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Spelling and Grammar Q&A

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Thanks Sumbloke, this is a very useful resource.

The author, Professor Paul Brians, however, has asked that the link should be to this page containing information for which he is often asked. The errors page is linked from there.

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What a great list! And it includes one of my all-time favorites, 'anyways'.

Colin :icon_twisted:

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I'd like to suggest that when a good reference like this comes along that it be put in a section of the forum that is permanent--that is, where it can readily be found by a writer or editor.

Anyways, just a suggestion.

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I'd like to suggest that when a good reference like this comes along that it be put in a section of the forum that is permanent--that is, where it can readily be found by a writer or editor.

Anyways, just a suggestion.

It is an excellent suggestion vwl, and I am already preparing such a reference forum. Coming soon! (as soon as I can get a spare moment. :icon_twisted:

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There are greater blunders than spelling and grammar

Correct spelling and grammar must be observed when appropriate, especially in essay. However, the narrative in story telling has greater needs -- authenticity of the characters and the period described by the narrative.

Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" is an effective model where "incorrect spelling and grammar" have to be integral part of the narrative to achieve authenticity. While I am not an expert of British idioms, colloquialisms, dialects and such, I believe Mike Arram attempted to capture aunthenticity for his characters -- mainly British and "Rothenians" (a fictional European country) -- considering their socio-economic background, level of education and age.

What I find more troubling are narratives where the characters have grasp of the language or depth of reasoning beyond their age, background and level of education. Achieving a level of competence to arrive at more holistic characters and more accurate portrayal of a period would require discipline and perseverance that perhaps only the more serious writers in the community might be willing to undertake.

As a non-Westerner, although now living and a citizen of the US, a common mistake by Caucasian Westerners is to assume that those from different culture must follow the proper syntax and grammar of British or American English. Rather, modern linguists have accepted the notion that written and spoken English, as structured by the culture of other countries are just as acceptable.

Neil

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There are greater blunders than spelling and grammar

Correct spelling and grammar must be observed when appropriate, especially in essay. However, the narrative in story telling has greater needs -- authenticity of the characters and the period described by the narrative.

Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" is an effective model where "incorrect spelling and grammar" have to be integral part of the narrative to achieve authenticity. While I am not an expert of British idioms, colloquialisms, dialects and such, I believe Mike Arram attempted to capture aunthenticity for his characters -- mainly British and "Rothenians" (a fictional European country) -- considering their socio-economic background, level of education and age.

What I find more troubling are narratives where the characters have grasp of the language or depth of reasoning beyond their age, background and level of education. Achieving a level of competence to arrive at more holistic characters and more accurate portrayal of a period would require discipline and perseverance that perhaps only the more serious writers in the community might be willing to undertake.

As a non-Westerner, although now living and a citizen of the US, a common mistake by Caucasian Westerners is to assume that those from different culture must follow the proper syntax and grammar of British or American English. Rather, modern linguists have accepted the notion that written and spoken English, as structured by the culture of other countries are just as acceptable.

Neil

This is one of those discussions where definitions are sorely needed. Quite obviously, the most basic purpose of language is to communicate, and quite obviously one can do that and provide clear understanding of intent using horrific grammar, diction, pronunciation and the like.

Likewise, most educators and scholars agree that language is continually evolving, and what was incorrect usage yesterday is perfectly fine today. As you pointed out, what might be appropriate for a formal essay is different from what can be written in narrative. So how you express your feelings when your posse is confronted by a rival group carrying chains and bats is different from what you'd say at Miss McCumber's Tea Afternoon and Dance party.

Therefore, I'm uncertain exactly what is meant by: a common mistake by Caucasian Westerners is to assume that those from different culture must follow the proper syntax and grammar of British or American English. If ex-culture communicators are writing essays for publication, it's probably wise for them to try to conform to standard practices of writing. If they're calling downstairs to tell the tenement janitor that the elevator isn't working again and their toilet is backing up, a different sort of language is certainly acceptable. And expected.

C

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I suspect the difficulty of writing in a way that would be done by others in other cultures far outweigh the amount of energy writers are willing to put into free online fiction. The most practical approach is probably to find an editor in the country 'in question', allowing for the greatest authenticity, without excessive effort.

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Neil, I agree with your statement about the variation of English being acceptable as it pertains to various countries.

I also think that that the Queen's English is adaptable and flexible in this regard.

Maintaining the colloquialisms of local inhabitants is however fraught with unexpected dangers. For instance, if I were to write dialog in a way that a white Australian perceives how an Australian Aboriginal speaks, he could very soon find himself being accused of discrimination. Yet there is a different speech pattern between cultures and to suggest that pattern without being insulting sometimes may need an author to aim for the neutrality of more formal English as unsatisfactory as that may be.

Dan Kirk in his Do Over stories suggests a Russian speaking English with a Russian accent very successfully by leaving out the occasional indefinite article. He was so subtle in this that I had to read the sentence twice when I first came across it, to realise what he was achieving.

Unfortunately not all accents allow for this to be so charmingly realised in writing. I doubt there would be any Native American who would be pleased with a modern film that tried to make fun of the "How?" greeting that was mercilessly used in comic routines in the 1930-40's movies.

It is worth noting too, that accents are mostly due to lazy speech patterns even within a given culture. The best and most famous example being Eliza Doolittle in the musical "My Fair Lady," where she is taught to overcome her east end of London cockney accent to speak English proper, like. :icon11:

People are very easily upset when they think they are speaking properly and it is revealed to them that they ain't manifesting in reality, the sound that is in their head. This is the first lesson in speech delivery that an actor must learn. The way he thinks he sounds may not be the way he actually sounds. Elocution in the case of the actor is a death trap to his craft, he actually needs voice production training, which is very different.

How far, we as authors can go in conveying the accents of a culture in writing, without being accused of being insulting, is becoming more and more difficult.

I dare not even mention some of the classic movie performances of yesteryear that would not be permitted on screen today without attracting howls of protest.

Yet there are acceptable translations that are overlooked. In Gone With the Wind, Scarlet says, "Fiddle di di." When this was translated for Italian audiences it was dubbed as "Mamma Mia! ." That hardly brings the Old South to mind.

For an extraordinary use of English from an older period, see the unfinished story "The King's Beast" at Nifty Historical. Admittedly this is within the history and confines of an England now gone, but I do admire the way the author has suggested the forms of English in the period in which his story is set, thereby adding to an authentic feel to the story. Compare this with the rather more subtle and descriptive method used by Pecman in his story Pieces of Destiny. Both methods are admirably used.

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It is always a fine line to be walked between conforming to standards correct for the majority of readers, or terminology and usage correct for the characters in their situation. If it is too difficult for the reader to understand, or follow comfortably, the reader will depart, however, if it is too 'reader driven' then the story suffers from unnaturalness.

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Too, a writer can be as sensitive as he can be to proper conventions, only to have them blow up on him to the point he is scorned later on as evolution of custom and time conspire against him.

The classic Song of the South, at the time it was made, was thought to be sensitive to the owner/slave relationship and showed what was then thought be understanding and harmony. Fifty years later, it was excoriated.

C

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Perhaps a partial response to Cole's point: A more apt example might be Arthur Rimbaud's poetry, defying all conventions of his time. It was a literary pursuit that had the life of a wildfire -- the brashness, vulgarity and fierceness of youth that was then extinguished (or more correctly abandoned) as fast as the passion had begun.

Were it not for the devotion of his sister, and more so by the fanatic campaign launched by his lover (Paul Verlaine), Rimbaud's poetry might have perished in time. Instead, Rimbaud's poetry is considered to be the source inspiration of many poets, writers and artists, after his time, and the basis of modern poetry.

In retrospect, one could say that Rimbaud did not aim primarily to communicate but -- with all the arrogance and certainty of the young -- to curve a new path. The hell with the old conventions! This attitude and outlook were embodied not only in his communications, his actions and more appropriately in his written poems.

Throughout history, many, like Rimbaud, might have attempted to be defiant of the conventions of their time. However, like "Icarus" their attempts perished in the dust of time. Unlike the mythology that is "Icarus", these failed attempts were forgotten.

When I have more time, I might try to respond to the point raised by Cole: About cross-cultural communication as it pertains to day-to-day life. In the example given, getting the plumbing fixed. For now, a similar example to that raised by Cole would be the ballot initiatives to declare "English as the official language" in the United States. Is this approach more effective than the bilingual mode of communication adopted in Canada, or multi-lingual communication more common in a number of European countries?

From a more personal perspective, as a Filipino, political activism -- i.e., freeing ourselves from the shackles of past colonialism -- prompted me to advocate for the reduction if not outright abolition of Spanish as required courses in undergraduate curriculum. Moreover, while I have taken Spanish courses, I did not pay much attention to them, effectively not learning the language. Now that I live in the United States, I realized how pigheaded my past actions were knowing that the US is becoming more Hispanic. More important, while I am not a historian by training, I have come to realize that Spanish is key to a deeper understanding of our past, both historically and culturally, as a nation and as a people.

As noted by Des and Trab, I too cringe when I watch English subtitled version of our local films destined for international release. I read a lot of German, Russian and French classics, for example. But, I knew that the English versions I read more than likely lost some meaning in the translation. This is evident from the context reading various translations of the same work.

Part of the difficulty is that there are words in one language that have no equivalent translation in other languages. In the Filipino languages, the accent or simple intonation can radically change the meaning of the same word. Attempts to capture these variations, especially among younger generation, sometimes involve the written form include syllabication, spelling modifications or addition of symbols. At times, there might even be a play with how the words are structured in a sentence.

The insensitive or what I refer to as culturally-challenged Western reporters quite often simply make fun of these nuances or peculiarities of languages they do not understand.

In attempt to avoid such ridicule by Westerners, many older Filipino writers, especially those educated in Western countries kowtow to the formal written structure of American English. The result is that Filipinos do not identify with written Filipino English literature, except when forced to muddle with them in the classroom. On the other hand, the educated Filipino elite are generally more conversant with standard literature written by Westerners. A cultural divide ensues that has more lasting repercussions beyond simple enjoyment of the arts and literature.

Equally important, there are nuance imbued by each culture that is expressed during communication. The latter is even more difficult to impart, especially with written narrative. One very simple example, eye contact may be viewed in the West as the proper thing to do, or to indicate that one is being honest. In some cultures, prolonged "eye contact" in certain situations may be construed as disrespect, arrogance or worse, defiance.

I believe personally that the literature, music and arts represent the heart and soul of a people and a nation. In our world that is becoming a global village, understanding these cultural heritage from the perspective of the peoples of the world is key to our living in harmony in a more global village.

If only for the aforementioned reason, it is incumbent that we, as part of a global village, strive to understand, be sensitive or if possible become familiar with the structure of communication of peoples of the world.

This appeal may seem too distant from what should be the focus of the writers in our community. But what we should remember are these: We shall forever be a minority in a larger society and in a global village. What defines us as a "community" is more linked to our intellectual and emotional bonds, rather than associated with any specific institution in the larger society. Our narrative stories, expressed in more personal manner are vital so that these intellectual and emotional bonds lead to more effective interaction, and perhaps even deeper physical relations (and this I meant not just in the sexual context).

Neil

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Very interesting discourse, Neil. I could respond to much of what you said, but it's the stuff Des delights in propounding upon, and I wouldn't want to steal his thunder.

I would like to make a remark on the following, however: I might try to respond to the point raised by Cole: About cross-cultural communication as it pertains to day-to-day life. In the example given, getting the plumbing fixed. For now, a similar example to that raised by Cole would be the ballot initiatives to declare "English as the official language" in the United States. Is this approach more effective than the bilingual mode of communication adopted in Canada, or multi-lingual communication more common in a number of European countries?

I myself think a ballot initiative to make English the official language in the US is puerile. The people in a country are going to speak and communicate in the language in which they are most comfortable, and making one language 'official' isn't going to change that. This is conservative politics at its worse, trying to hold back the clock, not recognizing the present for what it is and embracing it, being fearful of what is new. I live in LA, where there is a huge ex-Mexican population. The politics of the marketplace prevail here. The immigrants who prosper are those who maintain their native tongues and learn their new one, and are comfortable in both. There doesn't have to be a law to support this. Those who wish to thrive, learn.

Quebec, I believe, has made French their official language. We need some Canadians to affirm or deny, but my understanding is that this hasn't helped the economy in that province and might have hurt it. Furthermore, I don't have the feeling that the use of French in the rest of the country has really become common. Separatist actions are too insular to garner great success, usually.

Most Europeans I know speak several languages. I've always envied them for that. I wish we taught languages in the early grades in schools like they do there.

C

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Calm down Cole. I can see that you're upset. But you're right in that where we live and try to thrive has a major impact on how we communicate. I live in New Mexico, and like you, we have a major Hispanic culture here. I need to learn Spanish, not to just talk to people, but to understand my neighbors. to be a part of their humanity. I think I'm not the norm here. Many people that I talk to refuse to learn Spanish, thinking that we're in America that that they should learn English. Stupid, stupid, narrow thinking

Making a specific language a requirement is just plain foolhardy and a dip into the past. We're a worldwide society (especially with the internet), and communication (and understanding) is paramount. I wish more people understood that.

Neil, you're from a different culture and can see the paradox here. We want to get to know you, but are resistant to understanding your culture through your language. We're not alone, it happens all over the world. We're just people with our unwarranted biases.

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Very interesting discourse, Neil. I could respond to much of what you said, but it's the stuff Des delights in propounding upon, and I wouldn't want to steal his thunder.

I would like to make a remark on the following, however: I might try to respond to the point raised by Cole: About cross-cultural communication as it pertains to day-to-day life. In the example given, getting the plumbing fixed. For now, a similar example to that raised by Cole would be the ballot initiatives to declare "English as the official language" in the United States. Is this approach more effective than the bilingual mode of communication adopted in Canada, or multi-lingual communication more common in a number of European countries?

I myself think a ballot initiative to make English the official language in the US is puerile. The people in a country are going to speak and communicate in the language in which they are most comfortable, and making one language 'official' isn't going to change that. This is conservative politics at its worse, trying to hold back the clock, not recognizing the present for what it is and embracing it, being fearful of what is new. I live in LA, where there is a huge ex-Mexican population. The politics of the marketplace prevail here. The immigrants who prosper are those who maintain their native tongues and learn their new one, and are comfortable in both. There doesn't have to be a law to support this. Those who wish to thrive, learn.

Quebec, I believe, has made French their official language. We need some Canadians to affirm or deny, but my understanding is that this hasn't helped the economy in that province and might have hurt it. Furthermore, I don't have the feeling that the use of French in the rest of the country has really become common. Separatist actions are too insular to garner great success, usually.

Most Europeans I know speak several languages. I've always envied them for that. I wish we taught languages in the early grades in schools like they do there.

C

I'm not sure I delight in propounding anything, although I do have a propensity for pounding some things... :icon11:

Anyway you can't steal what is freely given, (my thunder included), and the opportunity to discuss these interesting matters is freely available to all.

I didn't read Cole as being upset so much as lamenting conservative reactions trying to affect a local language as the official, and favoured one. Such insular actions do not assist a peaceful multi-cultural global environment. But on the otherhand people quite rightly do not want to lose the language of their culture.

I do not speak multiple languages, yet I do have a very light understanding of the influence of many languages on English both modern and historical.

What I find more difficult to understand is the inability of many people to cope with variations in English which arises in places other than in their own locality. Of course I can also point out the difficulty of English usage and invention between generations in any given English speaking community. They young resist learning words with more than two syllables, whilst the elderly just find it too much bother to see the richness that young urban gorillas bring to the language by playing with teen-speak. Our very concern with youthful romance in our stories is a wonderful bridge between generations that I think keeps us all tolerant if not young at heart.

As an Australian I am certain I can string a complex series of words in colloquial phrases and sentences, that would baffle many other English speaking communities, yet we do seem, in Australia, to be able to decipher both UK and American English dialects and idioms far more readily than either of them can do with ours or each other, or so it seems to me.

All of which gets back to the difficulty of referring to an accepted standard of English as a single reference, rather than assuming any particular variation as being the only one which should be used as such.

In a multi-cultural world, I don't think we need to enforce any language as being the one which would best serve humanity or even a particular community. What we do need to find is a way to enthuse people to accept the richness that accepting and exploring other languages can bring to their lives, rather than denying any other language as being contributory to understanding each other. Accepting other languages would seem to be part of the process of broadening our world perspectives and would assist greatly in breaking down the barriers that are all too easy to set up between us.

Great historical works of literature baffle many people today and are often cited as corrupting influences on society and individuals. Yet without them our lives would considerably poorer, but we must be mindful of such influence.

In that regard political correctness in English (at least) is both right and wrong in its ambitions.

We do not need to become multi-lingual as much as we need to learn and educate ourselves to accept that other languages are not a threat but do in fact offer a multitude of views and thoughts we might otherwise not perceive.

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We do not need to become multi-lingual as much as we need to learn and educate ourselves to accept that other languages are not a threat but do in fact offer a multitude of views and thoughts we might otherwise not perceive.

I see both sides of this, but let me take the other side of the argument. The state of California (among others) spends about $50 million a year for billingual signs in certain parts of the state. One can make a good case that if we made English the official language -- either for the state, or for the country -- it would force everyone who lives here to at least learn to read English and would save a lot of money. Plus, it'd give new immigrants a better chance at getting jobs.

Having lived for three months in Italy, I can tell you for sure that none of the street signs, ads, newspapers, or anything else in Rome are in English. To me, that's as it should be. If you permanently move to another country, I think you should make every effort to assimilate and adopt at least enough language and culture of that country to fit in.

As much as I try to be a fair and tolerant person, I gotta admit, I get very impatient when I have to deal with a Spanish-speaking person at a McDonald's drive-thru window. (And you have to ask: why would the manager of such an establishment take the employee who speaks the least English and put them in a position where they have to talk to customers?)

I'm all for tolerance for people who are different, but I bristle at people who insist on clinging to their old language out of stubbornness and ignorance. And I have no problem with the state providing free ESL (English as a second language) classes.

BTW, I learned enough Italian to function in Rome for that period, though not enough to speak whole sentences fluently. I could at least say, "take me to such-and-such a place," "bring me the bill," and "shall we have a roll in the hay," but that's about it.

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There are basically two types of immigrants, those who cluster with their own 'old' culture and those who spread out.

The first are the ones who generally don't assimilate well, and tend to keep to their old language. Within their cultural cluster they can survive fairly adequately, and with the least amount of effort. Why that effort is not expended is a good question. I'm sure it can range from one end of the spectrum to the other, from 'valid' to not being very valid.

A noticeable clustering is by groups who seem to be the most discriminated against. That's the 'fault' of the host country, or at least those citizens who are intolerant. There is obvious safety in clustering with others, against a common enemy. When you/we/whoever/a white westerner moves to another country, like Italy, we are not feeling threatened, but if we move to rural Zambia, we may well feel unsafe. Chances are very good that we are going to pick a place to reside which has other white neighbours, and then talk in our own tongue, and not learn the local language and writing. We are so uncomfortable and so threatened that we cannot expend the energy and time, nor overcome the fear, enough to get 'out there' and learn the local language.

While I don't like the protective enclaves that basically imprison the people hiding in them, I can fully understand it. The only way to really break through is to be welcoming, and maybe for us, as comfortable residents here, to enter the clusters to show them they are welcome, and we have nothing to fear. Going there to berate them about them not learning 'the' language of their new country does nothing to foster this growth.

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As usual, Trab, you give us your wisdom, and do so superbly.

It's probably an atavistic trait, but yes, as humans, we fear the unknown, and fear can quickly turn to hate, and congregating for the common good, gathering together in the face of a perceived threat, or enemy.

We need to break the cycle with people coming here from foreign countries. Almost to a man, they come to improve their lives. If we make them feel unwelcome, they will do just as Trab suggests, for their own protection.

But if we welcome them, they'll have less need to inter themselves in ghettos or enclaves of their own kind.

Frequently the newcomers are poor, perhaps uneducated, and they move into the areas they can afford, or where they know people. These often are the poorest neighborhoods. The long term residents of those neighborhoods are often only one small step above the newcomers, financially and educationally.

It's another human trait to be competitive. So we have one group of people fearful, then hateful toward a new group, and not wanting to see them succeed to a greater extent than they themselves do. And as a result, often they do not welcome their new neighbors, but turn their backs and hostility on them.

This is all too human. And it's fixable. If we'd welcome the family that moves next door to us, they'd see how nice we are, and we'd see they were more like us than different from us. And both or our lives would be enriched, as we would have the opportunity to learn their culture as they had the same opportunity to learn from us.

It's surprising how easy this is for kids, and difficult for adults.

Kids remain the hope of the world. They frequently don't wear the blinders we old foggies do.

C

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Hi Cole (or one of the Admins),

When I responded to this post, I did not expect that there would be quite a few very provocative responses. I wanted to respond further to the points raised by The Pecman, Trab, Des, Richard as well as those related to your perspective on the matter.

The Pecman raised a very valid question that needs to be addressed. It is consistent with questions I been preoccupied with since I became a US citizen. Legally, I am an American, Asian-American (Filipino-American to be more precise). But, am I accepted as an American by "mainstream Americans"?

What is America? Who is American? How do we cope as a nation to adjust to to the changing demographics of the United States?

I realized however that the direction of our discussion has taken a turn that is quite different from the intention of Blue. As one of the Admins, I wonder if you would move all the related discussion to a separate thread so that we can explore the topic further.

Thanks.

Neil

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Good point, Neil. I think it is probably Des who needs to make that call, as the 'senior' admin, probably dividing the thread at the point it began to diverge too acutely. I don't know if that's even possible though.

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