Tag Archives: language

Authors Answer 124 – Should You Write With Plain Language?

Harry Potter is filled with British slang. Lord of the Rings is filled with constructed languages. Is it worth doing that? Or should books be written with easy to understand plain language?

Question 124 – Avoid foreign words and regional slang. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

Tracey Lynn Tobin

I’m on the fence with this one. On the one hand, using foreign words and regional slang can enhance a character. A foreigner in America, for instance, might let a few words from their primary language slip every now and then to remind the reader that they’re not originally from the book’s main setting. Similarly, certain types of characters would be a lot less believable if you didn’t use certain dialog quirks. A simple example would be that Americans tend to say “soda”, when Canadians tend to say “pop”.

With that in mind, you should definitely carefully consider the types of regional slang you use and whether anyone is going to understand it. For example, I once described a school bus as “the big yellow limo” in a short story, and almost all of the people who read it (online) asked me what on earth a yellow limo was suddenly doing in the scene because they didn’t understand the regional tendency to refer to school buses in that manner.

Gregory S. Close

I think an author should be careful using foreign words and regional slang, but as long as you’re doing it right – go for it!

Jean Davis

Disagree. If we all sounded the same, writing would be pretty boring. There is certainly such a thing as too much when it comes to slang and foreign words, but using them for spice here and there can enhance the story and personality of characters.

C E Aylett

Slang is something that intrigues me no-end. It can say so much about a place, its history, and its people, far more sometimes than the confines of straight English. I’m a massive fan of Irvine Welsh, who writes in Scottish phonetics, and he deliberately wanted to get away from the starchiness of English grammar in his works. I use slang a lot in my own writing, and some foreign words too, if the story requires it. I think the key to using these styles is to make sure the context is clear from the surrounding text or actions within the story.

Beth Aman

Again, depends.  If you’re writing Sci-Fi/Fantasy, it can make or break your story.  My favorite speculative fiction does this well: Eragon, Lord of the Rings, Mortal Instruments, Six of Crows, etc – all these stories have their own worlds with their own words.  The idea is to do it in such a way that feels authentic and also Not-Overwhelming.  Let it come slowly and naturally, and I think it can add a lot to your story.

Eric Wood

I disagree. As writers we need to know that our readers are smarter than we give them credit for. As long as you are using the foreign/slang correctly, the context clues will help the reader figure out the meaning. Just remember to provide the proper context clues. Also, a reader will feel smarter if you allow them this opportunity.

D. T. Nova

They can both be good for establishing setting and for being a part of a character’s voice.

However, if the meaning isn’t obvious from the context, words that aren’t as commonly known should only be used if explaining them is appropriate; or if understanding the word is of secondary importance.

Slang should only be used in dialogue and first-person narration, and it probably is a good idea to avoid slang words that mean different things in different regions.

Cyrus Keith

Disagree. To an extent. They add flavor and spice to your characters. But give them a context so readers can keep up. I have several characters in my books that are either foreign, or speak in a foreign language. I keep it short, use it rarely, and make sure the meaning is implicit in the context. Example, in Unalive, Jenna says to a nurse in Tahiti, “This is critical, Madame … This woman is a very important diplomatic attaché. We must leave for Europe immediately, for her safety. Nous devons partir tout de suite. C’est trés importante.” She finished in French, to make sure she was understood.

H. Anthe Davis

Disagree.  One reason is because of my main genre, fantasy, which has a history of using constructed (imaginary) languages — see Tolkien with Quenya, not to mention all the made-up and tweaked terminology that any story that deals with magic, monsters, et cetera has to get into.  I have several of my own conlangs, and while I try not to use them too much, conlang linguistics is important to the story in places.  Likewise, I think that in things like literary fiction, the use of foreign words or regional slang can be very evocative of place, time, et cetera, and possibly necessary to works translated from a foreign language, where there might be no real equivalent of the desired concept in the translated-to language.  I mean, who would strike deja vu from a manuscript just because it’s not English?  (Pardon my lack of accent marks etc.)

Paul B. Spence

Unless you need to use it. Not everything translates well into English. Ennui, for example. Conveys far more in one word than you can express in a paragraph. I don’t even like French, and I like this word.

Elizabeth Rhodes

This is a rule? It’s news to me. I don’t agree with it in any case. Regional/foreign words are great for establishing that sense of place or filling out a character by giving them an origin. And do we really want all characters to sound the same?

There are also connotations and emotions conveyed much well with regional slang or the dreaded profanity. I dare anyone to put together a string of words that have the same impact as a well-placed “Fuck!”

Jay Dee Archer

Totally disagree. I’m fascinated by languages, and I find that foreign words and slang bring a lot of flavour to a book. If it takes place in the southern US, I want to see some southern slang. If it’s fantasy, and there’s a culture with another language, I want to see some of that language. Of course, it shouldn’t be overdone to the point where you can’t understand what’s going on. But when it’s done right, it makes it quite a bit more interesting. Although it’s not literature, I’m very interested in learning the Klingon language. But I’d also like to learn Quenya.

Another thing about slang is that it can provide you with a clue about when and where the story takes place. Slang evolves over time, and when used in the correct context, it can make the story feel much more authentic.

How about you?

Do you think slang and foreign languages should be used in literature? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Learning to Read

My daughter is 5 years old. She’s in kindergarten, and she’s learning to read. A few months ago, she couldn’t read at all. But now, she knows the sounds of all the letters of the alphabet, as well as all hiragana. What’s that? It’s the main writing script for Japanese.

You see, my daughter also goes to a Japanese school, though not for much longer. She’s able to read both English and Japanese. Actually, she can read Japanese faster. It’s easier to learn to read Japanese than English. You might not think so, since English has 26 letters, while Japanese has 46 hiragana, 46 katakana, and thousands of kanji. It’s hiragana that she knows, and this is what’s needed to be able to read basic Japanese.

But why is it easier for her to read Japanese? Hiragana is phonetic. With a couple exceptions, everything sounds exactly as it’s written. English is a mess. There’s a meme going around:

If GH stands for P as in Hiccough
If OUGH stands for O as in Dough
If PHTH stands for T as in Phthisis
If EIGH stands for A as in Neighbour
If TTE stands for T as in Gazette
If EAU stands for O as in Plateau

Then the right way to spell POTATO should be: GHOUGHPHTHEIGHTTEEAU

I have no idea what the original source is, but this is everywhere. But you get the point, right? English spelling is stupid. I taught English for 11 years, but I managed to get children, including a 5 year old, to be able to read English reasonably well.

My point here is that if you can read English with no trouble at all, you’re doing pretty good. It must have one of the least strict rules for spelling.

I’m pretty good at spelling. When I was in grade 7, I tested at a university level for spelling. But there was one word that I had no idea how to read: paradigm. When I saw it, I thought, “paradiggum?” I knew the actual pronunciation. I’d heard the word before, but I’d never seen it spelled out. And then there’s “embarrassed.” How many r’s is it? Well, it’s two.  Don’t forget that!

What are some words you had trouble spelling or were pronouncing completely wrong?

The Multilingual Desire

Ever since I started using Duolingo to study languages, I’ve had a growing desire to learn multiple languages. There are many languages available on that platform, and it continues to grow.

My experience learning languages started in 1986 when I was 9 years old. I studied French in school until 1994, when I was 17 years old. I didn’t take French in grade 12, but instead challenged the final exam and passed it easily, getting full credit for the class. I was good at it. I had confidence that I could learn languages easily.

In university, I took a class in Japanese and enjoyed it a lot. I did very well in that class, and it helped me a lot when I moved to Japan in 2005. I had full intentions to learn the language and become fluent. I studied it on my own. However, I worked entirely in English. My interactions with Japanese people were with friends who spoke English well, coworkers who spoke English, students who I taught English, and people in shops. It was when I went shopping or out to a restaurant that I was able to use Japanese. As a result, I have no problem going shopping or ordering in a restaurant in Japan. My confidence in speaking Japanese didn’t grow at all. I didn’t speak well enough to have a conversation with my wife’s parents, or even with my wife. My listening improved, but my speaking did not. That’s my fault.

I started using Duolingo to relearn French. I also started doing Esperanto, since studying it has been proven to help people learn other European languages more quickly. I also started learning Spanish.

My studying has stalled recently. I’d like to get myself back into it. I’d like to focus on French and Japanese. French will be useful for future job prospects in Canada, while Japanese will be useful for me with my family and my in-laws. And since we plan to travel to Japan often, I can use it there.

But I don’t want to stop there. I want to get back into studying Spanish, as well as German, Norwegian, Russian, and Irish. My family heritage includes German, Norwegian, and Irish. My grandfather was born in Russia, so a lot of research into his family history has to be done in Russian. I think it would help. And I’d also like to learn Tagalog. I have some Filipino friends, and I think it would be fun to be able to understand what they’re talking about.

Are you using Duolingo? Are you studying a language? Let me know in the comments section below. Also, you can check out my Duolingo profile and add me as a friend.

Help Me Write a Story

I had an idea a couple days ago, and I thought I’d let you help me write a story! Here’s how it’s going to happen. I give you a list of word types, and you respond in the comments with all of those words. I’m not giving you much time to do this, as I’ll be writing these stories in a couple days. However, I’m going to try to do it in a way so that I can’t see what’s been written. It’ll be a mystery to me until I read it.

That’s right, I’m doing a mad lib story! I’ve already written the short story, but now it’s time for you to give me the words. So, in the comments section, please enter the words. Keep it PG? Actually, write whatever you want. Let’s see how silly or crazy this can get. Here are the categories:

  1. name (famous person)
  2. noun
  3. feeling
  4. noun
  5. adjective
  6. verb
  7. adjective
  8. adjective
  9. adjective
  10. adjective
  11. plural noun
  12. verb past tense
  13. verb past tense
  14. noun

I will be doing this all on video, by the way. You’ll see my reaction to the stories as I read them. I’m going to see if I can get someone to just copy and paste them into the story so I have no idea what they are until I read them.

So, let the insanity begin!

Difficulties of Worldbuilding

I love worldbuilding. I’ve created a world, Ariadne, that is an entire planet with many countries, cities, cultures, and of course a large variety of landscapes. But making an entire world isn’t easy.

For me, some things were difficult. I think everyone excels in a different aspect while worldbuilding. Some difficulties are:

Culture

It’s so easy to create a world that’s populated by people from a single culture. But is that realistic? Not at all, especially if you’re looking at an entire world. In fantasy, it’s extremely common to have several cultures. But it’s also easy to copy cultures from other books. To make a truly unique set of cultures is difficult.

Language

If you’re not a linguist, you may have some difficulties with creating a rudimentary language. But it’s not always necessary to. A lot of fantasy novels use a “common language” or “standard tongue” or something like that, and it’s always written in English. That’s fine. But if you want to make a language, then you should probably try to set up some rules. That’s the difficult part.

History

You can’t have some cultures on a world without a history. It’s extremely important to create a history for all of the cultures. It often helps dictate cultural relations. But to create a history that goes back for hundreds or thousands of years is a lot of work. And that can be difficult.

What do you think is difficult about worldbuilding? Let me know in the comments below.

Greek on Duolingo!

Finally! This is one of the languages I’ve been eager to learn. I’ve been waiting for Greek to be released in Beta on Duolingo, and now it has been.

This is going to be a very interesting language to learn. I’ve learned the alphabet, and had to know it in university, but that’s only because astronomers name stars with the Greek alphabet. But it’s also used in equations in math and physics. Even though I know the alphabet, I don’t know how to pronounce much of it. I’ll have to learn that.

Another language coming soon is Romanian. It’s a Romance language, so I expect it to be an easier language for me to learn. And for those who know Spanish, Guarani has also come out.

But I’m anticipating a few other languages that are in development, especially Indonesian, Hindi, Korean, Swahili, and Klingon. That’s right, Klingon. But I’m really hoping to see languages like Tagalog, Arabic, Finnish, and of course, Japanese. And Latin, too.

Anything you’re interested in learning? Let me know in the comments below.

I Think Better than I Speak

Blog posts and vlogs may try to convey the same message, but making them can’t be any more different than they are. I’m doing both. I’m writing this blog, and I’m making videos for the same purpose. I’m just expanding my reach on the internet. However, how I come across is quite different.

Watch this video before reading on. Don’t worry, it’s not long.

Blogging

Blogging allows me to take the time to think about what I’m going to write. My words are well thought out, and I can re-read to edit it. I can make it look and sound good. I sound far more articulate, I use bigger words, I have no pauses. It just looks so much better. It’s also easier for me to do, because the words flow out of my brain and onto the computer. My thoughts are far more well-organised. I think logically, and I tend to use more complex language in my mind. I speak smoothly in my mind.

Vlogging

The potential to reach a larger audience on YouTube is irresistible. I’ve found a much bigger response from people on YouTube for one of my videos than I usually do for a blog post. What I like about doing videos is that you can usually see the real person. It’s not just words, but the actual person speaking. But the problem with making videos for me is that I don’t have the patience to spend hours editing a video to make it sound and look perfect. But when it looks perfect, I don’t sound natural. It’s not how I talk. I’m giving up on sounding like the best speaker on video. Although I taught conversational English for eleven years, and I’ve been able to have extremely good conversations in lessons, when you put me in front of a camera, I don’t appear like a very outgoing speaker. I pause a lot. I have thinking sounds all over the place. But I don’t want to edit those out. One, it’ll take too long. And two, it’s a more manufactured me.

But taking both of these into consideration, I think I sound more articulate in text rather than video. However, I will work on the videos a lot, reach a new audience, and have some great conversations. What videos allow me to do is deliver my message more quickly. And you get to see another side of me. I’m more confident in my ability to write blog posts, but I have the potential to reach a larger audience on video.

If you blog and vlog, how do you feel about your ability to communicate via the two media? Let me know in the comments below.