views updated May 18 2018




Cinematic dialogue is oral speech between fictional characters. This distinguishes dialogue from other types of cinematic language such as voice-over narration, internal monologue, or documentary interviews, which have different characteristics.

Since the birth of the cinema, it has been said that "film is a visual medium." Supposedly, films must tell their stories visually—editing, deep focus, lighting, camera movement, and nifty special effects are what really count. Dialogue, on the other hand, is just something we have to put up with. Even the term "film viewing" does not take into account the role of dialogue. We are accustomed to the analogy of the filmgoer as voyeur, surreptitiously spying on the actions of the on-screen characters. Yet what is overlooked is that viewers are also auditors. In fact, they are eavesdroppers, listening in on conversations purportedly addressed to others, but conversations that—in reality—are designed to communicate vital information to the listeners in the dark.

Dialogue, by its very nature, is deceptive. The characters on the screen speak not from their hearts but from a script; they whisper secrets to a vast public; they speak to inform the audience, not each other. Watching a film, on one level we are conscious of this duplicity, but on another we willingly suspend disbelief. Dialogue that betrays its true address to the moviegoer or sounds implausible is often condemned as clumsy because it fractures this fictional compact. But sometimes screenwriters intentionally use dialogue to wink at the audience, as in Scream (1996), when one of the characters says: "Oh, please don't kill me, Mr. Ghostface, I wanna be in the sequel!" Moreover, who is to say what is "out of character" for a fictional character? In Hollywood Shuffle (1987) Robert Townsend asks us to reconsider our expectations about what is "true to life" when he presents an African American actor speaking in a stereotypical black dialect and then reveals the actor's actual speaking voice to be British and very cultured. Thus, all of the rules about dialogue usage offered by screenwriting handbooks should be viewed skeptically, as any rule may be violated for calculated effect.


Often, incidental dialogue works in movies to create a realistic flavor, to represent the everyday exchanges people have while ordering food or buying a newspaper. But dialogue also serves important functions within a film's story. Those who seek to minimize the value of dialogue have underestimated how much it contributes to every aspect of narrative film. Prescriptive rules might be better replaced by careful description and analysis of dialogue's typical functions.

  1. The identification of the fictional location and characters. As an example of dialogue's ability to anchor a narrative, consider the following exchange from an early scene in John Ford's Stagecoach (1939). The stagecoach driver has just directed a well-dressed lady passenger toward the hotel for a cup of coffee. As she starts walking to the hotel porch, another young woman addresses her:

    GIRL: Why, Lucy Mallory!

    LUCY: Nancy! How are you, Captain Whitney?

    CAPTAIN WHITNEY: Fine, thanks, Mrs. Mallory.

    NANCY: Why, whatever are you doing in Arizona?

    LUCY: I'm joining Richard in Lordsburg. He's there with his troops.

    CAPTAIN WHITNEY (offscreen): He's a lot nearer than that, Mrs. Mallory. He's been ordered to Dry Fork.

    NANCY: Why, that's the next stop for the stagecoach. You'll be with your husband in a few hours.

    This interchange tells us who Lucy is, where she is, where she is going, why she is going there, what her husband does, where her husband is, where the stage stops next, and how long it should take until the couple is reunited.

  2. The communication of narrative causality. The ulterior motive of much of film dialogue is to communicate "why?" and "how?" and "what next?" to the viewer. The "what next" may be a simple anticipation of a plot development, such as takes place during one of Devlin's meetings with Alicia in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (1946):

    DEVLIN: Look. Why don't you persuade your husband to throw a large shindig so that he can introduce his bride to Rio society, say sometime next week?

    ALICIA: Why?

    DEVLIN: Consider me invited. Then I'll try and find out about that wine cellar business.

    The dialogue has set up the party scene, Devlin's appearance there, and his and Alicia's surreptitious canvassing of the cellar, where they find that the wine bottles really contain uranium ore.

  3. The enactment of plot-turning events. Sometimes a verbal statement, a speech act, can itself be a major turning point in the plot. A soldier may be given a mission, characters may break down on the witness stand, someone in disguise may reveal his true identity. James Cameron's The Terminator (1984) is undeniably an action-oriented film with exciting chase scenes, explosions, and shootings. Yet even in this case, many of the key events are verbal, such as Sarah Connor's inadvertent betrayal of her location when the Terminator impersonates her mother on the phone, or Reese's declaration of a lifetime of devotion to a woman he had not yet met: "I came across time for you, Sarah. I love you. I always have." Verbal events—such as declarations of love or jury verdicts—can be the most thrilling moments of a narrative film.
  4. Character revelation. In our real lives we get to know acquaintances better by listening to them; obviously, dialogue helps audiences understand the characters' personalities and motivations. At one point in Casablanca (1942), Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is invited over to the table of Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt), where he learns that the Gestapo officer has been keeping a dossier on him. Rick borrows the notebook, glances at it, and quips, "Are my eyes really brown?" Such a statement shows his refusal to be intimidated and his satirical view of Germanic efficiency. This is important in the context of a conversation in which the major is warning Rick not to involve himself in the pursuit of resistance leader Victor Lazlo, and Rick seems to be agreeing not to interfere. Only Rick's verbal irreverence shows that he is not cowed.
  5. Providing "realistic" verbal wallpaper. Screenplays often insert lines that seem appropriate to the setting and situation: photographers yell out for one more picture, flight attendants offer something to drink, or children shout while at play. Sometimes, the wallpaper is so rococo that it has significant aesthetic appeal of its own, as in John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate (1962), where we are treated to a wonderfully bizarre rendition of a ladies' garden club meeting about "hydrangeas' horticultural importance."
  6. Guiding the viewer. Filmmakers accomplish this by using dialogue to control pacing or atmosphere. "That plane's dustin' crops where there ain't no crops" turns the audience's attention from the vacant highway to the airplane in North by Northwest (1959). In Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) is trying to chase the loathsome creature through the space ship's air ducts with a flamethrower. A female crewmember, Lambert, is coaching Dallas over a walkie-talkie as she watches a motion detector. She screams: "Oh God, it's moving right towards you! … Move! Get out of there! [Inaudible] Move, Dallas! Move, Dallas! Move, Dallas! Get out!" Such lines are not particularly informative. Their main function is to frighten the viewer, to increase the scene's tension. In this case, dialogue is accomplishing the task often taken by evocative background music—it is working straight on the viewer's emotions.
  7. The insertion of thematic messages. Putting thematic or moral messages in the mouths of their characters allows filmmakers to talk to the audience. For example, at the end of Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent, filmed and released in 1940, the hero, a radio reporter, warns of the Nazi threat and urges Americans to join in the fight:

    All that noise you hear isn't static; it's death coming to London. Yes, they're coming here now; you can hear the bombs falling on the streets and the homes.… It's as if the lights were all out everywhere, except in America. Keep those lights burning. Cover them with steel, ring them with guns. Build a canopy of battleships and bombing planes around them. Hello America! Hang on to your lights. They're the only lights left in the world.

    Such explicit messages are not confined to wartime persuasion. Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) includes an effective passage from J. R. R. Tolkien's novel in which Gandalf instructs Frodo on the merits of pity and the danger of passing judgment.

  8. Exploitation of the resources of language. Dialogue opens up vistas unreachable by silent film. With the addition of verbal language, cinema was offered infinite possibilities in terms of puns, jokes, misunderstandings, witticisms, metaphors, curses, whispers, screams, songs, poetry, or storytelling. In The Wizard of Oz (1939), when the Wizard challenges his supplicants, he does so with relish:

    WIZARD: Step forward, Tin Man. You dare to come to me for a heart, do you? You clinking clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk?… And you, Scarecrow, have the effrontery to ask for a brain, you billowing bale of bovine fodder?

    Viewers commonly adopt a film's most memorable lines—such as Bette Davis's "Fasten your seatbelts—it's going to be a bumpy night" in All About Eve (1950)—much the same way that earlier generations used to learn and quote maxims and proverbs. Cinematic dialogue has had an immense influence on how we speak and, consequently, on how we understand our culture and ourselves.


The history of film dialogue starts with the silent era. Speech sometimes literally accompanied silent films—some exhibitors hired lecturers to narrate silent films and local actors to speak lines for the characters. As the industry moved toward standardization, film producers found it desirable to include printed dialogue and expository intertitles. Silent film historian Barry Salt has found dialogue intertitles as early as 1904; Eileen Bowser has recorded that from 1907 to 1915 producers experimented with finding the exactly right placement and format for such titles. After 1915, with feature-length films, title writing became a specialty, and dialogue intertitles were used for humor, to convey important information, and to individualize characters. The critical reverence of the few films that torturously managed to avoid intertitles, such as F. W. Murnau's The Last Laugh (1924), should not be taken as indicative of the typical practices of the silent era. After all, in silent movies the characters were not supposed to be mutes. The characters spoke to one another; the incapacity was on the side of the filmgoers—we were the ones who were deaf.

The transition to sound in the late 1920s was complicated for American studios and theater owners, demanding great outlays of capital and entailing negotiation between competing technologies and corporate strategies. Equally upsetting for some in the film community was the wrenching shift in their approach to their craft caused by the possibilities of sound. The apprehension that sound would be the death of the visual artistry of silent film was initially abetted by the limitations of early microphones and recording apparatus, which restricted camera movement. From a historical perspective, what is remarkable about the conversion to sound is not that it was bumpy, but that the technical and aesthetic problems were solved so quickly and successfully, so that by the early 1930s the use of dialogue, sound effects, and music betrays none of the restrictions, tinniness, or fumbling of the transition films.

Immediately after the incorporation of sound, Hollywood began a wholesale importation of East Coast writers. The newspapermen, playwrights, and vaudevillians who went West in the early 1930s brought with them new sensibilities, novel stories, and a fresh approach to language.

In addition, sound instantly altered the balance of genres. Film musicals burst forth, as did literal adaptations of stage plays, which now could retain not just plot points, but much of the original stage dialogue. Verbally based comedies, featuring performers such as the Marx Brothers or W. C. Fields, expanded the contours of film comedy. Moreover, genres that had been established during the silent era underwent sea changes because of the new aesthetic capabilities. Each genre developed its own dialogue conventions, such as the street argot in gangster films or the dialect in westerns, conventions that turned out to be just as important to genre dynamics as their visual iconography.

A third event of the 1930s was the adoption of the Motion Picture Production Code, written in 1930 and more stringently enforced by the Hays Office after 1934. One of the reasons why this formal practice of industry self-censorship was put in place at this time is that verbal transgressions of prevailing standards were now possible. Although much of the Code deals with overall plot development, moral attitudes, and what viewers might learn about illicit behavior, several of the tenets deal specifically with language. For example:

  • Oaths should never be used as a comedy element. Where required by the plot, the less offensive oaths may be permitted.
  • Vulgar expressions come under the same treatment as vulgarity in general. Where women and children are to see the film, vulgar expressions (and oaths) should be cut to the absolute essentials required by the situation.
  • The name of Jesus Christ should never be used except in reverence.

b. Chicago, Illinois, 29 August 1898, d. 6 August 1959

No one quite had such a way with dialogue as Preston Sturges. As a screenwriter, he constructed plots that were far-fetched and sometimes incoherent; as a director, his visuals were competent but uninspired. But as a dialogue writer, Sturges was unparalleled.

Preston Sturges had an eccentric upbringing; his mother divorced his father and married a Chicago socialite, only to leave him for a free-spirited life in Europe, following dancer Isadora Duncan. He lived in Europe off and on from 1901 to 1914. Sturges studied in a series of private schools in the United States and Europe and began writing plays in the late 1920s—some of which were acclaimed, others spectacular flops. He was hired as a writer by Universal in 1932.

Sturges worked as a screenwriter for numerous studios, and several of his scripts—such as The Good Fairy (1935), Easy Living (1937), and Remember the Night (1940)—were turned into successful movies. In 1940 Paramount agreed to let him direct his own scripts. The Paramount years were his most productive, with Sturges turning out a series of sparkling comedies in quick succession. Then Sturges's career fell off dramatically in the late 1940s when he left Paramount for a disastrous venture with Howard Hughes; he could not regain his footing during his short contract with Fox, and developed a reputation for being overpriced, arrogant, and unable to bring a film in on budget.

Sturges's dialogue is never "realistic"; no real person ever talked like his characters. He created a made-up, nonsense language for his vaguely European gigolo, Toto, in The Palm Beach Story (1942), but the rest of his people—from rich socialites, to Texas millionaires, to constables, to card sharks, to film producers—speak with equal disregard of verisimilitude. Sturges moved back and forth between long, eloquent phrasemaking to abrupt, staccato interchanges, and he mixed in noises such as hiccups or barking dogs. He imagined characters from every social sphere and cast actors with a wide range of voices, from mellifluous to gravelly.

The words flying out of these characters' mouths are improbable, unpredictable, and funny. For instance, in Easy Living, J. B. Ball throws his wife's fur coat off the roof. It lands on Mary Smith (Jean Arthur) as she is riding on the top level of a New York bus. Surprised, angry, she turns around to the innocent passenger sitting behind her, asking, "Say, what's the big idea, anyway?" He calmly replies: "Kismet." In Sullivan's Travels (1941), studio head Mr. LeBrand recalls Sullivan's previous hit films: "So Long, Sarong," "Hey Hey in the Hayloft," and "Ants in Your Plants of 1939." LeBrand and his associate suggest that Sully's new project should be "Ants in Your Plants of 1941," and they offer him Bob Hope, Mary Martin, and, maybe, Bing Crosby. And in The Lady Eve (1941), when Jean hatches her plan to impersonate a British Lady and get her revenge on Charles, she remarks, "I need him [Charles] like the ax needs the turkey." Hollywood romantic comedies needed Sturges's wit to the same degree.


Christmas in July (1940), The Great McGinty (1940), The Lady Eve (1941), Sullivan's Travels (1941), The Palm Beach Story (1942), Hail the Conquering Hero (1944), Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)


Curtis, James. Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982.

Harvey, James. Romantic Comedy in Hollywood: From Lubitsch to Sturges. New York: Knopf, 1987.

Sturges, Preston. Five Screenplays by Preston Sturges, edited by Brian Henderson. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

——. Four More Screenplays by Preston Sturges. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

Ursini, James. The Fabulous Life and Times of Preston Sturges: An American Dreamer. New York: Curtis Books, 1973.

Sarah Kozloff

Along with the Production Code, another key pressure on dialogue throughout the studio years was the star system. The famous advertising slogan for Anna Christie (1930)—"Garbo Talks!"—is representative of the public's interest in hearing its favorite movie stars. Scripts have always been specifically tailored for their stars' personae and verbal abilities.

Studio-era directors and screenwriters developed distinctive dialogue styles. Especially in screwball comedies, such as Bringing Up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday (1940), director Howard Hawks (1896–1977) would have his actors speak quickly and jump on each others' lines; his overlapping dialogue became a central element of his films' breakneck pacing. Billy Wilder (1906–2002), who had emigrated from Germany and taught himself English by listening to baseball games, often foregrounded his fascination with American slang. Orson Welles (1915–1985) put his experience with radio into the soundtracks of his movies, so that each character's voice is inflected by his or her spatial surroundings. Joseph Mankiewicz's (1909–1993) forte was depicting literate, urbane characters, such as Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) in All About Eve (1950), while Preston Sturges excelled at snappy comic dialogue.

The dissolution of the Production Code in the late 1950s, along with the gradual loosening of cultural restrictions throughout the 1960s, prompted a seismic upheaval in scriptwriting, allowing the frank treatment of taboo subject matter, the incorporation of street language, and the inclusion of obscenity. Changes in social expectations were also matched by technological developments, such as improvements in mixing and the invention of radio mikes, which led to more flexibility in sound recording.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s American movies, influenced by the breezy French New Wave, featured dialogue that was noticeably more colloquial, less careful about rhythm, less polished, more risqué, and marked by an improvisational air. The accompanying acting style was less declamatory, faster, and more throwaway; the recording of lines allowed much more overlapping and a higher degree of inaudibility. This more realistic, informal style of dialogue appears in John Cassavetes's (1929–1989) Faces (1968), which relies on improvisation; in the films of Robert Altman (b. 1925), who pioneered the use of radio mikes to allow multiple actors to speak at once in M*A*S*H (1970), McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), and Nashville (1975); and in Martin Scorsese's (b. 1942) Mean Streets (1973) and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974).

Since the mid-1980s, low-budget and independent productions have continued an adventuresome approach to dialogue. This stems partially from independent filmmakers' genuine desire to break new ground, but novel manipulations of dialogue have also moved to the fore because they are cheaper and more easily accomplished than extensive special effects or lush production values. Clear examples can be found in Louis Malle's My Dinner with André (1981), which confines the film to a dinnertime conversation between two friends; David Mamet's House of Games (1987), in which the characters speak in carefully polished cadences approaching blank verse; Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho (1991), which literally mixes Shakespeare with prosaic speech; and Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust (1992), in which characters speak in a Gullah dialect. Finally, Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino have made verbal dexterity downright fashionable.

Yet big-budget blockbusters, which depend so heavily on earning back their investments with overseas distribution, are less likely to prioritize their dialogue or to exploit the resources of language. An expensive release, such as Wolfgang Petersen's Troy (2004), incorporates speech only as necessary for narrative clarity, has the actors articulate each sentence pointedly (woodenly), and focuses audience attention instead on action sequences and special effects.

The issue of international distribution brings up the one aspect of dialogue that opponents were right to fear—the fact that inclusion of national languages restricts audience comprehension. Advocates of silent film felt that the cinema had discovered a universal language that would enhance international community. From one perspective, sound cinema has managed to continue that ideal: the international dominance of American cinema has been a tool of global English language dispersal. Audiences around the world have learned English, or accepted dubbing, or coped with subtitles. The isolating effects of national language have primarily injured American viewers, who with less incentive to work through language difference, have cut themselves off from most international cinema. The solutions to this drawback are educational and social: to embrace linguistic variety, not to bring narrative complexity back down to the level of pantomime.

SEE ALSO Film History;Silent Cinema;Sound


Altman, Rick, ed. Sound Theory/Sound Practice. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Chion, Michel. Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen. Edited and translated by Claudia Gorbman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Chothia, Jean. Forging a Language: A Study of the Plays of Eugene O'Neill. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Devereaux, Mary. "'Of Talk and Brown Furniture': The Aesthetics of Film Dialogue." Post Script 6 (1986): 32–52.

Faulkner, Christopher. "René Clair, Marcel Pagnol, and the Social Dimension of Speech." Screen 35 (1994): 157–170.

Kozloff, Sarah. Overhearing Film Dialogue. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. "The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930. In The Movies in Our Midst: Documents in the Cultural History of Film in America, edited by Gerald Mast. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982: 321–333.

Page, Norman. Speech in the English Novel. London: Longman, 1973.

Sarah Kozloff


views updated May 29 2018

DIALOGUE AmE also dialog. A traditional semi-technical term for a CONVERSATION, especially if it is formal, or is presented in WRITING or print according to the conventions of drama and fiction.

Dialogue in drama

The playwrights of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods (late 16c, early 17c) were the first to develop a full set of conventions for writing and presenting dialogue in English. Their use of dialogue, especially in blank verse, followed the classical tradition, in which speakers take turns to make lengthy, set-piece speeches, regardless of whether they are at ease in their homes or surrounded by enemies on the field of battle. Initial English attempts at dialogue did not therefore differ much from the stylized conversations of Homer's Iliad, except that at times the conversation of their characters could be short, sharp, and close to real life, as in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (3. 2):1st PLEBEIAN.
Me thinkes there is much reason in his sayings.
If thou consider rightly of the matter.Cæsar ha's had great wrong.
3rd PLEBEIAN. Ha's hee not Masters?
I feare there will a worse come in his place.
Prose dialogue was often reserved for less elevated moments and characters in a play, such as the comic exploitation of kinds of English that were remote from the London stage, as with the Irishman Mackmorrice in Henry V (3. 3):GOWER. How now, Captaine Mackmorrice, haue you quit the Mynes? haue the Pioners giuen o're?
MACKMORRICE. By Chrish Law tish ill done: the work ish giue ouer, the Trompet sound the Retreat. By my Hand I sweare, and my fathers Soule, the Worke ish ill done: it ish giue ouer: I would haue blowed vp the Towne, so Chrish saue me law, in an houre. O tish ill done, tish ill done: by my Hand tish ill done.
Prose was the common medium of drama by the end of the 17c, although Dryden and others wrote tragedies in heroic couplets. Prose was considered to be more realistic than verse and verse has never again been the principal medium of dramatic dialogue in English. In 18c prose drama, the presentation of turn-taking continued in much the same classical style as the longer speeches of Hamlet and Othello: for example, the following excerpt from Sheridan's comedy, The Rivals (1775):SIR ANTHONY. Why, Mrs. Malaprop, in moderation, now, what would you have a woman know?
MRS. MALAPROP. Observe me, Sir Anthony.—I would by no means wish a daughter of mine to be a progeny of learning; I don't think so much learning becomes a young woman; for instance, I would never let her meddle with Greek, or Hebrew, or Algebra, or Simony, or Fluxions, or Paradoxes, or such inflammatory branches of learning neither would it be necessary for her to handle any of your mathematical, astronomical, diabolical instruments.

Dialogue in novels

The conventions of dramatic scripts required each speaker to have a separate section, for easy consultation. The conventions of prose, as seen in the novels of the 17–18c, did not follow the theatre, but used long, unbroken paragraphs within which entire conversations could be set, as in Henry Fielding's The History of Tom Jones (1749):
“You don't imagine, I hope,” cries the squire, “that I have taught her any such things.” “Your ignorance, brother,” returned she, “as the great Milton says, almost subdues my patience.” “D—n Milton!” answered the squire: “if he had the impudence to say so to my face, I'd lent him a douse, thof he was never so great a man. Patience! An you come to that, sister, I have more occasion of patience, to be used like an overgrown schoolboy, as I am by you. Do you think no one hath any understanding, unless he hath been about at court?”In this style, such formulas as answered the squire and returned she were well established and considerable flexibility was available, as with the dramatists, to capture special kinds of SPEECH. By the 19c, conversation was often still embedded in PARAGRAPHS, but a style similar to the dramatic script was beginning to open up these great blocks of print and speakers were often given paragraphs to themselves, turn for turn. Emily Brontë uses the ‘open-plan’ approach in Wuthering Heights (1847) in a passage that, like Shakespeare, uses dialogue to present dialect:
“Have you found Heathcliff, you ass?” interrupted Catherine. “Have you been looking for him, as I ordered?”“I sud more likker look for th' horse,” he replied. “It 'ud be to more sense. Bud, I can look for norther horse nur man of a neeght loike this—as black as t' chimbley! und Heathcliff's noan t' chap to coom at my whistle—happen he'll be less hard o' hearing wi' ye!By the end of the 19c, fictional dialogue had become more or less stable. Writers had become accustomed to paragraph-by-paragraph turntaking and felt secure enough in their own and their readers' ability to move down a page of short paragraphs to dispense increasingly with such aids as he said and she answered in every paragraph. Novelists became more skilful in presenting the registers and varieties of speech; dialect, previously used mainly for comic or eccentric effect, was given by writers like Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy to serious and even tragic characters. From the late 19c to the present day, fictional conversation has generally been modelled closely on real life and used to exhibit characters' actions, styles, and attributes, as in this excerpt from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's short storyThe Five Orange Pips’ (in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1892):‘I have come for advice.’
‘That is easily got.’
‘And help.’
‘That is not always so easy.’
‘I have heard of you, Mr. Holmes. I heard from Major Prendergast how you saved him in the Tankerville Club Scandal.’
‘Ah, of course. He was wrongfully accused of cheating at cards.’
‘He said that you could solve anything.’
‘He said too much.’
‘That you are never beaten.’
‘I have been beaten four times—three times by men and once by a woman.’
Once such a flexible set of conventions was established, it became possible to experiment with other possibilities, in some cases abandoning entirely the system of QUOTATION MARKS built up in the tradition of fiction and trying something closer to the unadorned dramatic script, as in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916: ch. 5):—Try to be one of us, repeated Davin. In your heart you are an Irishman but your pride is too powerful.
—My ancestors threw off their language and took another, Stephen said. They allowed a handful of foreigners to subject them. Do you fancy I am going to pay in my own life and person debts they made? What for?
—For our freedom, said Davin. … Ireland first, Stevie. You can be a poet or mystic after.
—Do you know what Ireland is? asked Stephen with cold violence. Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow.
By and large, however, the experimentation has been less with quotation marks, turn-taking devices, and white space, and more with content: for example, in V. S. Naipaul's A Flag on the Island (1967), ‘outlandish’ speakers of English, remote descendants of Mackmorrice, turn up in a new guise. Fully conforming to the conventions he learned at school, Naipaul nonetheless uses the time-honoured techniques of English literary dialogue to make a point of his own about the trials of being a writer using a language with conventions far removed from everyday life:
‘You know, I have been doing a lot of thinking. You know, Frankie, I begin to feel that what is wrong with my books is not me, but the language I use. You know, in English, black is a damn bad word. You talk of a black deed. How then can I write in this language?’‘I have told you already. You are getting too black for me.’‘What we want is our own language. I intend to write in our own language. You know this patois we have. Not English, not French, but something we have made up. This is our own. You were right. Damn those lords and ladies. Damn Jane Austen. This is ours, this is what we have to work with.’

Writers of dialogue will always have the problem of accommodating the many sounds of English to the 26 letters of the alphabet. Deviant spelling and typographical contrivance are used to compensate for the inadequate and inconsistent relationship between the spoken and the written. Features of speech can sometimes be shown by such means, but usually they continue to be managed through such ad-hoc authorial formulas as he stated emphatically, she whispered, Sabina said huskily, and Drake answered, slurring his words.



views updated May 11 2018

di·a·logue / ˈdīəˌläg; -ˌlôg/ (also di·a·log) • n. conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play, or movie: the book consisted of a series of dialogues | passages of dialogue. ∎  a discussion between two or more people or groups, esp. one directed toward exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem: the U.S. would enter into a direct dialogue with Vietnam | interfaith dialogue. • v. [intr.] take part in a conversation or discussion to resolve a problem: he stated that he wasn't going to dialogue with the guerrillas. ∎  [tr.] provide (a movie or play) with a dialogue.PHRASES: dialogue of the deaf a discussion in which each party is unresponsive to what the others say.


views updated May 29 2018

Dialogue. Religions historically have been traditional discriminators within humanity, sacralizing identity by force of doctrine and culture, and establishing (indeed, being) systems for the protection and transmission of highly valued, non-negotiable information.

But in recent decades ‘dialogue’ has come to be a word in frequent currency among theologians—not the Socratic-style dialogue which assumed and sought the single thread of reason and logic, but a much more perplexing engagement with the authority and interrelation of truth-systems claiming disparate, if not rival, sanction in and by the transcendent.

The Vatican Secretariat for Non-Christian Religions, the Unit on Witness and Dialogue of the World Council of Churches, and the Committee for Relations with People of Other Faiths of the British Council of Churches, have published studies in the theology of dialogue and guidelines for relations with other faiths and with the ethnic groups which hold them. Observers from other faiths, firmly excluded from the 1961 Assembly of the World Council of Churches, were officially invited and welcomed at its 1983 Assembly in Vancouver.


views updated May 21 2018

1. Vocal work, mainly from medieval times to 17th cent., in which echo, alternation, or contrast suggested spoken dialogue.

2. Spoken dialogue is used in some types of opera, e.g. Fr. opéra-comique, Ger. Singspiel, Sp. zarzuela, and Eng. ballad opera (and the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan). In Beethoven's Fidelio there is spoken dialogue and melodrama. In some cases spoken dialogue has been replaced by accompanied recitative comp. by someone else (e.g. Guiraud for Bizet's Carmen). There are examples of a brief spoken passage used in opera to great dramatic effect, e.g. in Britten's Peter Grimes.


views updated May 14 2018

dialogue XIII. — OF. dialoge (mod. dialogue) — L. dialogus — Gr. diálogos conversation, discourse, f. dialégesthai converse (see DIALECT).


views updated May 14 2018


See Models; Science and Religion, Methodologies; Science and Religion, Models and Relations