Colloquial diction is conversational in nature and can be seen through the use of informal words that represent a specific place or time.
For instance, a writer chooses to use this kind of diction if they are interested in making a very realistic character or setting. These words might also represent a particular culture, state of mind, or the concept of how to live in the world.
Colloquial diction, especially when it comes to characters a poet has created, provides the reader with an opportunity to study the influence these decisions have on them, and on other readers. How does one man speaking colloquially match up against another who speaks more abstractly? What information might a reader derive, or even guess at, from their speech patterns? this is when diction gets into dialect and poetry becomes that much more complex and stimulating.
Sometimes colloquial diction makes itself known through phrases or aphorisms. Such as “put your money where your mouth is” or “pass the buck”. A reader might be able to tell something about the speaker because of the precise terminology they use. For example, saying “toque,” and originating from Canada, or “beanie” and being from the United States.
Examples of Colloquial Diction in Literature
Example #1: The Class Game by Mary Casey
As an example, let’s take a look at at the first five lines from Mary Casey’s poem ‘The Class Game’. Even in the title, this poem tells the reader a great deal about the power of colloquial speech.
How can you tell what class I’m from?
I can talk posh like some
With an ‘Olly in me mouth
Down me nose, wear an ‘at not a scarf
With me second-hand clothes.
These first lines, even without any information in regards to where the poet is from, or where she intended her speaker to be from, reveal a lot. The use of the word “posh” in the second line means the speaker has been influenced, in some way, by British culture. The word would not appear in the common language of American or Candian English-speaking youth.
Example #2 I’ve made out a will; I’m leaving myself by Simon Armitage
The second example, a short poem titled ‘I’ve made out a will; I’m leaving myself’ by Simon Armitage uses humor and colloquial speech to make a statement about death. Here are the first five lines from the poem:
I’ve made out a will; I’m leaving myself
to the National Health. I’m sure they can use
the jellies and tubes and syrups and glues,
the web of nerves and veins, the loaf of brains,
and assortment of fillings and stitches and wounds,
Here, the language is casual. The speaker is addressing someone, or a group of someone, who he feels comfortable with. he isn’t trying to elevate his speech to make himself sound more impressive or as though he’s been educated to some extreme degree. That isn’t the poem of the poem, and would, therefore, make little sense. Instead, he uses simple words and phrases to make fun of death, the process of making a will, and “the National Health”. It is the reference to “the National Health” in the second line that helps a reader place this poem. It refers to “The National Health Service,” a distinctly British institution.