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naarna in hp_britglish

Draco's language use in private

I'm currently having a beta read through my Draco-centric FF, and we repeatedly disagree on his use of language when at home/in private...

What I mean is, I know he had the upbringing of British upper-class and that it should be reflected in his use of language. I'm just not sure how formal he would speak in private, with people he considers - or comes to consider during the FF - as family.

One such disputed moment is:
"[...]We could do something else. You know chess?
Tom nodded eagerly, a big smile on his face. “Of course I do.[...]" (instead of "Do you know chess?")

"You okay?" (instead of "Are you okay?")

Friend and I agree that he sees it a bit more relaxed when in private, hence dropping modal verbs and stuff, but would stick to the proper, more formal usage when out in the public to maintain the reputation.

That's where my beta disagrees, as she thinks that his upbringing as a member of the upper-class wouldn't allow for such a non-formal usage even in private. Now I'm curious what others think about that...

EDIT: Woah! I never thought that my question would bring such a response...

I should have added that English is not my native language, though it was one of my subjects at university, and we did touch the subject of sociolect -- that's why I probably struggle with that apparently not so simple point. ;-)

THANK YOU for answering! It did help me in the end... :-)


The British upper classes use lots of slang and shortened forms, in my experience; they don't talk like academics! So yes, he would absolutely say "You OK?", although I think he might be more likely to say "You play chess?" than "You know chess?".
I think you are viewing the upper class dialect as something that takes work... Like how you might speak French to the waiter, but not to your friends if you (an English speaking you) were in a restaurant in France.


The sort of language that marks toffs as toffs is the language they have heard *from birth*, like as if they are native French speakers. Certainly one would adopt a different tone with one's parents than with one's servants! (politer, probably, servants get yelled at a lot) But it isn't going to be the sort of language that is used casually by your average Joe, especially not your average *American* Joe... Draco no doubt has learned Bad Habits at Hogwarts, his parents will probably be at pains to correct them (with or without a good thrashing... you get to pick how nice they are).

(PS - OK is totally an Americanism; certainly your average Brit will use it, we are infected with American language via TV... wizards don't have TV (muggle borns might bring the habit with them though) and *posh* wizards presumably reject such new fangled nonsense.)
Well, the other problem with this whole idea is that Draco was not at prep or public school, which is traditionally where any local accent picked up from childhood companions and servants gets smoothed out!
I'm not British (and an ESL) and got similar feedback on one of my first Draco-centric fics as well (it was about what he would say at a breakfast scene at the manor with Narcissa and Scorpius).

My beta said the speaking habits are ingrained to all of us, and in case of the British upper-class they're also trained from the start. So, I went with it and ever have since then. The only exception they let it pass with when Draco talked dirty or swore in the bedroom... ;)

Not sure if this is helpful. It's an intersting question.
It's complicated by the fact that the Malfoys don't come across as truly aristocratic, even though JK has credited them with a background going back to the Conqueror. She also gave them an ancestor or ancestral cousin who was the editor of a newspaper, which is not only "trade" but very low-class trade.

Worse, they try too hard. Real aristocrats wear old clothes covered in dog-drool and get into fights in pubs and generally do whatever they feel like doing without self-consciousness, because they have an absolute confidence that whatever they choose to do is the right thing to do because it's them doing it. They also generally don't care about class - there's an old saying about class and poverty that "The people who matter don't mind, and the people who mind don't matter". It is also, at least in the Muggle world, considered very low class to make a thing about how rich you are.

Of course, the wizarding world may have different mores - we're told on Pottermore e.g. that James boasted to the Dursleys about how much richer than them he was - but by Muggle standards Justin Finch-Fletchley is upper class, while the Malfoys act like middle-class people who are pretending to be upper class by acting the way they think upper-class people would act, based on having watched too many episodes of Midsomer Murders. Possibly the family fell on hard times, like the Gaunts, and have only recently re-built their status.

That raises all sorts of questions about how Draco would speak. His comparatively lower-class background might show through, or he might, like his father, try very hard to sound consciously posh at all times (thereby appearing not to be). I believe The Cursed Child gives him a Cockney accent, which is ridiculous, unless we assume he's doing it for effect - if he isn't upper class he would be self-conscious upper middle class, with tortured vowels.

It's possible that he would use "common" language as an act of rebellion and identity-building. Just because he loves his parents, that doesn't mean he isn't a teenager.

Edited at 2016-08-17 11:12 am (UTC)
Malfoys act like middle-class people who are pretending to be upper class by acting the way they think upper-class people would act, based on having watched too many episodes of Midsomer Murders.

*snort* This is a very good point. And why on earth does Draco not call Lucius 'Daddy'? Or 'Papa'?
The only context in which I can imagine speaking the phrase "you know chess" would be something like "that game with the black and white board, and kings and bishops and pawns; you know: chess!"

In that context, I'd say "Do you play chess" or "Do you like chess".

"You ok?" is ok in a kind of murmured aside to a close friend who's just had a bollocking way, or a post-coital was-it-good-for-you one. If it's in a less intimate setting, "are you alright?" (or "are you ok?" is probably better.
I have to say that when I was a teenager growing up just north of London in the 1970s, "You know chess?" would have been considered long-winded. You would point at the chess board, raise your eyebrows and say "Chess?" The question "Would you like a piece of this cake?" was expressed by pointing at the cake and saying "Want?" and the answer was "Want", or just a nod or a thumbs-up sign.

I'm not sure if this extended as far as Wiltshire, or whether it still happens or not.
The mark of being upper-class is not caring and not looking as if you are trying too hard (which would be too self-conscious), so yes, he would use contractions and slang and wouldn't be formal at all. The use of some words is a class marker. You can find a lot of info if you google 'U vs non-U'

This is tongue-in-cheek, but not a bad link to give you an idea, and related links below worth checking out: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/sep/22/how-talk-posh-glossary-non-u

I am not sure how posh JKR meant Draco to be, but if he is in any sense 'wizarding royalty', then... :)

Edited at 2016-08-17 11:53 am (UTC)
Ouch. That's a bit unkind, and the idea that the Royals have people to hold stuff for them is based on the story that Charles has his valet squeeze his toothpaste for him. Nearly everybody forgets that he smashed his arm very badly round about 1990 and it took many months to heal, and probably never fully recovered.

The language is good, though.
I agree with many of the previous commentators.

If Draco is well-spoken, it's not something he puts on in public; it's just how he speaks. He would therefore tend to maintain the same rigid sentence structures in private.

I would expect him to say "Do you play chess?". The phrase "You know chess" reads a little awkwardly to Brit, largely due to the word "know", which would typically be used in the context of "Do you know of chess?" rather than "Do you know the rules of chess?".

In the context of "You okay?", the skipped word at the start suggests a middle class upbringing. I'd expect Harry to say this based on his childhood spent with the Dursleys. Similarly, a working class upbringing would be more likely to give rise to "You alright?". I would expect an upper class upbringing to result in "Are you okay?".

I can't provide any useful explanation as to why this is the case, but that's how I'd see it. I'm a middle class Brit, married to a working class Brit.
As already said, the Malfoys come across as upper middle class rather than upper class, let alone aristocracy.

But that aside, upper classes do generally have a more formal way of speaking in public, with acquintences etc., than in a more relaxed setting - just have a search for some of Prince Phillip's slip ups for the proof of that.
But that aside, upper classes do generally have a more formal way of speaking in public, with acquaintances etc., than in a more relaxed setting [...]

Yes, that's what I have in mind when I write Draco - and that's what I tried to express in my OP. :-)

Just now I'm even more confused...

Edited at 2016-08-17 06:35 pm (UTC)
I think you and your bets are both confusing informal ways of writing with informal ways of talking. There's very little difference between the sentence "are you ok?" and "You OK?" when spoken allowed: both of them are going to sound much like, "A'you OK?" because the stress is on the "you".

Upper-class people slur and skip syllables just as much as anyone else: the idea that upper-class people pronounce every syllable is partly because our writing systems tend to favour high-prestige forms of speech, and partly propaganda by people with high-prestige accents (eg. the idea that speaking with a regional accent is "lazy" or "takes less effort".) But there's very little pronunciation difference and certainly no class difference between "are you ok?" and "you ok?"

If you want to represent that Draco's in a less formal setting by using less formal written English, that's a valid stylistic choice! It's not really got much to do with class, though.
Mm. But try to avoid Americanisms, because it's unlikely Draco has much exposure to Muggle TV and he doesn't hang around with Muggle-borns either, so unless there was a school fad at some point for talking like an American, he wouldn't - whereas a Muggle-born of his generation might use American phrases they'd picked up from films.

So Draco might call somebody mate, if he were being informal, but not dude or (probably) guy.
I am going to be heretical.

We are making assumptions of how Draco speaks based on upper class British - but British muggles.

Given the disdain which Purebloods show for Muggles, I think the last thing they would do is imitate their speech patterns. Besides, having no contact with them, they would have no idea as to how they speak.

Now go and use your imagination.
Actually, I didn't have in mind his social status (upper-class, middle-class) when I said that I don't see Draco speaking like that. I was thinking to his uptight upbringing that Lucius, who was concerned with his appearance in an affected and excessive way, gave to him. I'm sure it was hell to pay every time he slipped and said something improper not only in public but in private too. Or at least that's the way I see it. And what you learn in childhood is hard to forget no mater how relaxed you are. Of course, he can speak like that as a rebellious act against everything his parents taught him.

Edited at 2016-09-03 03:49 pm (UTC)