Monday, January 12, 2009

Written v. Spoken English

I just started taking a graduate course in linguistics and I wanted to pose one of the discussion questions that came up in class for blog readers and mythmakers alike to ponder.

One of the students commented on the text's examples of how language changes over time. He said, "rather than seeing these examples as 'language change,' I see them as examples of the distance that printed English always needs (for one reason or another) to put between itself and spoken English." I so wanted to ask him what his reasons were, but since I didn't I'll ask you. Why would spoken English need to be different than written English? To go even further than that, since we are writing fiction, especially dialogue, does there still need to be a disctinction between the grammar of written and spoken English? This includes pauses..... ah, and maybe how we, er, stumble over our words when we speak. Should these be part of written dialogue? If so, how much?


purpleprose 78 said...

Ok, you've jumped over my head, but I'll put it this way. Written English has always been different than spoken English. My guess is that it is because spoken language can evolve quicker than written language. I watched My Fair Lady this weekend. Eliza Doolittle spoke English, but it wasn't an English that most people would recognize. If you read As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury, the English spoken by their character is very different from Henry Higgins and very different from Eliza Doolittle. And I think that is because of the outside influences of other languages and cultures.

purpleprose 78 said...

One more interesting side note about language.....When I learned to speak Spanish, I learned the Castilian dialect which is the dialect that is spoken by the people of Madrid.

The Castilian dialect developed because the king had a lisp and the people in Madrid started talking like the king to preserve their heads and livelihoods. That was an interesting reason for language evolution.

Darlene C. Goodman said...

That is an awesome piece of trivia, Vikki. I had never heard that.

Kalayna Price said...

I think there is a certain amount of distance between written and spoken language evident in that we don't want to reproduce speech exactly. After all, no one wants to read all the meandering uhs, ums, and likes (ect.) people tend to use when speaking. Author's tend to throw in enough to give the illusion a character uses them a lot, but then only actually has the dialogue show up on occasion. Also, 'shooting the wind' type dialogue is often purged from a story simply for pacing and advancing the plot. Otherwise though, I would say most books (particularly in genre fiction) are much more colloquial these days than in decades past. Speech patterns, including intentional grammar errors, such as fragments, are used to create voice and mood even in narrative blocks of text.