On the use of dialect in characterising interviewees in magazine articles

By Toini Rahtu (University of Helsinki, Finland)


This article analyses the use of dialect in characterizing interviewees in magazine articles. The data consist of two Finnish articles and the responses of 77 readers to them. The magazine articles are analysed using a method that is referred to as linguistic response analysis. The interpretations of the respondents are analysed from the perspective of folk linguistics. This analysis is supplemented by a narratological  analysis of the interplay of voices in the articles themselves. Responses to the two textual data in this study were clearly different. The readers thought that one of the interviewees was a positive figure, while the other one got a negative reception. The article demonstrates that this difference cannot be explained only on the basis of the folk linguistic impressions that readers have of a dialect and its speakers. Important also is the way in which the dialect is used in the interplay of voices and levels in the text.  This finding is of relevance to translation studies also: translators need to take into account the relation of dialect features to the scopos as well as overall organisation of the text.

Keywords: dialect image, translation of dialect, translation of irony, nonfiction, scopos of translation

©inTRAlinea & Toini Rahtu (2016).
"On the use of dialect in characterising interviewees in magazine articles"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia III
Edited by: Koloman Brenner & Irmeli Helin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2181

1. Introduction

Journalists often use dialects to characterize their interviewees in newspapers and magazines. They usually do it by representing the speech of the interviewee with dialect, whereas the other parts of the text are written in standardised language. This may lead to either a positive and sympathetic or a negative and disparaging impression of the interviewee. What is the role of dialect images in these kinds of contradictory impressions? Is it the case that some dialects simply have a positive image, whereas some others have a negative one? Or is it the case that a positive or negative impression of a dialect is created by other linguistic and textual choices that create a positive or negative context for the dialect? To shed light on these questions, this article analyses two Finnish magazine articles whose authors use dialect to represent the speech of their interviewees. One of the interviewees got a positive response from the readers whereas the other one got a negative response. What explains these dissimilar perceptions of the interviews? Since the representation of dialects is often also an issue for translators, not only of fiction but of non-fiction (e.g. newspapers articles) as well, this question is worth investigating in a translation study journal.

This article is organised as follows: section 2 introduces the data and section 3 discusses the theoretical starting points of the article. Section 4 looks at the responses to the interviewees represented as dialect speakers and section 5 analyses these responses. Finally, section 6 brings together and discusses the overall findings with respect to some issues in translation.

2. Data

This section introduces the data of this article: a) the textual data and b) the written responses to the textual data. The textual data consist of two Finnish magazine articles: 1) "A hundred years of Ilona from Kouhi" [Kouhin Ilonan satanen] and 2) "A bachelor evening with Sir Vili" [Poikamiesilta Sir Vilin seurassa]. Since the original Finnish titles of both articles contain their interviewee’s first name, these names are used in naming the articles in the data: case 1 will be referred to as the "Ilona story" and case 2 as the "Vili story". The Ilona story was published in a Finnish weekly magazine "Apu" (7/2012; [The Aid]), whereas the Vili story was published in 1996 in the Saturday supplement "Nyt" (8/1996; [Now]) of the leading independent Finnish newspaper "Helsingin Sanomat" [The Helsinki News]. The speech of the interviewees in both texts is represented using dialect features. To make the data accessible to all readers of this article, the translations of dialect excerpts below do not contain any specific English dialect features.  

The Ilona story is about a centenarian country woman who looks back on her own and her family’s life in Pyhämaa, a parish in south-western Finland. Ilona was born on a farm in 1911, six years before Finland became independent, and in the article she recalls memories of three wars and the changing times in Finland after the Second World War. Her lifelong relationship to the farm is also reflected in the title of the article: the name of the farm is Kouhi, and it is used to identify her in the title (Ilona from Kouhi lit. "Kouhi's Ilona"). The Ilona story consists of about 1000 words; here is a short extract from it translated into English:

[From the beginning of the article:] In a place behind the town of Uusikaupunki, where the public road ends between Pyhämaa and Pitkäluoto, lives the oldest subscriber to the magazine Apu, an old country wife Ilona Soini, born Sjövall. She turned a hundred last November. There were 150 celebrators at her birthday party. She is still living where she was born, in the same living room where the hired hand Eino fetched the midwife to assist with her birth in the autumn of 1911[...]

Right now Soini is puzzled by the relationship between Katri-Helena [a well-known Finnish popular singer] and Tommi Liimatainen [Katri-Helena’s manager and alleged boyfriend who is 30 years younger than the singer].

– Katri-Helena’s real dear to me, she is indeed. They’ve got something going on that’s so secret they can’t let on to others [...]

[From the end of the article:] Soini is going at a hundred kilometres an hour and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Like the late lady from Pyhämaa whose husband warned her of the speed limit, she could say:

- A speed limit? Ain’t heard of such a thing!

And there's still the movie about Matti Nykänen to see [Nykänen is a successful ski jumper whose scandalous private life has been reported in the tabloids and yellow press for decades]. And if only the mystery of Katri-Helena could be solved.

Pyhämaan ja Pitkäluodon vaihettumisvyöhykkeellä Uudenkaupungin takana, paikassa, jossa yleinen tie loppuu, asuu Apu-lehden varttunein tilaaja. Kouhin tilan vanha emäntä Ilona Soini, o.s. Sjövall, täytti marraskuussa sata vuotta. Juhlijoita oli 150. Yhä on ympärillä synnyintalo, sama pirtti, jonne Eino-renki syksyllä 1911 kävi hälyttämässä "lastenämmän" lasta päästämään. [...] Juuri nyt Soinia askarruttaa Katri-Helenan ja Tommi Liimataisen tilanne.

– Katri Helena on mul nii rakas, ehrottomasti. Heil on sit nii salanen asia, et he ei voi sanoa toisil, mitä heijän suhtees on. [...]

Soinilla on sata lasissa, eikä meno laannu. Hän voisi sanoa kuin entinen Pyhämaan frouva, jota mies automatkalla varoitteli nopeusrajoituksesta.

– Emmää sunkkan ol kuullu puhettaka semmosest!

Nyt, kun vielä näkisi sen Nykäsen Matista tehdyn elokuvan. Ja selviäisi se Katri Helenan mysteeri.

The other half of the textual data is the Vili story. Its interviewee is a middle-aged businessman originally from Polvijärvi, a parish in North Carelia in eastern Finland. At the time of the interview, he brought Philippine women to Finland as potential wives for Finnish bachelors; he was also known for his politically incorrect opinions about sexual equality. The article describes a "bachelor evening" that the reporters have with Vili: they get drunk in restaurants and talk about women, sexual equality, feminism, and, last but not least, the abundant experiences of the interviewee with women in Finland and across the world. The reporters are represented as novices who want their "master", the experienced lady-killer, to teach them how to pick up a woman. During the long evening, opportunity knocks many times, but each time the interviewee seems to back down in spite of the novices’ support and many encouraging drinks. As a result, the evening ends with not a single woman in their company.

The Vili story consists of about 1500 words; here are some translated extracts from it:

[From the beginning of the article:] A group of men orders booze for the table, a dry Finlandia vodka for each. They are at the restaurant Baker’s Family celebrating a bachelor evening with a true expert on women as their leader. The group consists of novices, that is two reporters and a photographer, and of their invited leader Sir Vili alias Veli Karppanen, 44. As we know, Vili is almost a bachelor again – he is going to divorce his Philippine wife.

In December, Vili’s 25-year-old wife fled from him to a women’s shelter. The afternoon papers reported that Vili had beaten his wife up.

"But it wasn’t like that," corrects Vili and takes a shot. The incident was caused by the so-called schoolmarms, on one hand, and the Philippine veminists [feminists] who live in Finland, on the other. "The damn veminists poked their noses in. They’re the kind of people who aren’t doing so well themselves. They’ll break up even the best of families."

"And that women’s shelter sucks", says Vili as his novices listen. It’s a fucking university for these people. That’s where you’ll find these schoolmarms."

[...] And then to The Old Maestro [a dance restaurant] to ladies’ choice, the group decides. Vili checks out the situation at the door of the restaurant. [...] A woman passes by. She is the same age as Vili and is dressed up in her finest. "Couldn’t take her home. Would scare the kids", Vili promptly responds. [...]

Vili knows what he’s talking about: Finnish women just can’t compete with Philippine women. For instance, there’s a great difference in the favourite body part for Sir Karppanen. "Vilipino [Filipino] women have got a nice pear shape, Finnish women are turnip-shaped."

[...] Even as a young man in Polvijärvi, the master reached astonishing achievements.

"I was 20 and my brother was 16. We had a day off and a terrible hang-over. We started to count the women we had had. My brother had a long list, but mine was about three hundred", Vili declares. Three hundred times? The novices are agape. "No, three hundred women. In those days you’d take up the challenge. Nowadays I couldn’t be bothered. I don't go scrounging for it, it’s the women who come after me. That's the way it should be" [...]

[Near the end of the article:] At four o’clock in the morning the bachelor group is still in the same combination in a taxi, with not a single woman in their company. [...]

Miesporukka tilaa pöytään viinaa, kuivan Finlandia-vodkan jokaiselle. Ollaan ravintola Baker’s Familyssä, viettämässä poikamiesiltaa todellisen naisten tuntijan johdolla. Liikkeellä on oppipoikina kaksi toimittajaa ja valokuvaaja. Ryhmää vetämään on kutsuttu Sir Vili eli Karppasen Veli, 44. Vilihän on taas melkein poikamies – avioero filippiiniläisestä vaimosta on vireillä.

Joulukuussa Vilin 25-vuotias vaimo pakeni turvakotiin. Iltapäivälehdissä kerrottiin, että Vili oli tusauttanut rouvaa turpaan.

"Mutta eihän se niin ollut", Vili oikaisee ja ottaa viinaryypyn. Tapauksen aiheuttivat toisaalta ns. nutturapäät, toisaalta Suomessa asuvat filippiiniläiset veministit. "Veministit perkele pääsi vähän hämmentämään. Ne on semmosia, joilla itellään menee huonosti. Ne saa hyvänkin perheen hajalle."

"Ja se turvakoti on perseestä", Vili sanoo ja oppipojat kuuntelevat. "Se on oikein korkeakoulu tälle alalle. Siellä näitä on näitä nutturapäitä."

[...] Ja sitten Vanhaan Maestroon, naistentansseihin, porukka päättää. Vili katsastaa ovelta tilanteen. [...] Ohitse lipuu parhaimpiinsa laittautunut Vilin ikäinen nainen. "Tuollaista ei kyllä voisi kotiin viedä. Lapset säikähtäisi", Vili lohkaisee. [...]

Vili sen tietää: suomalainen nainen ei pärjää filippiiniläiselle. Eroa on esimerkiksi Sir Karppa-sen lempikohdassa, takapuolessa. "Vilippiinoilla se on nätti, päärynänmuotoinen, suomalaisilla naisilla lanttu."

[...] Mestari pääsi ällistyttäviin saavutuksiin jo nuorukaisena Polvijärvellä.

"Olin 20-vuotias, ja velimies oli 16. Oli luppopäivä ja kova kankkunen. Ruvettiin laskemaan, minkä verran on ollut naisia. Velimiehellä oli aika pitkä lista, mutta mulla oli kolmisensataa", Vili pudottaa. Siis kertojako? Oppipojat kakistelevat. "Eikun se on pääluku. Sillon sitä viitti jotain tehdäkin. Nykyään en paljon viitti. Minä en vonkaa, ne käy kimppuun, mieluummin niin päin." [...]

Taksissa kello neljä poikamiesporukka on yhä samassa kokoonpanossa, eikä yhtään naista ole tarttunut mukaan. [...]

The response data consist of two sets of written responses to the interviews: 1) 56 elicited test answers, and 2) 21 spontaneous letters to the editor. 56 students of translation at the University of Helsinki were asked to read the Ilona story and answer the following question: "What kind of impression does this article make of its interviewee, and how is it manifested in the text?" To keep the respondents’ interpretations as spontaneous as possible, they were not explicitly asked to observe the use of dialect or any other linguistic features of the text. In contrast to the elicited interpretations of the Ilona story, the interpretations of the Vili story are genuinely spontaneous: letters to the editor were sent by the weekend magazine’s authentic readers.

3. Response analysis and narratology as methodological approaches

Research results in the humanities may be more or less influenced by the researchers' background since (s)he investigates phenomena characteristic of the same culture (s)he lives in. In addition to cultural influence, the researchers' theoretical background will have an impact on results. Theory determines the research process in many ways: it affects what is studied and how the problem is defined, what kinds of concepts and notions are adapted in analysing data, and, finally, how the results are interpreted (e. g. Rahtu 2012).  

The method of analysis used in this study is referred to as linguistic response analysis (Rahtu 2011 and 2012), in contrast to the so-called reception aesthetic approaches to fiction (e. g. Jauss 1975; 1982; Iser 1980; Holub 1984). Response analysis aims at reducing the researcher’s speculation about possible interpretations and their relations with textual data. As a result, the observations on the data gain more reliability, as they are not entirely dependent on the researcher’s own intuition. Linguistic response analysis also aims at giving the researcher heuristic assistance in finding differing interpretations of the data and at comparing the different interpretations to linguistic features in the data.   

In this article, the quality of the data defines the theoretical choices. Both texts in the data can be regarded as nonfiction (Hollowell 1977): they are factually based stories that employ techniques used in narrative fiction. Central to the analysis presented here is the way in which the stories mix quotations from interviewees and narrative reporting. This calls for analytic tools that can be used in observing differences between the levels of narrative texts. A tested approach to narrative fiction is narratology, which is based on the idea that narrative texts have several discursive "voices"(Rimmmon-Kenan 1983). Of the many voices postulated in narratology, relevant to this study are two: the narrator’s voice (NV) and the character’s voice (CV). In addition, narrative texts often have passages where narrator’s and character’s voices are mixed (NCV). To illustrate the two voices in a narrative text, a short extract from the Vili story is repeated here with marks added in square brackets to show the distribution of voices:

A group of men orders booze for the table, a dry Finlandia vodka for each. They are at the restaurant Baker’s Family celebrating a bachelor evening with a true expert on women as their leader. [...] Even as a young man in Polvijärvi, the master reached astonishing achievements. [NV]

"I was 20 and my brother was 16. We had a day off and a terrible hang-over. We started to count the women we had had. My brother had a long list, but mine was about three hundred", [CV] Vili declares. [NV]

In distinguishing between the voices, the most important criteria are deictic elements, such as personal pronouns and suffixes, demonstrative pronouns, and tense. In the NV, events and characters are viewed from outside, which is why they are referred to in the third person: They are at the restaurant Baker’s Family celebrating a bachelor-evening with a true expert on women as their leader. The events related in the NV have usually happened before the moment of telling, which is why they are often told in the past tense, as in the Ilona story in many places: She turned a hundred last November. In the Vili story, however, the bachelor evening is described as happening at the same time it is told, which is why its NV is mainly in the present tense: They are at the restaurant etc.

In the CV, the characters of the story are referred to in the first person, since the CV views them from the point of view of the character speaking: I was 20 and my brother was 16. We had a day off and a terrible hang-over.  The time of the events described in the CV is relative to the speech event: simultaneous events are told in the present tense, whereas earlier events, as expected, are reported in the past tense.

The narrative voices form a hierarchy where the narrator’s voice is above the other levels: it is the narrator who sees and describes what the characters do, experience, think and say (Rimmon-Kenan 1983). In studying journalistic nonfiction, narrator and other narratological notions are useful because they help to identify the journalist’s own voice, that is, her/his attitude to the events and characters described. This is due to the fact that in contrast to a fictional narrator’s voice, the reader identifies  a nonfictional narrator’s voice with the journalist her- or himself (Rahtu 2006: 190–193): while a fictional narrator can be totally "unreliable", a journalistic narrator cannot tell lies. From this it follows that using dialect in the journalistic CV does not just reflect the interviewee’s way of speaking, but the narrator-journalist’s way of characterizing her/his interviewee as well. It is also important to bear in mind that written speech representations of dialects are always more or less artificial since it is not possible – nor reasonable – to imitate dialect features in detail (Leech and Short 1981: 167–170). For literary purposes it is more important to create an "eye-dialect" (Leech and Short 1981: 168) that seems right and helps to construe an illusion of speech (Kalliokoski 1998, Tiittula and Nuolijärvi 2013, Keskimaa 2013).

Using nonfiction in magazine articles also allows the writer more freedom in expressing her/his own attitudes and opinions than for instance in news and reports: since the writers of the Vili story, for example, are described as "novices" who want to learn from their "master", they are also described as feeling, acting and speaking characters in the text. 

4. Responses to the dialect representations in the articles

Responses to the two textual data in this study were clearly different. The respondents of the Ilona story thought that the text makes a positive impression of the interviewee, whereas the readers of the Vili story were appalled and disgusted by its interviewee. To support the analysis, these responses should, in fact, be appended to this article (as in Rahtu 2006 and 2011), but to spare space, this section only reports on them.

All the 56 readers of the Ilona story respond in a way that indicates that they have a more or less positive impression of the interviewee. They regard her as an old but cheerful lady who is still going strong; this is reflected in her humorous way of seeing things and her devotion to Finnish celebrities, among other things. The readers also think that the writer of the article respects the interviewee, and 43 readers explicitly connect this to the use of dialect in the text – despite the fact that they were not asked to observe the dialect (see section 2). The following extract from one of the responses is a representative of the responses to the Ilona story:

(1) The dialectal speech of Ilona Soini is the main characteristic of the article. Her way of speaking can also be noticed in the journalist’s own voice. [...] The journalist’s voice seems to be entwined with Soini’s voice. In addition to the quotations there are dialect words such as flikka ['girl' in south-western Finnish dialect] and kaljaasi ['ketch, galleas'].

As in this example 1, specific dialectal characteristics were mentioned in altogether 16 interpretations of the Ilona story; they will be analysed in more detail in section 5.1. In addition to observations about dialect, the respondent above observes the narrative levels of the text: she comments on the "journalist’s voice" [cf. NV] and "Soini’s voice" [cf. CV]. She is one of 13 test persons who mentioned different levels or voices of narration. Only two respondents think that since using dialect sometimes reflects the journalist’s condescending attitude to an interviewee, it might also make the interviewee of the Ilona story seem a little funny or simple.  

The reception of the Vili story was contentious. All the respondents think that the story gives a negative impression of the interviewee because of his male chauvinism, but whereas some think that the reporters are ridiculing the interviewee’s chauvinism, others think that the reporters were chauvinists as well (Rahtu 2006: 110–120). Here is a representative example of the responses to the Vili story, a letter to the editor sent by a female reader:

(2) What went wrong when God’s gift to the women of the world didn’t get any female company at all? Should he practice airopikki [aerobics] for a couple of hours so that the beer barrel around his waist won’t prevent him from striking up a closer acquaintance with women? Or should he revise his opinions about Finnish women?

Good sirs, please don’t follow Sir Vili’s teachings ‒ or else it will be impossible to believe in decent, honest Finnish men.

This is how all the women I meet today think. There are all kinds of women, schoolmarms as well as veminists [feminists]. Some of us have turnip- or pear-shapes and some are the size of a seven-bread oven. Good luck to the great son of Polvijärvi.

Regards from A Young Pear-shaped Schoolmarm

The letters to the editor differ from the elicited responses to the Ilona story in many respects. While the test readers were asked to observe only one aspect of the Ilona story – the impression given of the interviewee – the readers of the Vili story seem to react more widely to the text. They present their own opinions and discuss the characters and events as well as opinions put forth in the article. Typically, response 2 is addressed not only to the interviewee but also to the other readers of the magazine.

Although the respondents to the Vili story focus their responses on commenting on the interviewee’s politically incorrect opinions, their letters also convey their observations on the interviewee’s language. These observations are reflected in their own linguistic choices. In response 2, for instance, the interviewee’s vocabulary is echoed in the reader’s vocabulary, in such words as schoolmarm (Finnish nutturapää lit. bun head), turnip-shape, and pear-shape. These kinds of words are found in almost all letters to the editor. In addition, the interviewee’s dialect forms are echoed in the readers' responses: the respondent in 2, for instance, writes veministi and airopikki instead of the standardized forms feministi and aerobic[s].

In sum, the readers of both the stories react to the use of dialects. The readers of the Ilona story consider dialect to be the writer’s main means of describing the interviewee in a respectful tone. The readers of the Vili story echo the interviewee’s dialect expressions in their letters to editor, which indicates that the use of dialect has influenced their impression of the interviewee. The fact that the readers of both articles comment on the use of dialect spontaneously underlines the importance of dialect for the impression given of the interviewees.

5. What explains the dissimilar impressions of the interviewees?

Can the differing responses to the articles be explained with the different images of the Finnish dialects used in the texts? Or can the responses be explained with the authors’ textual choices that make these dialects seem either positive or negative in their contexts? To analyse these questions, section 5.1 introduces some dialect features of the interviews, and section 5.2 compares these features to the images of the dialects in the light of some folk linguistic notions. In section 5.3, the dialects are related to the textual organisation of voices in the articles. In all sections, the analysis proceeds from the Ilona story to the Vili story.

5.1 South-western vs. North Carelian Finnish dialect

The most common feature in the south-western Finnish dialect used in the Ilona story is apocope, the omission of one or more phonemes at the end of a word. The standardized forms are thus shortened: niin ('so') → nii, heil ('they+adessive') → heil, sitten ('then') → sit, et ('that') → et, toisille ('to others') → toisil, suhteessa ('in relationship') → suhtees.

Another dialect feature is the use of r instead of d in certain phonetic environments: ehrottomasti ('absolutely') instead of ehdottomasti. Yet another characteristic can be seen in words like frouva ('lady') and flikka ('girl'): word-initial f is used in only those Finnish dialects that have borrowed it from Swedish; word-initial combination of two consonants (frouva and flikka) is also rare in Finnish dialects except for those adjacent to Swedish speaking areas. In addition to these phonetic characteristics, the Ilona story uses many local dialect words, such as lastenämmä [childrens’ woman] instead of kätilö ('midwife'), paat instead of vene ('boat'), and suvi instead of kesä ('summer'). Thus, the Ilona story contains many kinds of local features characteristic of the south-western Finnish dialect.

Surprisingly, the dialect features in the Vili story are not as clearly local as in the Ilona story. The Vili story’s CV is not characterized by the most distinct features of North Carelian phonetics, such as broadened diphthongs ae and oe (instead of ai and oi), or diphthongization of long vowels aa and ää (for instance, maa 'earth' and pää 'head' have changed in North Carelian to moa and peä). Instead, the CV is characterized with phonetic features common in almost any Finnish dialect when the speaker does not know how to pronounce loanwords with foreign sounds. This disability is manifested in the CV as substitution of phonemes b and f with p and v. For instance, when speaking about aerobics and bongo drums, the interviewee uses the forms airopikki and pongorummut, and instead of feminists and Filipinos, he speaks about veminists and vilippines. Another feature of the interviewee’s speech is its abundant use of common swearwords, such as paska 'shit', perkele 'damn' (lit. devil) and saatana 'fuck' (lit. satan). Yet another group of inappropriate expressions used in the Vili story's CV refers to intimate parts of the human body, such as perse 'arse', as well as politically incorrect names, such as nutturapäät 'schoolmarm' (lit. bunheads). All these features make the interviewee seem a crude person.

5.2 Images of western and eastern Finnish dialects

The reason why writers use dialects to represent the characters of their texts is the fact that there is a strong connection between dialects and a person's characteristic way of talking (cf. Lane 2000, Remlinger 2006). In other words, dialects are part of a person's idiolect: they indicate not only her/his geographical background but also her/his social and psychological history and characteristics. Folk linguists study laymen’s attitudes to language: what do people think about dialects and certain features in dialects, and how do they express these attitudes in their own linguistic choices (see for instance Preston 2002, Piippo, Vaattovaara & Voutilainen 2016).

Attitudes to local dialects have been analysed from many angles in Finland too. One of the earliest studies showed that in the 1980’s people who had gone to live in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, kept many features of their home dialect if they were from western Finland, whereas people from eastern Finland were more eager to adopt new southern and urban ways of speaking (Nuolijärvi 1986). This seems to suggest there is a clear prestige attached to the western dialects as compared to the eastern dialects of Finnish. However, as Mielikäinen and Palander (2002) show, the picture is more complicated: the images of both western and eastern Finnish dialects are a mixture of positive and negative impressions. For instance, the south-western dialect (used in the Ilona story) is regarded as sophisticated, cheerful and vigorous but also as elitist and exclusive, whereas the Savonian dialect (which includes the North Carelian dialect used in the Vili story) is regarded as jovial and gentle but also as amusing, circumlocutory and crooked.

The folk linguistic studies of Finnish dialect images seem to suggest that it is possible to give a positive as well as a negative impression with both western and eastern Finnish dialects. From this it follows that the impressions given of the interviewee in the Ilona story as positive and in the Vili story as negative are not reflections of the dialect images as such. In addition, as pointed out in section 5.1, since the dialect in the Vili story is not very local, the negative impression of its interviewee cannot be explained with the image of the North Carelian dialect but with the interviewee’s uneducated pronunciation and word choice. 

5.3 Textual organization of the narrative voices

If one considers the benevolent opinions of the interviewee in the Ilona story and the politically incorrect opinions of the interviewee in Vili story, it is no wonder that the readers of the Ilona story have a positive impression of the interviewee and the readers of the Vili story a negative one. But as pointed out in section 4, the readers do not only react to the interviewee’s opinions but to their dialects as well: the readers of the Ilona story think that the use of dialect reflects the journalist’s respectful attitude to his interviewee, whereas some of the readers of the Vili story think that the journalists’ aim is to ridicule their interviewee. To explain these dissimilar interpretations of the use of dialect, this section investigates the organization of the narrative voices in both interviews.

As discussed in section 4, some of the readers of the Ilona story explicitly commented on the organization of narrative voices:

(1) The dialectal speech of Ilona Soini is the main characteristic of the article. Her way of speaking can also be noticed in the journalist’s own voice. [...] The journalist’s voice seems to be entwined with Soini’s voice. In addition to the quotations there are dialect words such as flikka and kaljaasi.

In response 1, the reader recognizes different levels of narration: she mentions the journalist’s as well as Soini’s voice, and the use of dialectal words in both of them. She even mentions that the voices are entwined: there are dialect words such as flikka and kaljaasi not only in the quotations (= CV) but elsewhere (= NV) too. Indeed, there are several NV sections in the Ilona story where one can find the interviewee’s dialect words. They are sometimes separated with quotation marks from the rest of the NV, which could be interpreted as a sign of the NV’s detachment from the CV. But judging by the test readers’ positive impressions of the interviewee, the mixing of voices in the Ilona story has been interpreted as expressing the journalist’s respectful attitude to the interviewee.  

At first sight, the organization of voices in the Vili story seems quite similar to the Ilona story: there are also interviewee’s words in the Vili-story’s NV:

The incident was caused by the so-called schoolmarms, on one hand, and the Philippine veminists who live in Finland, on the other hand.

The interviewee’s words in this example are separated from the narrator’s voice with italics and the expression so called, much in the same way as occasionally in the Ilona story. To understand what led the readers of the Vili story to a dissimilar interpretation of the narrator’s voice, we have to look at other parts of the Vili story where the interviewee’s and narrator’s voices are mixed in ways that are not used in the Ilona story.

The following extract is from the very end of the Vili story, where the novices are described as finally changing their attitude to the interviewee from admiration to suspicion and rejection:

Master Vili’s words echo in the novices’ heads. [NV] Young. Pretty. Pear-shaped. Obedient. Veminist. Schoolmarm. [NCV] Is that all there is to it? Master, what is the meaning of simple, true love between two people? [CV]

"Well, I do love people," [CV] replies Vili from the front seat [NV]. "You love people, it’s just that the target keeps changing. And I love the whole Vilipino people." [CV]

The interviewee’s words are first represented in the narrator’s and character’s mixed voice (NCV): Young. Pretty. Pear-shaped. Obedient. Veminist. Schoolmarm. By definition, this NCV's voice does not belong to the interviewee only but to him and the narrator-novices together: the novices are reported as echoing their master’s voice in their thoughts. Then the NCV slides into CV echoing the novices’ voice without mixing it with the interviewee’s voice which means that the novices' attitude changes: Is that all there is to it? Master, what is the meaning of simple, true love between two people? The thoughts and ways of talking represented in the CVs from here to the end of the story echo the interviewee’s voice alone, with no mixing with the narrator's voice. This can be interpreted as a sign of the journalists’ final detachment from the interviewee: they are no longer novices admiring their master but allow Sir Vili to talk for himself. In other words, they no longer want to give any impression of supporting his ideas.

The main difference in the organization of voices of the Ilona story and the Vili story is the degree of visibility of narrator. The narrator of the Ilona story is merely a level in the text, a point of view from where the interviewee is seen. Because the narrator is not described as a person, there are no actual manifestations of the journalist’s own thoughts either. The test readers did not find any tension between the NV and CV of the Ilona story because the narrator simply seems to adopt the interviewee’s own expressions and dialect as such.

In contrast to the technical and almost invisible narrator of the Ilona story, the narrator of the Vili story can be seen as a kind of author surrogate: it is made visible by the creation of the novices as characters in the story; the novices, in turn, are seen as representing the actual journalists who wrote the story. This narration technique seems to exploit the characteristic of nonfiction that the readers often identify its narrator with the journalist’s or journal’s voice (cf. section 3). The identification of narrator, novices and journalists is exploited in the story to convey the journalists’ attitude: Firstly, the story as such proves that there is a vast gap between the interviewee’s self-image and his actions: while the interviewee maintains that he does not have to go begging for women, the lack of success during the evening proves that he does not know how to approach the opposite sex. Since this state of affairs is made evident in the NV, it can be interpreted as reflecting a conflict between the journalists’ own opinion and those of the interviewee. No wonder the letters to the editor mock Sir Vili for his “success”. Secondly, as pointed out above, the narrator-novice-journalists’ true attitude to the interviewee is revealed at the latest at the end of the story, where the novices clearly dissociate themselves from the interviewee’s words. Thirdly, as pointed out in section 5.1, the interviewee's CV in the Vili story picks up features that are common not just in the North Carelian dialect but in any Finnish dialect if the speaker does not know how to pronounce foreign words. This makes the interviewee seem a country bumpkin, which, in turn, diminishes his credibility as an opinion-holder in the issues that the characters of the Vili story talk about. 

6. Concluding remarks and implications to issues of translation

The comparison of the two stories of the data of this article has shown that the impression given of the interviewee through the use of dialect depends not only on the dialect image as such but on the organization of text levels and the discursive hierarchy of voices as well. In order to investigate the consequences of dialect use in the texts analysed here, it was important to compare the NV and CV in the stories. In the Ilona story, the CV is characterized with many local dialectal features that are combined with a fairly neutral NV. Judging by the respondents’ interpretations of the Ilona story, this combination creates a good impression of the interviewee: the respondents felt that the purpose of the article is to use local dialect to characterize an old woman who has spent all her life in the same district. In the Vili story, the NV was interpreted as conflicting with the CV; hence the readers interpreted the dialect characteristics in the CV as the journalists’ deliberate means to create a picture of an uneducated, ignorant and politically incorrect interviewee.

The use of dialect in characterizing interviewees in magazine articles is a relevant subject of translation studies, as it illustrates how implicit meanings, especially critical ones, can be created in a text. In order to be able to translate implicit meanings, such as irony, adequately, a translator should relate them to the scopos of the original text (cf. Reiss and Vermeer 1984; on the translation of irony, see e. g. Barbe 1995: 145–169, Mateo 1995). For instance, why is the journalists’ opinion of the interviewee of the Vili story implied in the use of dialect? The answer seems to lie in the genre of the text (cf. Reiss 1989). As mentioned in section 3 above, the Ilona story and the Vili story can be regarded as nonfiction since they are written in much the same way as narrative fiction with its discursive hierarchy of voices. One of the purposes of nonfiction as well as narrative fiction is to entertain readers with ambiguous, playful language that engages them more than ordinary, plain journalistic style. Nonfiction often aims at giving its readers the pleasure of finally solving the riddles of the text by themselves.

If a translator wants to maintain the scopos of the original text in her/his translation, (s)he should not reveal the secret of the original text – instead, (s)he should translate the text in a way that conceals its secret between the lines and allows the readers to discover it for themselves.  In order to do this the translator should, for instance, analyse the purpose of the use of dialect in the original text.  If the purpose is to transmit the image of a dialect "as such", as seems to be the case in the Ilona story, it might be efficacious to translate the original dialect into a target language dialect that shares approximately the same kind of image. If the dialect in the original text is used to make implicitly critical impression of the speaker, it is important to observe the selection of dialect characteristics. In the Vili story, for instance, the dialect features seem to be selected in a way that transmits not a local but a generally uncouth impression of the interviewee. This, in turn, reveals the implicit negative attitude of the authors.

When translating dialect features, it is important to find features in the target language that give the same kind of impression of the speaker as in the original text. Sometimes these features can be found in the target language’s dialect, but sometimes it might be efficacious to use other features of language that convey more or less the same impression. The kinds of translation strategies (e. g. Baker 1992, Chesterman 1998) needed is a question for future research.


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Textual data

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Lehtola, Jorma (2012) "Kouhin Ilonan satanen" [A hundred years of Ilona from Kouhi], Apu 7/2012 [The Aid]: 52–55.

About the author(s)

Toini Rahtu teaches scientific writing, Finnish grammar and semantics for future translators and students of Finnish language at the University of Helsinki. Her doctoral thesis (2006) studies the interpretation of ironic texts. She has also published internationally on this subject (Text & Talk 2011).The research method applied in these studies is linguistic response analysis.Her recent studies deal with the use of first person singular in academic texts.

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©inTRAlinea & Toini Rahtu (2016).
"On the use of dialect in characterising interviewees in magazine articles"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia III
Edited by: Koloman Brenner & Irmeli Helin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2181

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