I have seen more than a few questions pop up regarding the meanings, grammar, etc. of clearly non-grammatical prose (as @Matt put it here) used by authors to imply the dialect, accent, lack of education, etc. of a speaker or character in a story.

The most recent example is the question on which @Matt commented, Why is this possessive, not objective case?

It seems to me that these types of questions aren't really about English as a language so much as about the author's stylistic preference, and to me that seems entirely off topic. Do others agree, or is it just me?

The linked question does have two close votes under "too localized" (one mine), but to me it seems less localized, as these types of stylistic choices are fairly common in certain genres of literature, and rather entirely off topic for a site based on learning the English language.

If the community tends to agree, it might be useful to make a note if it somewhere official.

If this has been discussed elsewhere, please let me know, but I couldn't find it.

2 Answers 2


In reality, there may be no way for the author (or someone searching for that information) to know that it's not standard English. You can close it as off topic if you want to explain that this isn't a good example of "learning English", but rather a completely interpretive writing style including word play.

But I could just as easily argue that this is a colloquial use of English, and could be described, explained, and understood. Your choice, based on how useful/interesting/valuable you find the question.

The real problem is that the answers don't really describe what is going on here. If someone where to come across that question in their search to learn English, they got some pretty poor advice in the context of "learning English." I see that a lot here.


How is an English language learner to know that the phrase in question is

used by authors to imply the dialect, accent, lack of education, etc. of a speaker or character in a story

and not a misprint? While its use in spoken English (or in a text representing spoken English) does hint at this fact, learners cannot infer from this whether it is just plain wrong and used to show lack of education, whether it is a dialect or accent (which one, where/when used or by whom?) or "etc." Therefore I deem those questions to be on topic. Example:

In [Author: Book] I found "[direct speech]". I do not think that this is normal English, where it would read: "[text in usual (written) English]" (wouldn't it?). Assuming the author uses this on purpose to characterize the speaker, I guess it could be a dialect (which one?) or demonstrates the lack of education of the speaker (or something else?). What kind of speech is this?

Recognizing for example dialects or accents can be helpful in daily life as well as in understanding a book or motion picture.

  • I think this is a ridiculous argument. We've often had questions on ELL that net down to the questioner being unaware what he's asking about is a typo/mistranscription. They get closed, obviously. It's irrelevant whether the questioner knows his question is Off Topic or whatever. If it meets one of the closevote criteria, it can validly be closed. For the case in point, I closevoted as Too Localised. Not all questions in that general area would be so localised; in other cases I have no problem with leaving them open. Commented Apr 13, 2013 at 1:01
  • @FumbleFingers: Of course if it is a misprint it is localized and can be closed. I added an example of a question which I think could be a valid one.
    – Stephen
    Commented Apr 14, 2013 at 15:39
  • Fair enough. In light of that I've reversed my downvote. Commented Apr 14, 2013 at 19:46

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