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Author Topic: A non-native speaker's rant
Foste
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While this is not much of a rant (more a list of observations), I chose rant because it sounds cooler. :P

And so do many other words in this wonderful mess that is the English language.

I tend to fall in love with new words pretty quickly. In one of my stories I wrote "She blocked maladroitly."
Two alpha readers told me that maladroitly sounds a bit off. Admittedly, it does. But it sounds so darned cool. Maladroit. the way it rolls off the tongue.

*shivers*

But, yeah. I replaced it with "clumsily". Why have a 100$ word when a 5$ one will do? Heck, my rent is 100$ (and my place is a pit, thank you for asking).
Some words or archaisms add some flavor to the story, but that's another matter entirely.

What I want to know is, do some of you guys have moments when you're weighing the merit of a certain word over another?

Second guessing a certain construction while editing?

I was just wondering how it is for you guys who grew up in the inner circle.

There is, of course, a reason why I prefer English to German, Serbian or even Japanese. It's the musicality of the sentences, the richness of the vocabulary... and number of markets, I guess. :P

Feel free to chip in.


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Robert Nowall
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Well, I've had a dispute with "ly" adverbs these past few years, editing them out of my literary work, and choosing substitutes. (Just the literary end---this off-the-cuff stuff here I leave as it comes, except for a couple of inserts or mind-changing.)

For "maladroitly" or "clumsily," I might have said "without skill," or "in a clumsy manner." But I'm thinking of backing off this---it's kind of labor-intensive, and a lot of writing and writers I really like make use of it, and in the revision it gets to be like chewing used gum, no fun at all.

(Also, for us native speakers, "one hundred dollars" would be "$100," not "100$.")


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jcavonpark
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quote:
What I want to know is, do some of you guys have moments when you're weighing the merit of a certain word over another?


I actually do this all the time. I find myself deleting and rewriting a few words over and over until I get them right. As OSC would say, you shouldn't do this too often when you write something. There are a thousand ways to write the story and only one hundred will be truly great, but 800 will be just fine, and then 100 will be god awful. We shouldn't worry too much about specific words too often because it will just take that much longer for us to write the story, which is bad.

On the other hand, you can just do this when you edit. You have to be careful though. Authors will go back and edits stories constantly and most of them are never truly satisfied with the story even if it wins an award or two. The story is never really finished; the author has simply moved on. All you can do is get it done and learn to be satisfied with what you've got.


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Natej11
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Google's my best friend in this. If I can't think of a synonym I just type the word and "synonym" in. If I can't get the spelling right I type in the best I can manage and usually it comes up.

I have a thing about not using the same word more than once in a short period of time, so it really comes in handy.


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Reziac
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I use the word with the exact shade of meaning required, and if it's a 2 cent word or a $100 word -- well, that's irrelevant. Some readers are not going to know the word; I'm not going to write down to 'em. I don't worry about whether it's an adverb, adjective, or whatever, so long as it efficiently conveys the right meaning. One well-chosen adverb is worth a whole paragraph of circumlocution.

Maladroit (lacking skill or tact) and clumsy (stiffness or heaviness of motion) are not exact synonyms, and should not be dragooned into performing the same duties.

Recommended for all writers: Webster's New Dictionary of Synonyms
(available very cheaply used; http://www.bookfinder4u.com/ or http://www.abebooks.com are good search sites)



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Wordcaster
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I agree with reziac - maladroitly and clumsily are different. We can all be clumsy in doing something, but that doesn't make us maladroits in doing so. Use the words you think fit -- although I tend to not like either adverb, as they are telling and not showing.

I'll sometimes peak at thesaurus.com, but rarely to fish for a "smarter" word -- usually when I know the right word, but it is on the tip of my tongue. I'm never impressed when someone uses an obscure word and even less impressed when it is used improperly.

Do I debate over words, phrases, sentences? Sure. I like finding the perfect word at times (though my writing certainly doesn't reflect it). You've been in the game for a while and I think you have to stick with your own best judgment at some point.


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redux
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English is a very nuanced language. Word choice can give subtle hints as to geographic region, gender, age, social class, profession, etc.

Pop, soda, or coke? It will depend on whether my character is from the Midwest, East Coast, or the South.

Will they refer to something as being cute? Then it's likely to be a girl.

I can go on and on ...

So yes, I too have spent many an hour debating which word would be best in conveying a particular meaning.

[This message has been edited by redux (edited May 25, 2011).]


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Grayson Morris
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Redux - if your character's from the South (at least the eastern bit), then it's probably "pepsi." ;-) (Or at least it would have been twenty-five years ago.)
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MartinV
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I know how you feel, Foste. My position with the English language is more or less identical to yours.

Here's my view on the use of fancy words: as little as possible, yet not completely cut out. They should be an occasional spice in the story stew but you can't make a whole stew from spices, can you?

You have to understand that big, complicated words slow down the pace of the story. If a reader has to stop and think "what does this even mean?", then you're killing your story, not giving it life.

Same with worldbuilding. You can create a setting with the most exotic languages and peoples imaginable, full of strangest names. But this is a stew thick with spices. Can you swim through it? Hardly. A setting should be like water. Dense, firm, yet allowing you to glide through with ease.


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enigmaticuser
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I do that quite frequently, and I am a native speaker. Ever since I started really writing, I have grown in love with my own language. Apparently, English does have the most words of any language so that makes sense.

Though I also find its contagious and I'm falling in love with more languages.

It's very difficult then when someone tells me that I'm reaching for a word that's too far out there. And I think there is some truth to that, but that's usually because the word isn't "musical" as you put it. But sometimes people disagree about words I think are acceptable, or even the way I use a normal word. Like using "ribbit" as a...one of those words that sounds like a sound...I read it in a post recently about static, began with a P.

Anyways, I think its important to use those words to improve/sustain a readers vocabulary and keep the language alive.


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enigmaticuser
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Onomatopoeic, that's the word.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Or onomatopoeia (enigmaticuser provided the adjective, and I've provided a link about the noun).



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Josephine Kait
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Grayson Morris – what Redux is referring to is a custom in the South (even the eastern part) to call all carbonated drinks “coke.”

-----
“What’ll ya have to drink darlin?” The waitress waited, pad in hand.
“Coke, please”
“What kind?” she all but rolled her eyes.
“Coke” the he replied slowly as if she was dim-witted.
She huffed a little at the condescension and replied slowly as well, “Ya want regular coke, diet coke, sprite…?” She batted her eyes at him a little to take some of the sting out and maybe not blow her whole tip. But really, who could stand these damn Yankees.


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MartinV
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It's true that I'm writing in English. However, this doesn't mean I don't like or that I hate my native language. On the contrary, I think Slovenian is one of the most beautiful and complex languages to exist.

Why do I bother to write in English then? Slovenian book market is simply not large enough to create demand for sci-fi/fantasy novels that I plan to write. The public still deems fantasy as not serious literature.


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Foste
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@MartinV

Last time I was in Ljubljana I understood about 60-70% what people were saying (dvojina is a bit confusing). How about you and the Croatian/Serbian crowd?


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Grayson Morris
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Josephine: yeah, I got that. Being from the South, I was pointing out that the generic word where I come from--at least when I was growing up--is "pepsi," not coke.

I'm from North Carolina, where Pepsi comes from, so perhaps NC differs from the rest of the South in that regard.

[This message has been edited by Grayson Morris (edited May 27, 2011).]


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MartinV
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Sad to say, Foste, my understanding of Croatian/Serbian is in bad shape. I'd be kind if I say I understand 40%. I was born a few years too late to be a part of 'Jugoslovanska mladina' (Youth of Yugoslavia for anyone who is curious).
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Foste
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Yeah, me too. I am only 21.

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Reziac
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quote:
I think Slovenian is one of the most beautiful and complex languages to exist.

I don't know the language, but Slovenia seems to produce more than its fair share of musical creativity, which may be related -- language shapes the ear. First noticed that with "aRTyBoy" back in the MOD era. His "9 feelings" is one of the best ever. http://modarchive.org/index.php?request=view_by_moduleid&query=62049


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posulliv
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I wish I'd learned English as a second language. There's so much native speakers take for granted.

My Irish was never really good, but now it's decayed to the 'cupla focal' level. I don't think I would have even tried to learn it if it wasn't required for school, but it really opened my eyes to the way that language both shapes and reflects thought patterns at a fundamental level.

In Irish you don't get angry, you have anger on you; you don't sleep, you're in your sleeping. I find these literal translations to be quite telling, and reflective of a different world view. It isn't just the words that are different; the ideas are.

These are simple examples and not totally descriptive, but you get the idea. If your only language is English it's easy to assume that everyone does and has always thought the way you do. It's useful to be reminded from time to time that that isn't true.

So accept my half story, as one might say, I find that those that have the advantage of fluency in more than one language to be at an advantage to those who largely do not.

[This message has been edited by posulliv (edited May 27, 2011).]


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Reziac
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quote:
In Irish you don't get angry, you have anger on you; you don't sleep, you're in your sleeping. I find these literal translations to be quite telling, and reflective of a different world view. It isn't just the words that are different; the ideas are.

Yes. Language shapes your thoughts; likewise it's hard to have thoughts that your language can't encompass.

I have a few I've made up and use routinely, that probably reflect my twisted brain <g> ...frex, it's not a pen or pencil, it's an onscribble-wither; similarly, a typewriter is an ontypeit-with -- note that with the direct object "it", "with" does not take the action case. Yes, this speakingness ownness grammar beeshavings.

Rain, raining; snow, snowing; wind, winding (you don't say "There's a lot of blow today," do you?)

This is actually something to think deeply about if you're worldbuilding a culture that speaks a different language. How do your people think, how does that relate to their language? We were discussing "fictional bad language" on Another Forum[tm] and tho consensus was it never sounds quite right if you don't just translate into English for the reader, you also have to understand what would or would not be "bad language" for your characters, based on their cultures.

[This message has been edited by Reziac (edited May 31, 2011).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Have y'all read Poul Anderson's "Uncleftish Beholding" (from Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, volume 109, no. 13, pages 132–135, mid-December 1989, Davis Publications)? This is a link to one place where it can be read on the web.

Enjoy!


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Grayson Morris
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quote:
Rain, raining; snow, snowing; wind, winding (you don't say "There's a lot of blow today," do you?)

Well, that depends on who you are....George Jung probably said that regularly. ;-)

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MartinV
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Writing a first full novel in English, I realized I like to play with language. I modified some phrases (example: "make yourself scarce" into "make yourself rare") and created some new verbs though I've realized some of them aren't new at all. Example: knifing. It's interesting to insert rules from my own language in English. Since I'm writing fantasy, I'm hoping this will create some interesting linguistical effects.
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Reziac
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"Make yourself rare" instead of "make yourself scarce" sounds like how we'd often talk in Montana (tho I never hear that sort of thing in California) -- someone wasn't tall, they were long (tall and short, long and short; therefore people are long, not tall). You didn't go to the day-old bread store, you went to the used-bread store. It just seemed natural to use a sideways descriptor and bend the language a little.

Occurs to me that this might be a side effect of the area being largely settled by Dutch, German, and Norwegian immigrants, and having grandparents who still used old-country idiom, and heavily idiomatic languages warped into English.

Ufda!!


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