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Thread: House-Elf Speech

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    Fifth Year Gryffindor
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    House-Elf Speech

    I'm writing a fic where the main characters are all house-elves, and it's really hard trying to get their speech down. Does anyone have any tips?

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    The Canon Queen Hufflepuff
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    One thing I always do is make sure the elf talks about themselves in the third person. For example:

    "Kreacher is making dinner for Master. Kreacher is a good elf."

    I would also grab OotP and DH to check Kreacher's speech as well as CoS and HBP to check on Dobby's.

    Hope that helps.
    Terri Black (as in Mrs Sirius {aka Padfoot} Black)
    Hufflepuff Head of House


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    Wizengamot Ravenclaw
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    Also, they never refer to themselves as he or she. That is something else to remember when you are writing dialogue in the third person.

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  4. #4
    TheCursedQuill
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    They don't a very large vocabulary either. Using little words like "Dobby has been bad" is something to keep in mind. They also seem to have extreme emotions. There is nothing in-between. One can very easily tell when a House Elf is sad, angry and of course happy.

  5. #5
    bellatrix-black-lestrange
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    House elfs

    Erm just wondering are these house elfs more like dobby or kreacher ?

    Well house elf's talk to them self a lot like dobby is washing masters dishes or something similar and always refer to them self in the third person. I'm not sure if it is because they are not allowed to address their master/mistress or if they are just lonely ?

    The easiest way would be to study dobby, kreacher and Mr.couch's elf in the HP books.

    Good Luck

    - Lauren

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    Wizengamot Ravenclaw
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    Well house elf's talk to them self a lot like dobby is washing masters dishes or something similar and always refer to them self in the third person. I'm not sure if it is because they are not allowed to address their master/mistress or if they are just lonely ?
    I also almost wonder if House-elves are like any other creature with the ability to learn human speech: it all depends if there is someone there to teach them. After all, aragog had a fairly advanced vocabulary because Hagris would come and talk to him regularly. But I don't think a lot of families like the Malfoys or the Blacks would have seen giving there House-elves a good vocabulary as being something of high importance.

    I'm just saying, certain parts of speech (such as the third person) might just be inbred, but as far as the actual level of vocabulary they have, their background might be something to put into consideration.

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  7. #7
    Halgy
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    One thing that helped me: if you can get your hands on the audio books, listen to how the readers portray house elves. When I had to write lines for Kreacher, being able to think in Jim Dale's 'Kreacher' voice made things much easier.

  8. #8
    LucillaJoanna
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    I love house-elf speech. It's dignified and funny at the same time.

    Third person, yes. And no pronouns when addressing wizards, certainly. House-elves are too servile and respectful for that.

    Authentic elf grammar tends to use 'redundant tenses'. Almost always present progressive.
    It is being Anshee in the honor of being in Mistressís presence, Mistress.

    Is Mistress be joining the Master there, then, Mistress?

    We is having plenty of owls, Mistress! Shall Lobby be fetching one now?

    ...keeping the house for years, even though we is having no masters and Sheean is never slacking in the gardens either and we is all so thrilled about the little mistress and the new mistress...
    If they do use past tense, they get the past forms or irregular verbs wrong.

    Goblet of Fire is the reference for elf-to-elf talk. I notice they seem to drop all servility when they are only among each other, and tend to have a crab mentality even, pulling each other down in terms of who's the better servant. I imagine that's what goes on in their heads most of the time, how well they are doing what they feel is their life's work, which is to serve.

    What goes on in their heads naturally also pours out in, and guides their, speech.

    So in my mind, they would have ample vocabulary, if misguided grammar, in case they need it when they're in honor of conversing with whom they deem to be 'their betters'.

    I think perhaps they also stick with their grammar than presuming to imitate how their masters speak.

  9. #9
    Inverarity
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    Quote Originally Posted by LucillaJoanna
    It is being Anshee in the honor of being in Mistressís presence, Mistress.

    Is Mistress be joining the Master there, then, Mistress?

    We is having plenty of owls, Mistress! Shall Lobby be fetching one now?

    ...keeping the house for years, even though we is having no masters and Sheean is never slacking in the gardens either and we is all so thrilled about the little mistress and the new mistress...
    That doesn't strike me as very authentic house-elf speech.

    First of all, they don't use exclusively (or even mostly) present progressive tense. What they do use is 3rd person singular verbs for all subjects, e.g., "House-elves is not supposed to have fun; house-elves does what they is told."

    However, they are capable of using past tense.

    I can't recall them using structures like "we is having" or "it is being" or "is Mistress be joining" -- that sounds like someone who's just not fluent in English.

    Also, while they are servile, they aren't quite so obsequious as to say "It is being Anshee in the honor of being in Mistressís presence." I think the only wizards vain enough to want that kind of elaborate self-abnegation would be the sort who like having elves literally lick their boots. Even the Malfoys would probably get tired of their servants saying, "Dobby is being in honor of quivering at Master's feet" all the time...

    LucillaJoanna: The quotes comes from one of my fics, sorry I forgot to say. The "in the honor of being in Mistress' presence" was evoked in an initial meeting. It's not obsequious nor habitual, it's more like a 'making a good first impression' thing. Now that you said it, the 'being' does sound foreign. Hee.

    "Is" instead of "will" in the 'be' clause maintains the quaint grammar of house-elves, I thought, because if I used 'will', that will be the correct grammar.

  10. #10
    Seventh Year Gryffindor
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    I can't recall them using structures like "we is having" or "it is being" or "is Mistress be joining" -- that sounds like someone who's just not fluent in English.
    Actually, I think this is quite good house elf speech, although I do admit it would probably be "will Mistress be joining".

    They don't often say "you" to someone, from what I recall right now. Some excerpts from CoS:

    "Harry Potter is humble and modest," said Dobby reverently, his orb-
    like eyes aglow. "Harry Potter speaks not of his triumph over He-Who-
    Must-Not-Be-Named -"
    As I just said, Dobby does not say "you are humble and modest", but he talks to/about Harry in third person. Actually, I can't recall a scene in the books when Dobby says "you" at all. He always says "Winky is..." "Harry Potter has..."

    "So long has Dobby wanted to meet you, sir ... Such an honor it is . . . ."
    "proper" English for that would be "I've been wanting to meet you for so long", or something like that. Yes, Dobby does use a past tense, but simplified.

    "Offend Dobby!" choked the elf. "Dobby has never been asked to sit
    down by a wizard - like an equal-"
    Here, on the other hand, Dobby's grammar is, as far as I can tell, correct (ignoring the fact that he is referring to himself in third person).

    "Dobby doubts it, sir. Dobby is always having to punish himself for
    something, sir. They lets Dobby get on with it, sir. Sometimes they
    reminds
    me to do extra punishments
    I added some emphasis here. For example, there's the "Dobby is always having to punish..." part, which has about the same structure as LucillaJoanna's example with "we is having plenty of owls". It's an incorrectly used progressive form, and that's apparently common in house-elf language.

    In general, I think it is valid to say that house elves know the correct grammatical structures, but don't always use them –*out of respect (such as the "Harry Potter"/"Master" vs "you"-thing) or maybe because they are too agitated to remember. They often simplify grammatical rules, as for example here:
    "Ah, speak not
    the name, sir! Speak not the name!"
    I think you could do a good job if you'd have a house elf make more "mistakes" when they're excited or agitated.


    I'd also like to show you some excerpts from a drabble I wrote some time ago; I struggled a lot with the way they talk, but I found that once I was "in" it, so to say, it came easily.

    “Sh Winky, we must not wake the other houseelves, they has too much work to do in the morning.” And, muttering so quietly that she wouldn’t hear him, he added, “Dobby has much work to do in the morning... But Dobby cares about Winky, he does.”

    “Winky is not needing help, Winky is needing her master!”

    “Professor Dumbledore is–”

    “Is not Winky’s master!” Tears were starting to well up in the little houseelf’s huge eyes as she started hitting the kitchen floor on which she was sitting violently with her little fists. “Mr Crouch is Winky’s master, and Winky wants to go back! But he is saying -hic- Winky is not to return, he is saying he doesn’t want his Winky, oooh noo
    “Dobby is taking you to rest and when you wake up, you is seeing that the world is much brighter and that Professor Dumbledore is kind and nice and a good man and that Dobby is your friend and is always helping and then Winky won’t need to think of Mr Crouch at all anymore, and–”
    “Because Winky is a good houseelf, not like Dobby! Winky had been taught properly, and Winky is not turning against her master as Dobby did! Winky is not wanting your help, you’re a– a bad houseelf!”
    Meh, I feel like I quoted half the drabble now <.< but anyway, I think it would be best if you looked at examples from the books, especially CoS, the chapter "Dobby's Warning", of course, and GoF (for Dobby and Winky, because there's a surprising lot of different HE characters – employed Winky, drunk Winky, scared Winky, concerned Winky, freed Dobby, concerned Dobby, helpful kitchen Elves, annoyed kitchen Elves, ...) and OotP/DH for Kreacher. Kreacher is again interesting –*you have him grumbly, and I doubt your HE's will be grumbly, but in DH, you have an Elf who is serving his master happily, and who has served a wealthy pureblood family all his life – and opposed to Dobby was happy with it.

    So (woah that must have been confusing >.< ) what I'm saying is – depending on what you want your Elf characters to be like, you can look at different Elves throughout the books and at how they speak, and just use that speech for your Elf.

    If it's a kind family who treat their Elf very well, and where the Elf is happy, you could make the Elf similar to either Dobby (if it's not a very formal family, or in a larger family) or Hokey (with a small family/a couple/a single person, in a more formal environment, with someone older). If it's a family where the Elf is treated badly, make him like Dobby around Mr Malfoy at the end of CoS. If it's a wealthy and well known family that acts rather formally, make them similar to Kreacher in DH, after "Kreacher's Tale".

    Substitute "make" to "you could make", of course. I'm merely suggesting guidelines if you're having trouble with the way your elves act and talk


    Quote Originally Posted by Inverarity
    Also, while they are servile, they aren't quite so obsequious as to say "It is being Anshee in the honor of being in Mistress’s presence." I think the only wizards vain enough to want that kind of elaborate self-abnegation would be the sort who like having elves literally lick their boots. Even the Malfoys would probably get tired of their servants saying, "Dobby is being in honor of quivering at Master's feet" all the time...
    Sorry, my post is already way too long, and this is slightly off-topic, but I want to comment on that briefly.

    Many of the families who have an Elf are rich pureblood families (of course depending on the era). Another quote from CoS:
    "Yeah, Mum's always wishing we had a house-elf to do the ironing," said George. "But all we've got is a lousy old ghoul in the attic and gnomes all over the garden. House-elves come with big old manors and castles and places like that; you wouldn't catch one in our house . . ."
    I imagine that families such as the Malfoys or even the Blacks would make sure that their servants don't forget their inferiority; Dobby mentions that they remind him of punishing himself and threaten him with his death, I am sure they would never tire of hearing Dobby reassuring himself and them of his obedience. Draco for example strikes me as someone who (at least until his sixth year) can't get enough of other people "licking his boots". I don't see his father mind either. He'd tell Dobby to shut up after a while, but he'd also be pleased to hear Dobby start with reassurances of his obedience every other day.

    And I suppose that there are more families that are similar to that, especially rich pureblood families before the second war against Voldemort.

    I'm not saying that all House-elves act like that, nor that all families expect their House-elves to act like that. If you make your Elf-OC say something along those lines, it has to fit the family. If, for example, the Weasleys DID have a House-elf, it would be very unlikely for the Elf to say such things frequently.

    They'd maybe do it once or twice, and then one of the Weasleys would tell them that it really isn't necessary in their household to be so formal. And this is how I understand what LucillaJoanna meant –*the House-elves don't know what household they are coming into. It could just as well be that their masters want that kind of thing; if they don't, they'll tell the Elf so, and it will be all right. But if the Elf is too informal when their master expected formal – well, that'd be bad for the Elf then. Of course House-elves aren't often in the position to have to apply for a job, because they are usually born into a family, but I suppose it happens occasionally, like when their previous master died without family, or they were fired. Especially an Elf who has been "set free" would want to show that he has manners and is obedient.

    Sorry that this became so long and pointless, and that I used about ten different spellings of "House-elf"..
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