So, I've got a couple of characters from other countries in a WIP

DAgent

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A lot of what identifies a speaker as being a non-native English speaker is not necessarily an 'accent' (the way they say particular words) but the patterns of speech. (Which would include all those unconscious noises we make as we talk.)

A drama teacher of mine pointed out that the Russian language doesn't have articles. They have no words for 'The' or 'A' in Russian. So where a native English speaker would say, "I put a cup on the table." A Russian would say (the equivalent of), "I put cup on table." - which, confusingly, could mean:
"I put the cup on a table"
or
"I put a cup on the table" - you would have to have context to know which.

And similarly a British 'don't interrupt me, I'm uncertain but thinking" noise might be "erm..." a Russian would be more likely to make a much more nasal, "Gnnnea..." sound. I'm not sure writing "Gnnnea..." on the page would make the reader think the character was more Russian but an actor would use that. But if I was writing a Russian character I would lose as many articles from his speech as possible. Especially at times of stress. People revert to their normal speaking voice /patterns when pressured.

There is no 'continuous present' tense in French. "Je fais" means 'I do [something]' and ‘I am doing [something]’.

German tends to have the verbs at the ends of the sentence: (to use Danny's cliché example) "For you the war is over."

Non-native speakers will often say things in English that sound slightly 'off' somehow to us but make perfectly grammatical sense to them.
Now that was something I did not know about Russian, but thinking about it, there's been a few times when I've seen people speaking English with Russian accents on TV and movies where they have spoken like that, "I put cup on table".
 

Jo Zebedee

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Yeah, I was afraid something like that would happen too. Did you ever state what the accents were at all in the story? Either in the text or someone from part of Northern Ireland calling out someone else's accent for some reason?
Yes a couple of tImes, people might be referenced as posh or culchie (a country person)
 

Swank

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For context, this is a small group of freedom fighters from different parts of the world, roaming around Nazis occupied France, performing (unsanctioned as they are all technically civilians) hit and run attacks on Nazis. Some of them aren't even European, either in terms of nationality or of ethnic descent.

And while I'm pretty sure I've avoided any cultural stereotypes about any of their ethnic groups or nationality, I've also avoided putting in anything into their dialogues to show their accents. But I have had another character (their prisoner who is the main POV character) try to wonder where they are from given their accents which he's not familiar with. Even the narrative is deliberately being vague as no mention is made of where they are from.

The thing that struck me here is just how much of a characters culture (including accent) do you actual need to show for readers to realise where they are from, and how do you make sure your not being offensive by including any such details? For example, does altering their dialogue to show the fact they are not speaking their native tongue mean your are being racist by default? Or is that just an issue with a person who might just see any acknowledgement of that persons heritage/culture/etc as being such?
So, Superman is from a whole planet of people that have super powers on earth. Aquaman is one of many aquatic super beings. Wonderwoman is from an island full of dangerous women. Batman is one of the many wealthy people that has taken martial arts. But when they need to form an organization to fight super-criminals, there is only one of each to be Super Friends.

Seems preposterous, right?

In every fiction story, there is a level of believability that the reader buys into. Maybe the story seems entirely real, like a moment revealed in history. Or maybe you have to first buy into something far fetched, like a league of assassins or Nazi super weapons. What else happens in the story gets judged by a similar standard - if the basis of the story requires a larger suspension of disbelief, then everything else gets judged by that same standard.


I think most readers would find the idea of a successful partisan force in the '40s composed of one person each from a wide range of countries who all happen to speak a common language vaguely preposterous. Where are their countrymen? How did they link up while simultaneously hiding themselves from the authorities?

In such a situation, I don't think you have to be all that careful about how you present their backstories and language. They are essentially comic book characters in the minds of your readers, and they will not be subject to as much scrutiny about their realism. And I don't say that as a criticism. I love Inglorius Bastards, but at no point do I reflect on the realism of that story. Write your tall tale and don't sweat your depiction of 'foreignors'. I doubt you're going to write something racist just by going over the top with accents or back-stories.
 

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