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If you are quoting/documenting the conversation between two people — one is British and one American — do you use a consistent approach directed towards your intended audience or switch to the spelling of that person's dialect?

For example:

British person: "I realised that I was wrong"

American (in response): "Yeah, I realized that too"

Probably a silly question, but thought it would make for an interesting discussion.

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The answers here support a consensus that if you were writing for a magazine or newspaper or anything else where the editors feel obligated to treat style guides like Gospel, then you'd standardize on one spelling or the other. However, if I were writing about such a conversation, and I were under no pressure to make things bland, I would almost certainly use the spelling of the conventions of the speaker, so that their written words maintained a distinction in their dialects, even though the written conventions would have no correspondence to (e.g.) accent. –  iconoclast Nov 2 '12 at 15:04
    
This is somewhat analogous to the brewhaha over whisky and whiskey, which you can read about here and here‌​. –  iconoclast Nov 2 '12 at 15:06
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5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I would say: spell it any way you want, but be consistent. If your audience cares about the spelling, go with their choice.

As for whether or not you should directly quote what was said, despite your audience maybe not understanding, that's an interesting question. Probably you should write what they say, or at least ensure that you indicate how you are paraphrasing the quote.

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I think if you've good reason to think your audience wouldn't understand a 'dialectal' term, you should follow it with a paraphrasing [saying the same thing in different words]. I personally would normally put the paraphrasing in square brackets to make it clear the speaker didn't actually say those words, which were added by the current writer. –  FumbleFingers Apr 15 '11 at 19:41
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I would stick with the one spelling unless you are quoting written communication. In that case, I would put exactly what the original authors wrote.

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I would walk down this list of priorities and stop at the first one applicable. Use the spelling relevant to that point and stick with it for the entire dialogue:

  • Are you speaking, documenting or quoting to a specific audience? If so, use their spelling.
  • Is the conversation happening in a specific location? As in, if the whole thing happens in America go with the American spelling.
  • Use your spelling preference.

I advice against switching between spellings because it will most likely cause unneeded distractions. Your readers should focus on the material and not the spelling of individual words.

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No, you would not play "switcheroo" with spelling and punctuation.

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If using dialect, it would probably be best to indicate that that is exactly what you are doing, and then proceed. However, do try to avoid using different spelling when it comes to what would appear to be regular English (as opposed to a dialect, like my native Bajan).

For example, you would want to avoid something such as "colour" and "color" in the same dialogue, because even though your "speakers" may be from different backgrounds, your readers will quite likely see that as a shortcoming on your part (inconsistency).

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I'm stumped: what does "native Bajan" mean? At first I thought you meant you were born in Baja California (usually just called "Baja", both in the Southwestern US and in Mexico), but I see from your profile that you're from Barbados. Is "Bajan" how a native of Barbados calls himself? If so, and if you know, I'd be curious to know how that came about. –  MT_Head Jun 18 '11 at 5:46
    
@MT_Head, it is how we call ourselves and the name of our dialect, but honestly I'm not sure how it came about. It is not pronounced in the Spanish form (Bah-ha) but as "Bay-jun". –  RolandiXor Jun 18 '11 at 14:07
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This is exactly why I love this site so much - where else would I have learned that? Thank you. –  MT_Head Jun 18 '11 at 17:07
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Voted up for @RolandiXor's lesson in Bajan. MT_Head: indeed where else? –  CPRitter Jan 18 '13 at 13:56
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