1. Declan
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    Declan Senior Member

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    "Correct English?"

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Declan, Jun 24, 2011.

    What are people's views on the 'proper use' of the English langauge, both written and spoken?
    By this I mean, variant spellings and pronounciations, the invention and induction of new words (including internet words) into the language and the rules of grammar.
    Please refer to both fiction and non-fiction.

    P.S
    My opinion is one of descriptivism- as long as it is understandable it counts. Words are like clothes, you wear different clothes for different things. 'Standard English' is only so because in 1476 Caxton chose the Oxford, Cambridge and London triangle as the dialect to print the first books in Britain in. 100 years either way and the seat of power may have shifted (this is why Caxton's choice was that triangle).
    There is nothing superior in terms of status about 'proper English', in my opinion.
     
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    You want to spell stuff right. But grammar can vary depending on character's POV. Think about books like "The Color Purple," where sometimes the grammar is bad but it fits the character realistically and so really emerges the reader.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it all depends on the particular piece of work and the talent/skill/renown of the writer... anything can be made 'acceptable' in the hands of a master wordsmith...

    those of lesser ability/reputation would be wise to stick closer to 'proper'...

    and yes, i'm referring in all of the above to both fiction and non...
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The English language has, over centuries, developed into a wonderful instrument for communication. Its vocabulary is possibly the richest of any language on Earth, and allows for extremely subtle shades of meaning and nuance. I tend to oppose any usage of English that perverts that, any usage that replaces the nuance with a sledgehammer.

    I like to think of myself as mostly descriptivist, and I usually welcome new words into the language (technology seems to add new words every other week or so - when I was in school, there was no such thing as a "blogosphere"!), but I despair when I see the meanings of words blurred to the point of confusion. I've heard people use "imply" and "infer" interchangeably, for example, and I heartily disapprove of that. My roommate uses the term "hoi polloi" (okay, that's Greek, so maybe it doesn't count) to mean the elite, when it really means the masses, and I've given up trying to correct him. And don't get me started on "irregardless"! Argh!
     
  5. Declan
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    Declan Senior Member

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    I think I'm with you on all of that. I very open to the development of the language, and it's free and diverse use- but it winds me up too when people can't or won't understand how to use the existing words.
    They're/their/there and your/you're really bug me.
     
  6. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    That misses the importance of register and the phatic element of communication. If I spoke to my wife as I wrote in a technical report, or wrote a technical report the way I spoke to my wife then it would be understood but pretty much useless. Language isn't just about communication of facts, it's about emotion and social identity. I'm particularly conscious of that: I was bullied at school because I spoke standard English, not the local dialect. If it's understandable then it counts as English, but it might not be fit for purpose. That's why I always talk about effectiveness of language, not correctness. In order to be effective in one context you have to follow one set of rules -- those of standard English, formal register, perhaps. In another context you have to follow another set of rules, those of your social group, perhaps (or that of the character you are writing). Both change (slowly) and the latter gets supplanted (more quickly). So yes, I am a descriptivist too, but I don't think it's enough to describe meaning, I think one has to describe effect on different people in different contexts. When folks here describe something as "wrong" what they really mean is that a person who wants standard English isn't going to like it so you're going to have a tough time getting it published.
     
  7. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Then write your stories in a different language. French is nice.

    Immerses*. You do not want to emerge your reader. That makes it sound like you're making their existence apparent. You want to immerse them, and make them forget their existence.

    A master wordsmith would know that there are such things as definitions, and could therefore not make 'anything' acceptable. They couldn't decide to use 'sad' in a happy moment, because that would be wrong, and the same goes for grammar. They can't use a colon where a semi-colon should be. They have to work with the rules for their language.

    I loathe things like "blogosphere". It's stupid.
    That little quip aside, I also loathe the addition of new words; when they're good, useful words, I don't mind, but things like, "bouncebackability", which is a person's ability to bounce back from something (how original) was added into a modern dictionary because the public used it. Some radio DJ in America basically said, "If we use these words enough, they'll have to be put in the dictionary."
    Unfortunately for them, bouncebackability already exists. It's called "resilience". That's why I use my 1952 dictionary as often as I can. If a word isn't in there, I try to avoid using it.
     
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Definitions change over time, though. You can't fix language in amber so that it's preserved for a million years. Not when it's used every hour of every day by billions of people whose communication needs are always changing.


    No, it isn't. It isn't the prettiest word in the world, but it describes something that simply didn't exist twenty years ago. The language MUST adapt to the needs of today's people.

    I'm not sure I would use "bouncebackability" in prose, unless I was writing in first person, but I use words like that all the time in day-to-day conversation. Usually I use them in a humorous context. But they are very effective in certain situations. I can easily imagine characters who would use "bouncebackability", but would never even think of "resilience", because they're just not that kind of people.

    I notice that you use a quote from me in your sig. Thanks, but I'm not sure you completely understand it. When I said grammar is a prerequisite to everything, I meant that you should understand good grammar in your bones. But someone who knows good grammar can break the rules of grammar and usage to suit their own artistic purposes, and the fact that they've broken the rules does not mean their work is crap.

    Look at Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I'm sure that could have been written in third person with entirely correct grammar, but would it have been a memorable work of literature? It's the character of Huck that draws us in, in spite of (or because of) his lack of education. Mark Twain knew the rules well, but he gleefully broke them in order to present the story and character he had in mind. Look at Joyce's Finnegans Wake. (Okay, don't look at it if you don't want to.) You can't deny that Joyce was a master of language, and that mastery allowed him to bend and twist it into a bewildering variety of shapes and meanings. Look at Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker. There are, of course, hundreds, if not thousands, of other examples.

    Know the rules before you bend, or even break, them. But feel free to do whatever you want with them in the service of a higher art.
     
  9. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good sir, I accept your challenge!

    I mean I loathe the "blogosphere" itself. [I think] it's stupid.

    I agree with you, and I understood you. What I was disagreeing with was that a master wordsmith (if such a thing exists at all) could make, and I quote, "anything" acceptable.

    I refer to my comment on semi-colons and colons. They aren't interchangeable. There are rules that can't be broken. Sentences and such are necessary (unless you forgo them for specific effect, but they are still needed for the majority of a piece). Punctuation is necessary.

    I use sentence fragments occasionally, to what I believe is a good effect, but the majority of my sentences are written properly. That's my point. You can make some things acceptable (in any craft), but you can't just do anything, no matter your mastery of the craft.
     
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My view is that a writer should thoroughly understand the language in which he writes, and that includes the accepted formal rules of that language. When he knows those rules, and knows how to use them, then he knows enough to decide when it's appropriate to break them.

    ChickenFreak
     
  11. ScaryMonster
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    ScaryMonster Active Member

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    I'm against using American spellings for English words such as colour and plough.

    Plow and color? The Poms invented English so they get to make the rules in my opinion.
     
  12. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I love you. Australian English is the best, though. We use British English spellings, but we get all the cool words, like "bogan" and "ghilgai". We're heaps cool.
     
  13. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Lol - I'll have to get an Australian dictionary!

    You can do just about what you want with language, as long as it's intentional - if you disregard grammar just because it's hard, your understandability will suffer.
     

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