1. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Voice and Native-English Conventions

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by BrianIff, Feb 8, 2016.

    So I haven't read too much fiction that has been written lately, and I'm wondering if the prevailing standard for big publishers is to minimize or eliminate phrases and wordings that the non-English speaker (or even AmE and BrE misunderstandings) could misinterpret. Does anyone notice the absence of these confusable sayings? Is any such thought ignored? Anyone read about publishers discussing it, or, for the published, have you heard about it? If the "authentic" voice is to be retained, is it now standard to frame meaning to it in the context?

    ** I'm no longer curious about this question. Please only respond if you understand what I'm saying, have some verified knowledge, and think it's worth sharing with everyone. **
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2016
  2. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Don't know about publishers, but your post reminds me of the American film Jumper.

    Yes, jumper, which us Brits know as the following:

    [​IMG]

    And the unforgettable quote from the movie, when the MC said, "Mum, I'm a jumper."

    :superlaugh:

    So anyway, no, I don't think all phrases/words that can be potentially misunderstood by other English speakers are eliminated before release, at least not when it comes to movies. :supergrin:
     
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  3. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    How can you not love this line? (from the wiki)

    "One day, he is ambushed in his home by Roland Cox, a member of the Paladins, a group of religious extremists who have been tracking down and killing "Jumpers"." :supergrin:

    Turns out Jumper was originally a book - so guess it does apply to the publishing industry then!
     
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  4. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Cool. :) May the Jumpers summon mighty drones to take all the Paladin HPs. ;)

    For clarity, just in case, to everyone, I mean things that can be mistaken very easily for other things. In the written form, while things may be mistakable, that may be more so for the ESL reader. Like in these examples : http://designerlessons.org/2011/12/10/intonation-sentence-stress-esl/

    So, just wondering if, as more people learn English, the mass-market books avoid ambiguities to any significant extent.
     
  5. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Wow. That's one hell of a very boring lesson...

    I don't understand. The lesson is focused on tone of voice, essentially - as in what you can actually hear. When this is written down, that tone of voice is lost, and in YA books or more commercial books you may find words italicised to mimick this same stress on certain words to carry the tone of voice across, but in general meaning is framed in context when it's in narrative.

    What sorts of misunderstandings do you envision could happen? What ambiguities are you thinking of? And the lesson plan that was to serve as your example is focused on spoken English - what's that got to do with publishing written works?
     
  6. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Okay, so just to be clear, I'm not saying ESL readers cannot understand the same way as a native-speaker, but that the ones that do come to virtually perfect understanding of idiom, vernacular, or implied usage in writing are in an elite of all ESL readers. I wouldn't want to be mistaken about that.

    But even that last sentence. What does it mean? I intend for it to mean that I hope to be correctly understood, but the same words could also mean that others should take it as a caution if they fail to understand the previous sentence in the above paragraph. That would be threatening and not my intention, although I see that it would also have to do with my perceived persona and perceived mood when it is read. Question is, though, should I just write totally naturally and not give any thought to how non-native English readers might see things? Do the publishers care? Are some mistakes more common? And so on, considering how while we may think we are writing in standard, non-regional English, certain "understood" things might not be so comprehensible.

    I don't know. If this says more about me than ESL readers, that may be a possibility. I'm asking a straightforward question.
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    "I wouldn't want people to mistake my meaning" might be a much clearer way of saying what you just said. I'm not sure what you wrote: "I wouldn't want to be mistaken about that" means what you thought it means. I'm not entirely sure it's correct English - but maybe it's Canadian English, who knows? "I wouldn't want to be mistaken about that" means you wouldn't want to be wrong. @BayView - pretty sure you're Canadian - is this just some Canadian quirk? :bigconfused:

    Narrative is always read within context - to read out of context is to misunderstand the text, and then it wouldn't be the writer's fault but the reader's. For example when my mum took the meaning of half the clause but not the full sentence, and in so doing understood the point only partially. But that's more to do with the reader's level of English, and it's got nothing to do with any linguistic ambiguity.

    How exactly do you want to "give thought" to the way a non-native-English-speaker might see things? I do this all the time because I live in the Czech Republic where English is the minority language - here's how I sometimes speak if I know a particular friend's English is low:

    Me: It's Frank's birthday. We celebrate together. We buy cake to surprise him. Do you want to come?​

    Whereas if I was speaking to someone with a high level of English I might say:

    Me: Hey, it's Frank's birthday. Let's surprise him with a cake, what do you say? Where shall we go for the surprise party?​

    Or some such. Or when I wrote to my Japanese friend, whose English is really pretty poor:

    Me: I miss you! I teach again now. It is cold in Prague. Is it cold in Japan?
    But when I write to a regular English-speaker:

    Me: I miss you. I've started teaching again - got 3 classes a week. It's frigging freezing here in Prague! What's it like in Japan right now?​

    But if you want to write like my responses for lower-level English speakers, I'm not too sure you're gonna get published... :ohno:

    In the end, you're writing in the language, which means you do expect a certain level of English comprehension. If you were writing for ESL readers, then the content and style would be very different. If you're writing a novel for the English-speaking market, then that'd be different too, and at a different, much higher level. This also explains why the level of English is different between picture books, chapter books, YA novels, and adult novels.

    As for the ambiguity I think you're referring to - again, you understand through context. Someone who could not understand the context because of their lack of English probably shouldn't be reading at that level. Someone who could wouldn't have a problem with it. Or else you'd have to have written rather poorly for the context to be unclear.
     
  8. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Okay, I must've been mistaken ;)

    Perhaps you're right, but I'm not sold. But, yes, we're talking about the same thing now :)
     
  9. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It seems to me you're convinced about something for which you can think of no good examples...

    If you're asking if non-native speakers ever get confused over more ambiguious phrases - now, "How did you find the party?" is a good example - yes, of course it happens. Just as native speakers also sometimes get confused. But where context and the apparent meaning of the sentence don't match, instead of taking the wrong, more literal meaning, a more advanced English speaker might realise there's a gap in their knowledge and seek guidance, make an educated guess etc. But how the ESL reader responds would depend on how good his English is to begin with.

    For example, I'm a very low level Czech speaker (I don't speak Czech at all in fact, but know enough to ask a few questions and get by if I must, so for the purpose of the discussion, let's call myself a "speaker" of the language, albeit a very low level one). So when I see a sentence with the word "je" - I automatically assume it means "is":

    Je to pravda. - That's true.
    Honza je venku - Honza is outside.

    But "je" can be a form of the pronoun "it" - and no I haven't a clue when it's used so can't give an example.

    So when I see "je" in a sentence and it doesn't make sense to me, rather than realising ah, it's a pronoun, I'll continue to read it as "is" and confuzzle myself.

    A higher level Czech speaker would probably immediately recognise his mistake and "correct" his understanding of "je" within the context of the sentence, and thus making sense of it.

    Now take that to a higher level example, such as "How did you find the party?" - a foreigner who may not have come across this phrase and hears the response, "Oh it was excellent!" would realise there's a gap in his knowledge. He would, within the context of the conversation, realise the question could mean more than the literal meaning of the word "find". (eg. location isn't the point here). A lower level speaker might, on the other hand, get stuck at "find" and not be able to deduce meaning from context.
     
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  10. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I give the "How did you find the party" as an example because I've had foreigners respond to me wrongly before.

    Likewise, "What's he like?" is another one. My students always respond with, "He likes football." And then off I go to the blackboard...
     
  11. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Okay, I didn't want to use the example because it's here on the site, but it's front of mind. I wrote:

    "The only thing I thought I should mention is that..."

    In the context, I believed it was not certain what my meaning was. There was no indication that I was misinterpreted, but I worried that I may not have been understood correctly.

    I didn't know if one might think that phrase means something literal like "the only thing worth mentioning," or it's culturally conventional usage, to indicate that there was only one concerning aspect?

    I experience other ruminations about whether or not I'm being understood, but I can't think of the examples, at the moment.
     
  12. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If you're talking cultural ambiguity, I think there might be more credit to your question. For example, when my English friend said, "Yeah, that girl's very interesting," another friend responded with, "Yeah, she's travelled around hasn't she?" (meaning: Yes, she is interesting because she's got an interesting background and therefore lots to say)

    But when an Englishman says something is "interesting" - that's not a compliment.

    A: "How's the cake?"
    B: "It's interesting."
    A: "Yeah I found it on the internet and [launches into a 2-hour monologue on how she made the cake]"
    B: "That's interesting."

    "Interesting" is usually used to mean either "strange" or to essentially dismiss the speaker by implying that, honestly, I'm not interested. It's a comment that doesn't invite any response.

    But I've had foreigner friends respond as if it was a compliment. Many foreigners I've come across have never heard of this phenonmenon.

    In this sense, even an advance English speaker may get confused - because context isn't enough now to deduce meaning. This is a situation where we're using a word to respond very appropriately to the situation, and the word is not out of place, but culturally we mean something entirely different to the dictionary definition. Here one would have had to have lived in the country where the language is spoken to understand, or hung out with many people from the country. Simply learning it to a high level yet remaining in your own home country wouldn't be enough.

    But honestly, all these are real life examples. I can think of nothing in books...
     
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  13. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Well, yeah, I'm not talking about sending people to the dictionary for random idioms, proverbs and figures of speech. I guess all I mean is culturally. :)
     
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  14. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, words are open, to some extent, to interpretation. You cannot wholly control the interpretation of your words - that's why there's such a subject as English Literature, or any other Literature class where you discuss the meaning of a book. Or even Book Clubs.

    By saying "the only thing I thought I should mention is..." you imply that the thing you mention is of priority - it's an important point. It's a turn of phrase, I suppose. Someone could interpret it to mean you think that's the only important point probably, but I don't think that's really an English level issue. That's just a writing issue. This is how people misunderstand each other on forums and Facebook and such, right? This is more about legitimate interpretation rather than ambiguities that lead to a complete mistake in understanding.
     
  15. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Not to be rude, but what gives you equal confidence to communicate with a native-speaker and not one, and still have equal faith in being understood? Maybe you don't think that, but that's where you've left me at this point.
     
  16. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    "to communicate with a native-speaker and not one" - what's "not one" supposed to refer to? Are you implying I'm not a native speaker?

    Well, if you want to live, speak, and write without any faith that you're being understood... well... that's up to you. But then I don't see the point in speaking, or writing, at all, since meaning can never be certain nor accurately deduced.

    Every example I've given, I gave from my regular experience. I do actually speak with, and write to, ESL learners, because I'm an ESL teacher. My own husband is Czech - English is his second language, which he only fully grasped after he was 17. My own mother doesn't always understand me when I speak English with her, because it's also her second language. In terms of ambiguities, misunderstandings, language barriers - I live with it. Yes, if someone is of a lower level in English, I don't always believe they understood everything. Other times by my friend's response, I know she did not understand me.

    But this is day-to-day life. When I write, I write for the English-speaking market. I write assuming those who read it can understand this level of English. I write as a native speaker. I'm not about to worry if I'd be misunderstood based on their cultures or their level of English as long as my context and writing is clear. You cannot eradicate all sense of culture and idioms from your writing, though you can try. And if you worried about the risks of misunderstandings - and that can and probably will happen - you may just end up never writing. Take your pick.

    Anyway I sorely hope you were not trying to comment on my linguistic abilities, because if you were, that is rather offensive.
     
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  17. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    No. I asked what gives you the confidence to communicate with two different people. At least that was my intention. My apologies for any offence. I accept fault for not being more clear. It seemed like an awkward matter to phrase to begin with.
     
  18. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm a native speaker and I have no idea what either of you is talking about!

    :oops:
     
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  19. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    All right, I'm glad I kept my cool then :p Being bicultural and not quite a fully second-generation emigrant and my goodness, oh the so many comments where people clearly don't understand my answer when I tell them where I'm from, the looks, the well-meant comments of, "Oh your English is so good!" - I brush all this off pretty easily but on a regular basis, and truth be told I still suffer a tiny bit from a cultural identity crisis that's taken over a decade to mellow down. So I can be a tad touchy in this area :ghost: (and now bracing myself to raise my kid trilingual - still not quite got the courage to go back to speaking in Cantonese 100%, my cultural identity shifting yet again in the recent year or so.... Yeah...)

    Anyway, what gives me the confidence to speak to natives and non-natives and believe I'll be understood? With natives - well, they're native speakers, so that's how. As for non-natives, as I said, it depends entirely on their level of English. You can tell pretty easily when someone possesses a high level vs. someone who simply speaks the language at a communicative level vs. someone who speaks well but has grown rusty vs. someone of a lower level. Based on this, I try to alter the way I speak and slow down, but don't always succeed. If by their response I can see they didn't understand me, sometimes I pretend they hadn't made a mistake and just repeat the question as if it's new.

    Other times, say, with my husband, I'd pause and ask, "Do you know what X means?" And he'd tell me yes or no, indicating whether I should explain myself in plainer English. When you're with someone often enough, such as your spouse, you get a good idea of what he may or may not understand. I don't always get this right, there have been times when I've asked and he's said he understood perfectly and can repeat back to me what I meant. But usually I'm right. You get a good idea of it in time.

    @BayView what's there not to understand? :ninja::supercheeky:
     
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