Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Quickies: Distancing Yourself From The Thundering Herd

     (Before we proceed, note the use of the correct homophone in the title. You, too, can get it right, even when writing at “Anderle speed”...which I don’t, but you might. Verb. sap.)

     Yes, Gentle Reader: Fran the Gentle Grammar Nazi is on the prowl once more, but in a spirit of improvement rather than castigation. If my room-temperature fulminations about the mistreatment of the English language bore you, feel free to surf away. It’s one of the things perennially stuck in my craw, though the passing of the years has dampened my furies to “holding” levels.

     Today’s mini-Jeremiad concerns writing in an idiom particular to another culture. Obviously, if you were writing about a non-English-speaking culture, it would be important to grasp what sort of mistakes in the speaking of English are common to people from that realm. However, what I have in mind this morning is the crafting of dialogue among persons from a non-American but English-speaking culture: the group of nations routinely referred to as “Anglophones.”

     Good dialogue must bear the stamp of reality: i.e., how the persons involved, and persons with backgrounds similar to theirs, would actually talk. As the Anglophone nations other than America have stratified cultures, this is more difficult for an American writer than it might first seem.

     The great Gregory Benford, in the dedications to his award-winning novel Timescape, mentioned that he had secured knowledgeable assistance to ensure that his English characters spoke in an authentically English idiom. That was a wise decision, for one whose acquaintance with that idiom is too slight to trust. However, what Benford did not mention is that there is more than one “English idiom.” Which of them one speaks marks him indelibly as a member of the associated demographic...or class.

     Never fear, Gentle Reader: Benford did attend to that necessity, and quite nicely at that. If you haven’t read Timescape, I recommend it wholeheartedly, and not for that reason alone.

     The same necessity impinged upon me when I decided to incorporate English characters into my Futanari series. Moreover, I had to decide whether acculturation, in the case of one character who had been in America for several years, might have cross-bred her idiom. When her father, a high English noble, came to New York to visit with her, I had her transition to the upper-class diction in which she’d been raised, even though she had shown symptoms of linguistic acculturation in previous stories in the series.

     The short version: It isn’t easy to get this stuff right. But doing so marks a writer as uniquely attentive to cultural patterns and structures. It’s a mark of considerable distinction.

     Need I say explicitly that it’s worth your time? If you want to stand out from the less attentive, less meticulous crowd, that is.


Linda Fox said...

I am a Classic Great Lakes dialect American. There used to be a multi-question quiz online that absolutely NAILED that idiom and pronunciation. Haven't seen it lately.

In that dialect, one of our most particular differences with other dialects is pronouncing "route" as "root". Always causes other regions to put on that confused face. Well, that and "pop" for carbonated beverages with flavoring. Soda, according to us, is for the unflavored, unsweetened type of carbonated drinks (goes well with scotch).

It does help to know those broad dialects, as well as a cursory familiarity with the geography of a known region. Making up your own place/time is in some ways easier, but you have to keep it consistent. Always loved the Les Roberts novels, as he KNEW Cleveland and the surrounding suburbs, including their quirks and cultures. I get the same feeling from any writer who is a long-time resident of a place.

Agatha Christie's work abounds with the "I actually have walked these streets" atmosphere, whether it was rural England in the early part of the 20th century, or the Middle East archaeological digs. Also has the speech patterns, the culture, and other trappings of those places down perfectly.

Paul Bonneau said...

I have gotten the impression that Louis L'Amour was good at this.