Thursday, May 08, 2008

My son and I tackle voice

Yes, okay, I said I wouldn't have time to blog this week. And I don't. But that statement went bust the day after I made it.

Last night, my son and I sat down to read a book together, one of several submissions sent for review at the Brown Bookshelf. I really enjoyed the story, as did he. But the language used in the book bothered him.

Throughout the story, the author used words like ain't, gonna and whadd'ya. He also used apostrophes to shorten words: Burnin,' fryin,' 'cause, 'ol.

Dialog included phrases like Whatcha makin' and Whaddya wanna make?

We couldn't get past a couple paragraphs without him interrupting our reading to correct the author's grammar or the character's English.

Halfway through the book, he asked me why the author was "talking like that."

Dang! Can't we just read the story?

I commended him on his good use of language, but also reminded him that he doesn't always speak perfect English himself. I explained to him that some people do use words like ain't and got and gonna, and that those people — like his dad — appreciate seeing their imperfect language used the literature they read. It's called voice, I told him. And it helps to define a character's personality, background, culture, while sometimes possibly helping the reader relate to that character.

He didn't seem understand (he was more interested in being right), so I decided to shelve that topic for another day.

3 comments:

Rinda M. Byers said...

The more I learn about English, the more convinced I am that there is NO perfect English.

The imperfect English you describe actually is a DIALECT of English, a variant, and it has its roots in African languages that slaves brought with them from Africa. A clear indicator is the use of double negatives in a sentence: I ain't got no cherries today (ain't and no).

This is what I read somewhere. I could be wrong about this specific indicator, but relics of those African languages linger on in the way some African-Americans speak English today.

In Applachia, the same thing occurs. Their English carries inside it idicators of English dialects from England in the
1700's.

How languages change and inherit and relate from and to each other is utterly FASCINATING!!

And, yes, it does give a character "voice" to use such variants.
This is a speech pattern transliterated into English from an African language or languages. It is pretty cool because every language and every dialect is a window in which someone views the world.

Of course, school teachers have to teach the "perfect" or standard English, but it is really too bad that they do not give children an appreciation of their own heritages.

Rinda M. Byers said...

Whew! I'm glad the auto thingies ID'd me! I was a in hurry, got to go watch Survivior with my kitty. She knows the words "Survivor" and "Jeff" mean cuddle tiem for her, poor thing. I don't get to sit down with her every day, so busy

indigene said...

oooh...I remember that conversation with my now (13) year old. She squished her face and said, "Oh Mommie, that means I have to learn another language! :) Hold on to this memory, when he becomes a teenager, because trust me on this one, he'll speak a language that you won't understand. These are some precious times for you, I know I miss those times now. Get back to painting!