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Cole Parker

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I have a question for our British contingent.

I find, when I'm writing, probably because I read so many British novels, that I tend to want to lapse into Brit-speak when I write.

I am currently reading a story by a Brit, and see him use the word 'lawyer', and it made me reflect. I didn't know you guys used that word, preferring barrister and solicitor, the difference between the two being something I never can keep straight in my head.

But, seeing this very British writer use a word that seems peculiarly Americn to me made me wonder, and I thought I'd ask: do you guys feel a subtle urge to lapse into American English when you write? As I say, I do this frequently, and I can imagine you might feel the same urge if you've been reading many American stories recently.

Not that I can see why you'd ever do that.

C

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Though it does seem American, Lawyer, as a collective noun for one who practices law, is in daily use over here.

A Barrister and a Solicitor do different things. You'd use a Solicitor to write a will or buy and sell a house. If you went to court the Solicitor would deal with the paperwork and finding and hiring a suitable Barrister. The Barrister is the one who gets up, pontificates and delivers the speeches. M'lud.

So it's quite reasonable to say 'I need a lawyer.'

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Of course we do. Hollywood, the Net, the media in general, influences us all to cross-over in slang usage. Youth in Australia were calling each other "dude" within seconds of its US adoption. I will sometimes deliberately use terminology from another culture for humor or irony, as well as sometimes to expand or deliberate a point, in a story.

Sometimes we misconstrue the slang usage and that can be hysterical, baffling, and even shocking.

Generational differences, colloquial dialect and sub-dialects, as well as various social strata language usages, can all add colour and interest to a story, (provided the author can find a way to let the reader discover the differences without lecturing them.)

I guess I would use whatever slang, from any country, which I felt best served the story/character.

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Someone had mentioned on another thread how language in the United States is merging into a singular dialect and that we are losing our regional dialects. I think they used the example of CNN News from Atlanta sounding the same as CNN News from New York. Des Hit on it that television, movies, even tourism and the internet is bringing all of our national, and within our our nations, our regional dialects and our idiosyncrasies together into a singular form of communication.

Someone else also mentioned in that thread that they felt that it was a shame to loose those differences.

I don't agree with that. I think that the more we are able to communicate, the better that we will understand each other. And that's what is driving that...our need to better communicate...to understand each other.

I believe that our stories will also have to evolve if their time and place is the present. Of course if you set your story in the past, then, yes, you need to use the vernacular of that period.

One day we will see a universal langusge where there are no misunderstandings of the slang used. The same word will be understood in England, Australia, Kenya, Russia, Chile and every country on this planet.

The Tower Of Babble has lost it's meaning and purpose.

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"One day we will see a universal langusge where there are no misunderstandings of the slang used. The same word will be understood in England, Australia, Kenya, Russia, Chile and every country on this planet."

We can almost do that now, by NOT using slang.

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American is so pervasive over here (much of the entertainment offered on TV came from Hollywood, for instance) that Brits are fluent in Americanese, and the youngsters pick and choose which bits of the lingo they will adopt as their own. It's been going on for at least half a century - when the term 'okay', for instance, became part of youth-speak in war-torn Britain when the impressionable girls had contact with the G.I.Joes who were at the time 'over-sexed, over-paid, and over here!'

I am careful not to make a Brit character in my stories talk like an American, or vice-versa, as far as I can manage. But I'm confident enough of my ability to use Americanese when necessary that I'm currently writing a cowboy story. My arrogance in attempting such a thing may be revealed to be vanity when I release the story for public consumption and the public delivers its opinion, of course!

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Someone had mentioned on another thread how language in the United States is merging into a singular dialect and that we are losing our regional dialects. I think they used the example of CNN News from Atlanta sounding the same as CNN News from New York. Des Hit on it that television, movies, even tourism and the internet is bringing all of our national, and within our our nations, our regional dialects and our idiosyncrasies together into a singular form of communication.

Richard,

I asked Chris about the idea that English in the U.S. is merging into a single dialect:

I'm taking "Language and Linguistics" this semester; the course and textbook are focused on the English language. Colin asked me to respond to the supposition that in the U.S. language is merging into a singular dialect.

This supposition implies that the North American variant of Standard English is becoming the lingua franca of the US. That appears to be the case; when we watch television news most of the newscasters speak Standard English. It is also reflected in written English in newspapers and magazines; a result of universal education and consistency of written English language in textbooks. However, spoken English is studied by linguists who find it is more diverse than it was 50 or 100 years ago. This is in part because of an increase in the number and variety of non-American-born and non-native-English speaking residents, and in part because of the use of spoken language as a way to maintain regional, ethnic, racial, societal, and age differentiation among populations.

Colin told me to make this brief, so I won't bore you with a long list of references to current research. A good introduction to linguistics including a discussion of Standard English and merging of dialects can be viewed in a series of lectures on DVD available in 3 volumes in most college and university libraries and many public libraries as well. It's "Understanding Linguistics: The Science of Language" taught by Professor John McWhorter, published by The Teaching Company, ISBN 159803477-4. Each volume has 12 lectures, about 30 minutes each. Dr. McWhorter is an Associate Professor of Linguistics at UC Berkeley.

I've watched some of Professor McWhorter's lectures. He's an excellent lecturer discussing a fascinating subject and is always interesting. If I can squeeze it in I'm going to take this course next semester.

Colin :hiya:

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Richard,

I asked Chris about the idea that English in the U.S. is merging into a single dialect:

I've watched some of Professor McWhorter's lectures. He's an excellent lecturer discussing a fascinating subject and is always interesting. If I can squeeze it in I'm going to take this course next semester.

Colin :hiya:

Certainly from a performance art point of view I would agree with Chris on the influence of exposure to the vocal interactions of other cultures. Imitating the speech patterns of various ethnicities speaking English is, these days, considered politically incorrect by many people. Have a look at many of the movies from the period of the 1930s to 1970. If some of those performances reached the screen in a modern movie there would be an outcry against the actor for being discriminating and prejudiced in his performance.

Adoption of a certain parlance can be achieved without offense, but it most often reaches the stage as an indulgence in excess, for cheap laughs at the expense of an ethnic minority. More and more I am seeing criticism of actors doing this, being used to limit freedom of artistic expression in the theatre, with actors being warned they have overstepped the mark, or crossed the line. Sometimes the criticism is justified, sometimes it is not. Context is everything.

There is also from an actor's point of view, a rich subtext that can be drawn from how a line is spoken as distinct from how it is (in acting terms) delivered. Suggestion of a slang term is not beyond even the likes of Kenneth Branagh as he did in Shakespeare's Hamlet, no doubt ruining it for purist ears.

Whilst I find dissatisfaction with slovenly speech patterns as happens in many places, I also think that slang terms add colour to the conversation as well as providing some degree of insight from another point of view. There is a difference however when words are misused and the language is butchered by illiterate and uneducated gorillas. Educating people to speak clearly is not nearly as easy as might be thought. There has to be some connection between the mouth and a brain that at least has awareness of some knowledge.

Common language is unlikely to pervade all cultures equally even with almost instant communication, and I think the richness of difference from one community to another is important to enliven all cultures. What I think is more likely is that we learn to understand and accept those differences without demanding that the one we use locally, is the best or only one that should be used. Some would maintain that without those differences, the language dies.

However I would also prefer that we teach the young to enunciate precisely even if it is within the confines of local dialect, but to do that we must also provide the young with the confidence that a good education brings. Fluency depends on confidence, even when it wrongly based. :wav:

I would rather listen to Obama announce the end of life as we know it, than listen to the likes of Bush trying to remember what words are. (Just to be fair, we have our fair share of illiterate idiots in high places too. Gorillas are everywhere.)

Writing foreign characters into a story which is set in another land is not something we should avoid, but I think it does require some degree of research and care to avoid offensive parody, unless it is deliberate like Borat.

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The evolution of language is a continuing process and mostly I think it freshens and enlivens communication. But some changes are driven by ignorance and when that happens I for one am irritated.

The words 'bad' and wicked' are now youth-speak for 'good' - so how does one describe something that really is bad, or someone who really is wicked? The language has been robbed of perfectly good meanings. The word 'aggravate' now means to annoy, but it used to mean to make worse, to make a grave situation graver, and hundreds of years ago the word 'nice' meant precise, fine, exact. Now it means pleasant. Occasionally it is still used in its original sense - when you hear someone describe making a nice distinction, they are talking about a comparison between things that are so similar that precision is required to tell them apart. That's what they're saying, whether they know it or not.

Language, even the mongrel English language, is a wonderfully rich tool of expression, capable in skilled hands of delighting, of devastating, of uplifting, of destroying. Let it change with the times, but let it remain elegant and erudite.

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The evolution of language is a continuing process and mostly I think it freshens and enlivens communication. But some changes are driven by ignorance and when that happens I for one am irritated.

The words 'bad' and wicked' are now youth-speak for 'good' - so how does one describe something that really is bad, or someone who really is wicked? The language has been robbed of perfectly good meanings. The word 'aggravate' now means to annoy, but it used to mean to make worse, to make a grave situation graver, and hundreds of years ago the word 'nice' meant precise, fine, exact. Now it means pleasant. Occasionally it is still used in its original sense - when you hear someone describe making a nice distinction, they are talking about a comparison between things that are so similar that precision is required to tell them apart. That's what they're saying, whether they know it or not.

Language, even the mongrel English language, is a wonderfully rich tool of expression, capable in skilled hands of delighting, of devastating, of uplifting, of destroying. Let it change with the times, but let it remain elegant and erudite.

I agree Bruin...and the word gay use to mean...?

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I'm told that historians believe it was once used as a way to describe people sexually attracted to others of their own sex. Who would have thought? Fancy having a word for something as unimportant as that?

A word to describe something that is common to 99% of the human race? How quaint. :hiya:

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"A word to describe something that is common to 99% of the human race? How quaint"

I would suppose that if it is that common, a nice distinction would be required. :hiya::wav::icon_twisted:

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"A word to describe something that is common to 99% of the human race? How quaint"

I would suppose that if it is that common, a nice distinction would be required. :hiya::wav::icon_twisted:

All the dickstinctions I have seen, have been very nice. :hehe:

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I find, when I'm writing, probably because I read so many British novels, that I tend to want to lapse into Brit-speak when I write.

I think it's important to get it clear in your head when and where the scene is, and what the characters are all about.

I think it might be appropriate for the characters to speak with a certain accent, but if you find you have a tendency to go in the wrong direction, you'll have to make a point to watch out for that during the editing stage. When I read my own dialog, I "hear" the dialog in each character's voice, and I try to make it as distinctive as possible.

My advice would be to resist the temptation to use the wrong accent unless it's got an intentional story point -- for example, if one character is imitating Madonna's faux British accent. :hiya:

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No, that isn't what I meant. I keep the dialog as I hear it spoken in my head by the various characters, much like you do, Pec. I meant when I'm writing in the narrator's voice in third person, I often tend towards British usage. I love the way those guys write. They introduce a sophistication, a smoothest, a way of speaking I find delightful, intoxicating and alluring, and I can easily fall prey to adopting it myself.

I do fight it, but not always as successfully as I might want. That's why I was wondering if those chaps (see what I mean?) have the same problem.

C

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No, that isn't what I meant. I keep the dialog as I hear it spoken in my head by the various characters, much like you do, Pec. I meant when I'm writing in the narrator's voice in third person, I often tend towards British usage. I love the way those guys write. They introduce a sophistication, a smoothest, a way of speaking I find delightful, intoxicating and alluring, and I can easily fall prey to adopting it myself.

I do fight it, but not always as successfully as I might want. That's why I was wondering if those chaps (see what I mean?) have the same problem.

C

Why do you need to fight it? If you find the British forms of expression attractive, useful and serving the purpose of your writing, then I see no reason to deny it.

Maintaining an awareness of it is your best tool to continue giving us, your readers, that special something we all adore, which for want of a better description I call "Parker prose."

:hug:

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Richard,

I asked Chris about the idea that English in the U.S. is merging into a single dialect:

Quote Chris - This supposition implies that the North American variant of Standard English is becoming the lingua franca of the US. That appears to be the case; when we watch television news most of the newscasters speak Standard English. It is also reflected in written English in newspapers and magazines; a result of universal education and consistency of written English language in textbooks. However, spoken English is studied by linguists who find it is more diverse than it was 50 or 100 years ago. This is in part because of an increase in the number and variety of non-American-born and non-native-English speaking residents, and in part because of the use of spoken language as a way to maintain regional, ethnic, racial, societal, and age differentiation among populations.

I've watched some of Professor McWhorter's lectures. He's an excellent lecturer discussing a fascinating subject and is always interesting. If I can squeeze it in I'm going to take this course next semester.

Colin :hug:

Colin,

What a lively language we have. I hadn't thought about what Chris said, that new variations of our language are evolving, and thinking about it, he's right. The push to standardize is offset by the dynamics of new words and variations in meanings emerging.

I think I'm going to head over to the NM State University library soon and look for that DVD set. Of course, Professor John McWhorter being a Berkeley professor, puts doubt on his credibility. [snicker]

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I meant when I'm writing in the narrator's voice in third person, I often tend towards British usage. I love the way those guys write.

Oh, narrator's voice. I didn't get that from your original message.

Well, for that, I just use my own voice -- unless the story is told in first person, in which case it would be in that person's voice.

To me, I think it'd be too quirky to tell an American-based story in a British accent, but I can see where it would be perfect for certain kinds of stories. For example, I "hear" the Harry Potter stories and the James Bond novels completely in a British accent from start to to finish -- because that's the nature of the locale and characters.

I think the omniscient narrator can be more cultured and have a wider vocabulary than any of the characters, in 3rd-person, but the problem of making it British might tend to make it a little too highbrow and snooty to me. Maybe there's a happy medium: keep the locale of the narrator American, but make it more intellectual and refined.

I think it might also help if you "cast" the narrator's voice in your head, maybe the voice of a famous actor. Alec Baldwin might speak it one way; John Lithgow another. There's a lot of different ways to go, but as long as it's consistent and appropriate for the story, I think just about anything can work.

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