When I started Shadows of the Grey Tower, I decided to experiment with something I don’t work with a lot – dialect. Most of my characters generally speak english, sometimes at varying vocabulary levels, sometimes mixed in with other languages, but I never really tried to create dialects before.
For Grey Tower I had five distinct cultural groups that were going to play into the story to varying degrees, and only one of them was going to be speaking a truly different language. While I decided on some cultural trappings like clothing styles and traditional war gear, I also wanted to divide them up by dialect.
The first group was easy. They were the mages of the titular Grey Tower. Hyper-educated and tied into a system of magic that requires extreme precision of speech, there is no dialect involved here so much as tone. They say exactly what they mean to say, avoid contractions and try to avoid homonyms where possible. They are precise in their speech, always.
Second were the Duran, a group of city states along the river where the story actually begins. The Duranese have a tendency to speak sibilantly, with an unusual degree of hissing or slight slurring. I represented this in the text by adding ‘s’ to the end of many verbs. For example, “You broughts gold.” There is a significant variance in the education level of the speakers of this dialect, so the vocabulary and general tone changes, but that sibiliant ‘s’ remains.
The third group were the Sarnations, highland dwellers, proud and cold to outsiders. The general educational level of the Sarnations is lower than the other city states, and their style of speech is slower and more stilted. They tend to use ‘be’ instead of ‘is’ or ‘was,’ and modifies sentences with the same word. For example “I’ll be asking the boss then?” The Sarnations also have a language of their own. Instead of making one up, I will actually be using anglicized Gaelic for this when it comes up.
Last was the Arden, for whom I copped out and will be using the standard troperrific butchered Ye Olde Englishe. Thees and thous. Excessive formality on the part of their upper class, near incomprehensibility to the reader (and other characters) when the commoners speak.
I am tempted to use actual Old English for my last group, who speak an entirely different language, just to give the over-educated reader a chance to follow without needing the translations that will be given, but I’m not sure I’m up for writing much in that tongue!