Spark Your Dialogue with Regional Dialect

Diane Helentjaris
6 min readJan 14, 2022

Attention to unique voices can enrich your writing

Eliza Doolittle by William Bruce Ellis Rankin. Compliments of WIkimedia Commons.

I am gullible.

When I was age nine or so, my father dug a large neatly edged rectangular hole parallel to our gravel driveway. Our family finances could now afford blacktop. He scraped and shoveled the gravel into his hole. As I watched him work, he stepped down into it and extracted a smooth oval stone and handed it to me. It nestled perfectly in my palm. “That’s a petrified rabbit egg, Diane. Keep ahold of that.” I kept my treasure on my bedroom shelf for years.

When I was four, at the first home I ever had, my Dad and I were on the back porch. Dad handed me a child-size shovel. “Diane, if you dig far enough, you’ll reach China.”

Excited by the realization of exotica under my very feet, I began to dig. I would not reach China until I was in my thirties. By plane.

I spent my childhood in southwestern Ohio. Until I left for college, except for a trip at fourteen to Niagara Falls, the farthest I traveled was sixty miles north to my uncle Leo’s home. My young life circled and spun in a very small arena. My mother’s family had lived in the area reaching back, in some cases, to the 1700s.

My speech — accent, sentence structure, and idioms — was pure Dayton, Ohio with an overlay of German from my grandfather. “Pen” and “pin” were homophones. Written English mysteriously contained many unnecessary letters. There was no “L” tacked on the end of “towel.” “Lincoln” fascinated me and made no sense at all. Why wasn’t it “Linkin?” Other letters, like the “R” in Worshington, D.C. were missing. Why didn’t “Ohio” end with an “A?” “Mango” meant a green pepper. I had no idea of the glories of the yellow tropical fruit.

Not until I traveled up to Lansing, Michigan for college did I discover how quaint my regional language could sound to others. I can still hear Paul from my dining hall hyper-emphasizing as he said, “You’re from where? Ohi-UH? It’s Ohi -OH, Diane.”

But the interaction which really made me feel like a foreigner in a new land happened in, of all places, the Anthropology Department. Standing beside a fabric wall separating a cluster of study cubicles, I was chattering happily to an acquaintance. A bearded, bespectacled…

--

--

Diane Helentjaris

Writer with a love of the overlooked. Author of the historical fiction novel The Indenture of Ivy O’Neill,.www.DianeHelentjaris.com