russian, Dwarf/Scottish, Troll/Jamacan). Frijona gets annoyed when she can’t understand someone’s accent or if someone is speaking in another language.
    .-= Frijona´s last blog ..These Are a Few of my Favorite Zones =-.

  11. What a fun article! Accents are something I really enjoy, and I love when they’re done well. I play mostly trolls, but their accents are widely varied. My shaman interacted strictly with other trolls in his native language until very recently, so I base his speech patterns in Orcish off my similarly horrible grasp of Spanish. Beyond that, he listens more than he talks because he’s still trying to learn. My hunter, to make a long story sort, talks to the Forsaken far more often than her own people, and carries hardly any accent. My death knight is well-traveled and speaks Orcish fairly clearly, but throws in figures of speech that tend to confuse those that haven’t gotten to know him.

    It’s important to note that there are different strengths to accents, and that your character’s accent may not sound like another character of the same race, and that’s okay and actually pretty realistic. Also, keep in mind that if your character’s first language isn’t Orcish or Common, they likely won’t speak the same way when using their first language. It can be a tricky thing to modify, and I’ve seen it done very, very well and rather poorly.

    By Qaza on Sep 17, 2009 | Reply
  12. I actually based Arvoss’ accent off of a mix of Aely and Bricu… >.>
    Then changed/added a few things of my own. I still have trouble keeping it consistent, but it’s getting easier.

    Shaurria, thank goodness, doesn’t have an accent, though she may talk a little funny just because she’s not used to talking in general. Any resemblance to a Lordaeron accent she might have on occasion can be blamed on a certain death knight…
    .-= Sarai´s last blog ..First Week With New Computer (And A Few Thoughts) =-.

  13. “…And if your Night Elf is constantly hanging around folks like the Lordaeron crew in the Wildfire Riders, well, you can always have him/her pick up a few choice words and sayings…”

    This. Illi’s started taking to using “Ayeh” in her speech. I blame the humans, and the fact she’s more impressionable than he admits/shows.

    By Illi on Sep 17, 2009 | Reply
  14. Qaza’s comment about not all characters of the same race/background sounding the same rings very true. Being part of a predominately-dwarven guild, I’ve gotten the opportunity to see dwarven accents rendered in a wide variety of ways, and they pretty much all “sound” authentic to my mental ear. In fact, I’ve actually had some conversations with various guildies about the variations — an Ironforge accent as opposed to a Loch Modan one, for example.

    I have a few characters with accents, and a few that simply have quirky ways of speaking unique to them (and a few, like Karreth, where it’s an ambiguous combination of the two). In all cases, the way I type dialogue is definitely a continually evolving process; it’s a matter of me “hearing” the character’s words in my head and choosing the best way to evoke them in a written medium, and it tends to be more about the pattern and flow of the dialogue than about where I put the apostrophes. I strive more for getting the right “feel” than for total authenticity.

    By Corise on Sep 17, 2009 | Reply
  15. Interesting!

    …now I have to roll up a troll.

    As for me, Rashona deliberately has no accent – she’s very studious and worked hard to avoid an accent either in Orcish or Darnassian. On the rare occasions she uses Darnassian in RPs, it’s slower and the vocabulary’s considerably more limited, but the accent is minimal. My Draenei shaman, OTOH, has a long stint with the Dwarves as part of her backstory, and I wanted to give her a faint dwarvish accent, which for the most part just manifests as dwarvish phrasing rather than phonetics.

  16. @Corise – I think that’s a good point, and one that I should’ve made. All the “background” that I do is just to get me started – it’s the in game stuff, the actual use and typing and practice and play that turns what is really just a mental convention about what something should sound like into “accented text”.

  17. Another minor point, regarding consistancy — I think that once you get to a point where you are comfortable with a character’s accent and have it down pretty well, it can be fun to start changing it up in certain situations. Just as people from the same region can have different versions of the same accent, the same person can sound very different from one situation to the next. Perhaps you have a character whose accent is generally fairly mild, but she slips into a stronger accent during times of high emotion, or when talking to old friends. Or maybe a character generally has a very slang-y, casual manner of speaking, but he uses a more formal diction when he really wants to emphasize a point.

    Also, I know quite a few people who make a very strong distinction between the way their characters talk in Common/Orcish and the way they talk in their native languages. Sometimes the rhythm and flow of the speech is similar, but the diction and pronunciation is markedly more “standard.” I’ve really only tried this with one of my characters (a rarely-played draenei shaman who is barely conversant in Common but quite eloquent in Draenei), but I’ve seen it used to very good effect, especially by dwarven and troll RPers.

    Oh, and the comments about characters’ accents being influenced by the people around them — I can speak to that one IC-ly and OOC-ly! IC-ly, Corise (who has always had a somewhat idiosyncratic speech pattern) has definitely picked up a lot of Dwarven-isms since she joined the Boomstick Gang four years ago. And OOC-ly, since I moved to Canada back in March, I have been told by friends and family back in the States that I am already beginning to pick up traces of my husband’s mild accent.

    By Corise on Sep 18, 2009 | Reply
  18. Beltar’s accent was a challenge for me when I started off…I wanted it to be a little different than standard “Scottish dwarf.” With his background as being from a relatively remote, faraway mining settlement, followed by nearly a century wandering the Eastern Kingdoms, mostly between human settlements, I ended up taking the normal Blizzard dwarven and toning it back a bit, then tossing in just a tiny bit of Tarquin/Aely/Bricu-style Northron, and mellowing it out with more conventional Stormwind common. The phrasing he uses is a mish-mash of Southern cadences I heard growing up in rural central Virginia, a little bit of South Carolina Lowcountry (which is an accent I adore), and a teeny-tiny bit of Canadian. Then I toss in Blizzard dwarfisms and a healthy dose of curmudgeonly profanity. So something like “well, there’s nothing to be done about it so you might as well come on” would come out as “well, nothin’ t’be done ’bout it, s’git yer ****in’ arse movin’, boy, afore I blow it off!”

  19. I’ve been speaking – well, typing – as Honnete for so long I sometimes find myself slipping into her turns of speech in OOC as well. Or with my other characters, which is not a good idea! I actually thought orcs talked like trolls to start with when I started playing Horde….. so then I had to retcon Honn’s background to explain the outrageous trollish accent.

    Vonka doesn’t have much of an individual accent, other than the nastiness and the colourful little epithets for races other than Forsaken. But that’s a voice (or that’s how I’d describe it) rather than a speech pattern.

    Waterspeaker learned orcish as an adult, and mostly from books. her phraseology is rather formal.

    But I’m really having difficulty developing a ‘voice’ for Deanathrae as yet, which is one reason she’s not been levelled much. I know that her Common was rather formal (her Darnassian was fluent, of course), but then she would have had to learn Thalassian (from being mistakenly put in with blood elves) and THEN orcish. I assume her orcish would be extremely broken. It’s hard to get a feel for how she’d talk, given that and the whole Arthas Death Knight thing. She wouldn’t be likely to want to talk to anyone very much – but she would have very little ability to do so, either.

    By Honnete on Oct 18, 2009 | Reply

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