Speaking Yorkshire in the Secret Garden

This is the last of five episodes taking a look at the use of dialect in the children’s novels of Frances Hodgson Burnett. In The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett wanted to create a world where the characters return to their roots, literally and metaphorically, so the best way to express that was to find words that are closer to their roots. In this novel, the Yorkshire dialect is used to represent moments of emotional vulnerability or closeness to nature because it is a branch of the English language that is much closer to its ancient roots than more widely spoken dialects.

Activity: Dialect Interviews

Students can learn more about authentic use of dialect in writing by interviewing someone who speaks a dialect different from their own. This could be an immigrant from another country, or someone who is just from a different area of your own nation. Dialects also change over time, so a child could interview a grandparent and learn a bit about slang terms that aren’t used anymore.

Ask the interview subject about vocabulary words and phrases unique to their hometown. After collecting a list of terms, the student can try writing a fictional passage in dialect. Ideally the person who was interviewed could be on hand to help with polishing to make sure the words are used correctly. There are so many fascinating words that come from other languages, other times, and other regions, and your kids will find it both fun and enlightening to learn a bit more about how people different from them express themselves.

Music used in this episode

Doxology (“Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”)
music by Louis Bourgeois (1551)
lyrics by Thomas Ken (1674)

This song is referenced in Chapter 26 of The Secret Garden

Speaking English with Little Lord Fauntleroy

In Little Lord Fauntleroy, characters speak with many different kinds of voices. Characters are as lowly as a homeless shoeshine boy or as high and mighty as a British Earl with a seat in the House of Lords, but social status and speaking style aren’t what dictates a character’s morality. The most virtuous and most villainous characters in the book both have uneducated New York accents, showing that integrity and speech style are not tied together. And being wealthy and educated isn’t a guarantee of enlightened behavior; The grouchy old Earl is the most posh character in the book, and he starts out as selfish, rude, cruel, suspicious, and defensive. But he changes for the better after coming into contact with people who are different from him, showing that it is possible to go from posh and pompous to still posh but altruistic.

Frances Hodgson Burnett uses dialect heavily in all three of her children’s novels. In this second of five parts, find out how dialect is used to illuminate character without relying on stereotypes in Little Lord Fauntleroy. In fact, her use of dialect tends to defy stereotypes, demonstrating that good or bad personal character can be found in someone from any linguistic background.

Activity: Rewrite in Dialect

Provide students with a paragraph of text that they are already familiar with. It could be a passage from a book they’ve read, or an excerpt from a famous speech, or even a newspaper article. Have the students rewrite the text in a working class, middle class, or upper class dialect – or all three if you’ve got the time.

Smaller children who don’t have much of an understanding of politics or economics may need to have it explained as “write it the way a Queen would say it” or “write it the way someone would say it if they had never gone to school.” Have students share their work with one another and encourage discussion. An exercise like this can help students pay closer attention to how characters in books speak, and how they can write more believable characters in their own fiction.