Millennial syntax

As a random, lurking snarkling, I thought you might be interested in this news article.

Frankly, I think I'd have to gouge my eyes out if books came written like that.

Much love and many gin pails,

You're going to need Killer Yapp for your seeing eye dog soon. Take a look (while you can) at Londonstani.

Here are the first six lines straight from the book:

---Serve him right he got his muthafuckin face fuck'd , shudn't b callin me a Paki, innit.

After spittin his words out Hardjit stopped for a second, like he expected us to write em down or someshit. Then he sticks in an exclamation mark by kickin the white kid in the face again. --Shudn't b callin us Pakis, innit, u dirrty gora.


Anonymous said...

I noticed the average Amazon.com reader hasn't rated the book very high. I suppose, with the combination of our chronic lax attitudes and sympathetic reaching out for the uneducated, the English language will end up in the toilet. Instead of using the tough love method, we instead lower the standards so the bad spellers and grammar-challenged don't feel bad. It's ludicrous.

archer said...

muthafuckin face fuck'd , shudn't b callin me a Paki

As the best scholars will tell you, it's Mothafucka call me a Paki I fuck UP his shit. There are no known forms of contraction, and "shudn't" is imported from the suburbs.

Mindy Tarquini said...

What 'innit' mean? Anything like idjit?

Londonstani is like reading Geoffrey Chaucer's blog, but without the wit and lyrical language.

Anonymous said...

Just proves (again) that anyone who can type can write crap. It's the good stuff that's harder.


Bernita said...

Dialogue is one thing, across the board is another.
Lawyers and copy editors would love it, I imagine.

Anonymous said...

I think these are two different things. The article talks about standardizing spelling based on phonetics (and not dialect). As tough as this might be to shift to, it makes sense.

Anyone who's read Chaucer or Shakespeare knows spelling has evolved and humans have managed to adjust.

The only thing that's a puzzle to me is how to standardize phonetics when people speak with accents. Spelling still wouldn't make sense to southerners (or even some in the 212, I'm afraid).

RFB said...

Holy Hell. What have we spawned and who are the agents and pub houses buying this mufuggin shit up?

Gotdam, I swear on yo sistah's boo-tay I am at a bigass loss to 'splain why the suckas don read my shit - an shit.

I guess it's all about what the market will bear. Bear THIS, market.

Kanani said...

re: Simplified Spelling

In 1966, I was introduced to reading and writing by a British system called "ita." ita consisted of vowel, consonant and dipthongs mated together such as "a" and "e" --the e was upside down shoved next to the a, which read a short "eh" sound. "i""n""g" were scrunched together like a lovely threesome, and "o""i" or "ss" and "a"with a long line over it so you could come up with "Oye, Mate... wassup?"

I survived because it was only for my first year of schooling until one transitioned to standardised spelling. But like the elusive "math gene" spelling correctly has something to do with genetics. My friend is brilliant, a superlawyer, and an awful speller, "Your lovly!" he once wrote to me. But it doesn't matter. That's what his staff is for.


I admire Malkani for his approach to his story.

Sonarbabe said...

My head hurts now.

word verification: ozkkz

Sounds about fitting for that snippet, don't you think?

John Jones said...

That's awfully headache-inducing.


Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Languages and grammar conventions evolve. Try this on for size:

"Fader ur henne, haleweide eith thi neune, cumin thi kuneriche, thy wille beoth idon in heune and in erthe. The enryeu dawe briende, gif ous tilk dawe. And vorzif uer detters as vi yorsifen ure dettoures. And lenne us nought into temtation, bot delyvor eus of evel."-- 1157 AD

Good, solid, spell-on-the-fly English. Can you read it?

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

"innit" is "isn't it." In practical use it's often used to state what the speaker sees as an a priori argument.

lizzie26 said...

OMG, now my head and my eyes hurt. And a large publishing house pubbed that book? Is there no hope for sanity?

Anonymous said...

The problem with Londonstani, as The Guardian's review of the book pointed out, is that writing in this way implies that non-white or working-class characters are the only people who speak with an accent; that the way upper-class white people speak is the norm and every other kind of dialogue is a deviation from this. I've never seen a British writer attempt to render the speech of a toff from the South of England phonetically.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could stop it but language has always, will always evolve. This, however, is not evolution. This is pushing it.

I can't judge the quality based on a tiny snippet. Hey, maybe the thing gets better. But it doesn't matter what people write, people write crap all the time. We only have to fear this if it SELLS.

Bernita said...

Yes,Sha'el, but then I took Anglo-Saxon.
I'm somewhere laisse faire between the language nazis and the fonix werks 4 mee crowd.
Prefer language to evolve organically.

Anonymous said...

sha'el: couldn't pronounce it, but did recognize it as the Lord's Prayer.

A recovering Catholic ; )

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking the good folks at Penguin who pubbed this piece of crap should be shot at dawn. An abomination.

Anonymous said...

Innit is Brit-slang roughly equivalent to "isn't it?"
As in, this lax attitude towards proper English is a shame, innit?

Anonymous said...

The story may not be my thing... but I liked it. Those five lines grabbed me. I find it very interesting.

Pepper Smith said...

Spellings and pronunciations evolve, over time. Usually over much longer periods of time than it seems they're suggesting.

Implementing this would be a nightmare. They seem to be suggesting that words should be spelled the way they sound, but common sense tells you that even in a country where everyone ostensibly speaks the same language, local dialects mean that the same word can be pronounced a dozen or more different ways throughout the country. It's hard enough understanding those differences when they're spoken out loud. Can you imagine the differences in writing? You'd have to spend more time deciphering sentences to get the meaning than it's worth.

The spellings of words in use now contain clues to their origins and meanings. That's one reason words snatched from other languages retain their original spellings. It helps us know what the word means, especially in cases where words that are pronounced the same are spelled differently.

Okay, yes, I'm a word nut. But I don't understand how exchanging one set of spelling rules for another is going to help, especially when the second set will take so much of the richness of the language away from those who actually bother to learn how to use it. And trust me, this is not about keeping the English language "pure". I have James D. Nicoll's quote in my signature at one of the places I post. This is about being able to make oneself understood by the words one chooses to use.

For those who are not familiar with Nicoll's quote:
The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary. -- James D. Nicoll

Anonymous said...

Sha'el, I bow before your pixyish expertise--the snippet you cited is the Our Father in Saxon (or early Middle English? I'm not sure.

Sure, language morphs over time. If it doesn't, we call it a dead language, like classical Latin. Now before you Latin scholars jump all over me, I haven't seen any newly invented Latin jargon or slang in centuries. Why should English be any different?

I'm sure there was junk-writing in Chaucer's day. We're just lucky it didn't survive. I can sure verify there's junk-writing in my time.



Deborah Hern said...

When I was in high school (back in the Dark Ages) we read several classics in an English class. Much of the dialogue was written phoenetically, to indicate regional dialects. Deep South, etc. It was a complete pita to read. We had an exchange student from Norway in our class. He was very bright, spoke English very well. These fonix spelngs nearly brought the boy to tears. I recall we all banded together to take it in turn to read the crap with him, to he'd have some small chance of understanding.

My feeling is, the world at large is dumb enough. We really don't need to help it along by dropping everything to the lowest common denominator. To my mind, this is roughly akin to doing away with number/letter grades because some schools feel that low grades make students feel bad about themselves.

verification is, appropriately, jfpmlq

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I understand the protestations about this book....yes, it's written in dialect. Perhaps not your thing. But does the fact that it's written in dialect mean it's automatically a bad book? Of course not.

As for the people who would like the make a "rule" about officially changing the spelling of english words...they're nuts.

Anonymous said...

Phonetic spelling is cultural imperialism, pure and simple. Who would decide the "correct" prononciation of words -- the elite, the upper class. And then people would be able to say that the other accents and pronounciations are wrong.

And then there's the question of loan-words from other languages. The French, Latin, Spanish, Hindi words we say in a very different way than native speakers. Whose way would win there?

Anonymous said...

I think there's a big difference between destroying the roots of launguage (stupid and obnoxious) and writing accurate dialect (difficult but worthwhile, and generally something readers asjust to fairly quickly if the book is worth it.) Haven't read Londonstani, so don't know about it's particular uses of language, but it's project seems very different than that of the bad spellers.

Anonymous said...

I realize Stephen King has also done dialogue like this, and probably a few others, but it is always really hard to read.
There has to be a more creative and readable way to express the low intelligence and undereducated youth of a subculture without making the reader suffer a migrane for want of a vowel, and noun.
It's like the ebonics thing of the 90's, oh lets make stupid legitiment by making it a new language.

Anonymous said...

I can't stand so-called simplified spelling. There's as much dialects as there are spellings. Writing like you say something isn't going to make things any easier because different people say things differently. Anyone who actually bothered to learn spelling when they should have, know the current spelling rules well enough. Changing it now would only make things harder for the people who actually payed attention in school.

And don't get me started on mobile phone speak...

Anonymous said...

Oh. My. Gawd.
I have a hard enough time with the shortcut language on the internet. Oh, yeah, and Chaucer, too. I tried, I really tried to read Chaucer's Tales, but gave up.

I guess a few people feel that I have a tough time with the English language, too, but I'm tryin', really I am.

Anonymous said...

And while we're at the subject of spelling, I'd like to order a massive load of clue bats from Miss Snark to whip the ignorance out of people who use the phrase "should of". They obviously don't know their verbs.

If I order over 500, do I get a discount?

Anonymous said...

Having language evolve is fine, but it should not be altered by those who show they know nothing about the language to begin with.

Besides, it still wouldn't solve people not knowing their grammar as is so often the case. And then there's homonyms...that, dad an dead would be spelled the same to most people in this wonderful new idea of a world. Not everyone knows the subtle pronounciation differences between them so people would still be misspelling stuff.

In other words: suck it up an try again.

Anonymous said...

There's one massive problem with attempting to develop a standardized phonetic system of English spelling. Drive across the U.S. or up and down the British isles, or across Australia, and it should be face-smackingly obvious: there's no one standard way to pronounce English. Therefore if you try to spell English phonetically, whose accent are you going to use as "standard?"

Besides, standardizing English spelling according to pronunciation is what got us our current system of spelling. Cough, for example, wasn't always pronounced "coff." The -ugh ending was a gluttural at the time that the current spelling came about. But the language was in transition at the time, so pronunciations were changing, and now we're stuck with spellings that go with older pronunciations.

A second, less obvious problem with phonetic spelling is that most people don't read phonetically. We start out learning phonics and similar systems to "decode" words, but decoding is not reading. Eventually we learn, consciously or unconsciously, to scan words and make meaning of sentences without having to carefully sound out the word in our heads. So when confronted with an alternate spelling, we have to "learn to read" all over again, because our whole-word scanning no longer works. That's why it's such an effort to read something spelled phonetically, even though it seems like it ought to be harder.

I post on a financial discussion board where there's someone who always spells phonetically. Someone explained that the person is using Ebonics. For the most part, this person is ignored because no one wants to take the time to puzzle through whatever it is he or she is trying to say.

iLL Man said...

Going on that quote i'll be looking out for this one.

It may or may not be a good book, but it's use of dialect will not a factor in my judgement of it's worth.

I think the English language is big and ugly enough to survive a wee bit of street vernacular in the odd novel.

magz said...

i dunno; i spect it haz lotz more tado with wedder misuse of r goofed out syntex be

or jus plum ignrant.

Personally, I mirror my manner of both speaking and writing English based upon exactly whom I am attempting to communicate with.. and just what I wish to communicate.

My Bad; so far the worst criticism I've recieved when offering my writing for critique is that I tend to mix the styles of presentation in my 'voice'...
Which seems to be the norm in much of the conversation I am privvy to.

Magine dat! Sum folkes talk funny!

Kafaleni said...

Londonstani (aside from the title) is obviously a British book, from the sentence construction and the slang.

innit = isn't it, or is it not

Which brings me to the question I wanted to raise.. you can simplify American spelling, but that doesn't help a LOT of other countries who pronounce the same words with a different accent, inflection or emphasis. The first example I saw in the news article was 'stoodent'. In New Zealand, Australia, Britain, (and probably several other countries that I haven't visited) it's pronounced 'stewdent', so therefore, any books printed with simplified spellings would need to be edited for foreign markets. This could be a whole new industry for translators, but overall, it's going to be a royal pain in the heinie for all involved.

Stacia said...

Ugh. More anti-intellectual pissants who want to turn the US into a third world kingdom of Stupid by lowering standards, catering to the lowest common denominator, and making it impossible for future Americans to compete on a world stage.

Imagine trying to communicate in writing internationally. Not only would it be impossible for people for whom English is a second (third, fourth, etc.) language to understand what the heck was being written, but what happens when Charlie Newspelling tried to apply the same la sais-faire attitude to their language?

BLAH! Makes me sick!

Anonymous said...

OK so what is the problem with this?
Someone has attempted to write dialogue in the way it is spoken by young people less than 20 miles from where I live. Is it authentic? I can't tell, I don't mix with people who speak like this, but they certainly exist. Is this any less valid than writing about gang life in South Central LA?

none said...

If this system is as wonderful as it's purported to be, why do so many people have difficulty deciphering anything written in it?

Yes, I could read the prayer, more or less, but it helped that I recognised it after struggling through a few lines.

I don't mind working a bit harder to understand something, provided it rewards the effort I put in. I object to being made to work hard to get the sense of something as mundane as "I am hungry".

Actually, I AM hungry.

krw3b said...

And who's going to translate every word ever written for all the kids who only know the new spellings and can't read the old?

"2B or not 2B. That is th kweschun."

"It is a trooth yooniversale aknolegd that a singl man in pozeshun of a gud fortyoon must b in want of a wief."

I'm not lining up for that job.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

This has turned into a much more interesting topic than I first thought. Ethnic dialogue interests me. Making dialogue believable, identifiable, and readable is a challenge.

Here’s an example from a book I like:

“Domsie wesna far wrang, a’ see, but it’s no possible ye cud tell us the names o’ Jacob’s sons; it’s maybe no fair tae ask sich a teuch question,” knowing all the while that this was a test case of Domsie’s.” (Ten points to the person who can identify the book!)

This is not unrealistic dialogue, especially for the late 19th Century. The accent survives. One may still hear it. But it’s much easier to hear and understand than it is to read and comprehend. So, how true to real ethnic or regional speech should one be?

In Dragon Sword (working title, unpublished) I’ve based a character on a man I knew as a child. His grammar was awful; his pronunciation puzzling; and his stories held me for hours. His neighbours called him “Dingy Bill.” He wasn’t ‘dingy.’ He was very bright, though eccentric. He was also a drunk.

He haunted the forests about which I write. He knew them well, and he knew the people and history of that area. It was a challenge to put his mannerisms onto a page. I elected to modify them. I tried to convey the flavour of his words. Written exactly as he spoke them, they would be unfathomable. His was speech for the ears only.

I based my character “Cookie” on Bill. Though only a minor character in the early part of the book, he becomes a major one later. He rides into camp with supplies. He comes face to face with Robert’s daughter, Sha’el. Sha’el is a pixie child, not far from being newborn. She’s about 18 inches tall at this point. She flutters in front of his face and exclaims, “I know who you are? You’re ‘Cookie,’ and you make biscuits.” The dialogue I ended up with is a compromise between how Bill really spoke and what I’m comfortable reading.

“James Monroe Madison, at your service miss.” Cookie removed his wide brimmed hat and bowed as low as his saddle would allow. “My pappy was a great reader of history and I got named for the presidents. And, who’d you be, little miss?”

Father found his lost ability to speak. “She’s my daughter Cookie. This is my family. Cookie? You can’t tell anyone.”

“Robbie my boy. For all I know I’ve got the oddest case of the TD’s I’ve ever had. Ain’t no one going to believe an old drunk bull-cook. Hell, I don’t believe any of this myself. I’ve probably passed out on the trail, and this is all haluz’nation. Don’t rightly recall drinking before I left. But ya never know.”

My sisters peeked out from behind Papa’s legs.

“My God Robbie boy. There’s more of ‘em hangin from your pants.”

I sympathize with anyone who writes ethnic or regional dialect. It’s hard to do well. I'd have loved to put more of Bill's real mannerisms into Cookie, but, if I did, it would take readers out of the story. I hate having to mentally translate. I don't want to compel my readers to do it either.

Anonymous said...

Actually there are two issues working here. Phonetic spelling/standard spelling in general, and the use of phonetically-rendered dialect in this novel.
Standardized spelling rather than phonetic spelling works because it frees people to pronounce their dialects as they please, while still retaining global intelligibilty for written work.
Whose spoken system is standard English supposed to be, anyway? As someone pointed out, if you render the speech of the British upper class phonetically, you do not end up with the standard spelling either.
Standard spelling isn't anyone's native pronunciation, it's all a convention.
If one replaced standard English with a myriad of phonetic regional spelling (say, on the model the demise of Latin), one only gives birth to dozens of not necessarily mutually intelligible vernaculars.
Phonetically-spelled Taiwanese ESL instructions for toaster repair to be deciphered by a Texan reader, anyone?
It's okay for the spoken language to differ, at times wildly, because face-to-face people will work towards mutual understanding.
But if you have only a written text -- as with the Norweigan student and the Deep South phonetic dialogue -- you have problems.
The bit quoted from the text here?
Well, the use of phonetically rendered dialect is an old ploy, though distracting when overused.
I just reread Wuthering Heights, and figure that Bronte gave Joseph all that colorful dialect just to keep the reader annoyed with him.
This author is presumably trying to create the voice of a foul-mouthed, and foul-minded character.
By George, I think he got it.
(I sincerely hope it's only a character, and not the narrator's voice, out of compassion for those who might have to read this thing.)
I will assume though, perhaps naively, that the query letter shopping this thing wasn't also in dialect.

Christina said...

response to anonymous:
"I realize Stephen King has also done dialogue like this, and probably a few others, but it is always really hard to read"

Yeah, it may be difficult for some, but it's important to be able to read phonetically to give the dialogue the right tone, accent, whatever. The dialect and pronunciations from different parts of the country/world are often integral to character development and/or the overall tone of a story or part thereof. If dialogue were not sometimes written phonetically to get across the pronunciation, then all the characters would sound the same.

As for changing the rules of spelling...ROFLMAO - stupid, stupid idea.

Emmy Ellis said...

A lot of my kids friends say 'innit' at the end of every sentence.

It's something you just get used to, though at first I found it odd, especially when an old school friend spoke like it too. I hadn't seen her for years, met her again at a wedding.

I said, "Hello, you! Didn't know you would be here!"




Anonymous said...

In the article, it says people were... picketing the National Spelling Bee? I may be a little biased here, but that's just about the dumbest thing I've ever heard. The NSB finalists are middle schoolers, for God's sake. They studied. They worked hard. And the simplified-spelling types are saying that their achievement shouldn't even matter.

They might as well go picket a math competition on the grounds that having a "correct" answer to a math problem injures the self-esteem of those who aren't as good at math.

And furthermore, the examples of simplified spelling given in that article made my eyes bleed.

Anonymous said...

I was more turned off by the violence than by the profanity or spelling, though that's no comment on its authenticity. We've got our share of thuggery even in polite old Canada. I guess this guy thought he'd start the story where the action is.

But wasn't there some big hullabaloo over universities wanting to teach courses in Ebonics a few years ago? Did they ever settle that?

Anonymous said...

Termagant 2- You knew this was coming... I took 5 years of Latin (wanted to be a vet). In my Sr year in high school we were shown a "Beginning vocabulary" book put ut by some american society with "new" LAtin words for telephone (telephono, telephoneri...), car (automota, automotari...) and even computer (compto, computeri). I thought that not only did the words sound silly, but that it cheapened the language somewhat. And it was put out by like the national latin association or some other national language group.
It was about as silly as Ebonics as a second language. It's not a language, it's laziness.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Written and spoken English are two different languages. Your brain processes them differently. I know this because when my mother was recovering from her stroke a few years ago, her ability to read and to understand spoken language were recovered at different times. She could read and understand things that, when they were spoken to her, she didn't get. She recognized that her name was spelled wrong on her chart even though she could not have told you what her name was. It's hard to read purely phonetic spelling and it slows you down, because normally the word sounds don't have anything to do with understanding what you're reading. Plus, it's unnecessary. Plus, as pepper smith says, you lose the etymology.

Sha'el, I figured it out. "In Heaven and in Earth" tipped me off. Cool.

Anonymous said...

Well, if you can't write, find a gimmick. Add profanity and anger, too. Then appeal to 'multi-culturalism'. Maybe that will sell more copies.

Anonymous said...

My first thought was "who would buy this crap?" Those that speak it probably can't read and don't buy books. There can't possible be a market for this book. I hope is tanks and then we won't see any more rap crap.

Anonymous said...

I used to edit fiction, and I whapped phonetics out of manuscripts with a large bat. I loathe phonetic spelling, unless it's done incredibly well. An example of incredibly well is Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, which is written in varying degrees of Edinburgh dialect. By the end you're THINKING in a Scottish accent.

But if we're ranting about the erosion of the English language, the single thing that bugs me most is 'between you and I'. Anyone who says that, ever, should have his language licence taken away until he learns to use it properly. The difference between subject and object is one of the most basic things in just about any language. If you can't figure that one out, just give up. Communicate by drawing pictures, or miming, or something.

End of rant.

Kim said...

Oy! This gave me a headache and made my eyes cross. This isn't evolution of language, it's DE-evolution. I can't stand the thought of the English language taking such a beating because some people are too lazy and/or unwilling to spell properly. Sure, there are a lot of weird rules and things that don't make sense, but that's part of the fun (at least that's what I tell my daughter, who's just learning to read and write!)

I've used phonetics/dialects in my own manuscripts to get a feel for a character. Sometimes they stay, if they don't overwhelm, and sometimes out they go. It's one thing to leave a couple in to give a reader a sense of time/place, but another to give them the mother of all migraines trying to figure out just what the hell you're trying to say.

That's my two cents, for what it's worth.

Anonymous said...

Turkey actually implemented a similar experiment at the beginning of the 20th century - Turkish had been written in the Arabic alphabet for centuries, but Ataturk changed it to a Latin alphabet, and made writing with Arabic letters illegal. I don't know a lot of details about it, but I know that modern Turkish scholars often complain that they have no access to the historical documents in their own language/country. On the other hand, a google search revealed that the literacy rates jumped when they switched alphabets (could have been other reasons for that of course). A stronger argument is that the Latin alphabet is better suited to Turkish, which has 8 vowel sounds, than the Arabic alphabet, which really basically only has three. Anyway, anyone who wants to know more about how this idea would play out might want to look more closely at the Turkish example.

Kafaleni said...

on a (sort of) sidenote, how can we expect future generations to spell words correctly when people are making up baby names left, right and centre? (yes, centre, not center. I'm not an American). Phonetically spelled names, names with apsotrophes and random uppercase letters. By the time they've figured out how to spell their own names, they've probably just given up on spelling anything else correctly.

Anonymous said...

Michelle Lee, I knew someone would call me on this--well done!

I guess Latin as a common tongue is only semi-dead. Maybe we should run & see Miracle Max and see if he can give us a chocolate coated pill.

I don't speak Latin, but I took a lot of German in high school and college. In the 1800s there was a huge rebellion amongst speakers of what they called "pure" German speakers against foreign words. So, for example, with the invention of the telephone they coined their own word, and now we have Fernsprecher. There's no way to force a language to grow, or to resist growth, either way.

And I don't think the description of any particular lifestyle is either validated or invalidated by the words one uses to describe it. It isn't about validity--it's about communication.



Anonymous said...

Have you guys ever heard of, I dunno, Stephen Adley Guirgis? One of the most significant English-language playwrights alive today? Virtually all of his characters talk street, and at his best, he elevates the dialect to the level of poetry.

The comments denouncing the novel in question as some sort of desecration remind me of hillbillies staring at a Picasso in an art gallery and announcing that even Uncle Cletus can draw better than that.

Now that we've all shared our thoughts re: "that jive talk," perhaps we should hold forth on the subject of that new-fangled rock-and-roll.

astrologymemphis.blogspot.com said...

Substituting numerals for words is not dialect. It's graffiti. I hate that good money is wasted on crap like this when I know so many authors who have written good books and are struggling to get them published. Everyone involved with Londonstani should be taken out back and have the shit beat out of them. Twice. The line forms behind me.

The Gambino Crime Family said...

Oh come on. Gautam Malkani might not be the second coming of F. Scott Fitzgerald but he's a legitimate writer who wrote about the world in which he grew up in. Ok - maybe there were some unfortunate experiments in dialect but I'd call this "literary overreaching" rather than some sort of gimmick.

Anonymous said...

Just shows that writing dialect is hard and reading it is harder. Idnit. That's Midwest-speak for "innit."

Anonymous said...

Ummm ... I think that I read "Londonstani" about 20 years ago. Only then it was called "A Clockwork Orange."

Anonymous said...

Anyone remember A Clockwork Orange? A whole invented slang dialect that sounds like gibberish at first but after a few chapters it makes perfect sense. Good book, too. I agree with the hillbilly/Picasso analogy above, and frankly I find the connetion to the whole phonetics/simplified spelling thing tenuous at best.

Anonymous said...

(Anon: you beat me to it)

Anonymous said...

just me said:
"But if we're ranting about the erosion of the English language, the single thing that bugs me most is 'between you and I'. Anyone who says that, ever, should have his language licence taken away until he learns to use it properly."

Or: me and her, him and me, I and her, me and them, etc. I work in a store where high school kids work part time after school. On a daily basis I suffer through the massacre of grammar.

Anonymous said...

Shael, it looks so awful without the thorns, eths and diphthongs. Did you simplify the character set, or cn u rd ths? --

Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum; Si þin nama gehalgod to becume þin rice gewurþe ðin willa on eorðan swa swa on heofonum. urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg and forgyf us ure gyltas swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge ac alys us of yfele soþlice.

Ray said...

Here's another take: the beauty of words gets lost in phonetic spellings.

So what looks prettier:

phonetic fohnehtik

queue kew

cute kewoot (tried several variations, and they don't work either)

I suppose it's what one's accustomed to seeing in the symbolism of words. However, written German looks ugly to me even while I don't understand it, and the Latin-based words seem to have more grace.

Other examples:

fuck or phuc
shit or chit

And then there are ones that look okay but mean ugly or bring strong negative emotions.

Pain in the butt that it is, changing the language will bring more problems than it solves. Leave it alone. Maybe people will come to like dialog over dialogue, but it's not happening here.

Dieahlogew? Egads.

Feisty said...

Isn't this Eubonics?

Bernita said...

Doesn't look right without the thorns, etc., does it, Anon?
Your version, circa 900, I believe.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Ok, let me see. I have some things to answer here, and I have a few comments.

First this comment: No one identified the book with the Scotts dialect. No ten points!

Why have all the questions centered on 'innit'? No one asked what a Gora is. I find that strange. (A nasty reference to a white man, as nasty as 'Paki' is.)

To Anon:

I don't have the character set on my computer. However, I see it is available online.

To Ray:

You're confusing beauty with comfort. You like the word forms with which you're comfortable.

German is ugly to you? Why? Because you can't read it?

This is not ugliness. This is unfamiliarity.

This is beautiful:

Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott,
Ein gute Wehr und Waffen;
Er hilft uns frei aus aller Not,
Die uns jetzt hat betroffen.
Der alt' böse Feind,
Mit Ernst er's jetzt meint,
Groß' Macht und viel List
Sein' grausam' Rüstung ist,
Auf Erd' ist nicht seinsgleichen.

Mit unsrer Macht ist nichts getan,
Wir sind gar bald verloren;
Es streit' für uns der rechte Mann,
Den Gott hat selbst erkoren.
Fragst du, wer der ist?
Er heißt Jesu Christ,
Der Herr Zebaoth,
Und ist kein andrer Gott,
Das Feld muß er behalten.

Und wenn die Welt voll Teufel wär
Und wollt uns gar verschlingen,
So fürchten wir uns nicht so sehr,
Es soll uns doch gelingen.
Der Fürst dieser Welt,
Wie sau'r er sich stellt,
Tut er uns doch nichts,
Das macht, er ist gericht',
Ein Wörtlein kann ihn fällen.

Das Wort sie sollen laßen stahn
Und kein'n Dank dazu haben;
Er ist bei uns wohl auf dem Plan
Mit seinem Geist und Gaben.
Nehmen sie den Leib,
Gut, Ehr', Kind und Weib:
Laß fahren dahin,
Sie haben's kein' Gewinn,
Das Reich muß uns doch bleiben.

Thanks you Martin Luther -- even though I'm far from being Lutheran!

Ray, you may have sung it this way:

"A mighty fortress is our God,
A sword and shield victorious;
He breaks the cruel oppressor's rod
And wins salvation glorious.
The old evil foe,
Sworn to work us woe,
With dread craft and might
He arms himself to fight.
On Earth he has no equal."

What is beautiful is beautiful in all languages. What is ugly is ugly in every language.

Anonymous said...

Standard American English is the set of sounds and rules that condensed from the dominant group in the United States--rich white people.

The reason the Oakland, CA school system fought over Ebonics is because there is much science to support that conclusion. What is called "Black English" is not a deformation of SAE. Slaves could not speak English off the boats, and after the manumission and emancipation, they were sysmatically excluded from the education system that taught SAE. Language is passed from guardian to toddler, so the core of what is also called "Ebonics" remains as the legacy of American slavery, for better or worse. Hip-Hop and the derivations of BE are ancestors of that same legacy. So is the language, to the degree that it is accurate, of Londonstani, though the origin of the legacy there is British Imperialism, another form of slavery. Which (slavery and Imperialism), I think we would all agree, are bad.

SAE is not "better" in any measurable sense at transfering information among speakers. Attempts have been made to correlate some quantitative measure, like the number of grammatical categories (which would include I/Me, the rant over the nominantive and accusative cases, or the subject/object category) and the "efficiency" of a language. Yet Russian, Latin, and Chinese (dialetical hairsplitting aside, on Yue v. Cantonese) led, like English, to world empires, too. A counterargument would require an accounting for the huge variance in grammatical inventories between the English of the 16th-19th centuries, and the SAE of today.

I have not read Londonstani. But I acknowledge the right to render the existence and the consequences of economically excluded language variants. An author of such a work need not be a linquist. The payload of meaning, the emotional charge such an author uses to deliver us to her experience, is at the core of describing what is tragic, and joyous, in any human experience outside the dominant group.

I dare to say, here, of all places--speculative fiction asks its readers to jump through the same linquistic hoop, for the same reasons: genuine feelings of marginalization on the part of the authors.


Anonymous said...

Maybe they should take out a patent on words like innit. Example: Miss Snark's yanno (tm pp). Mind you, I've seen 'yanno' used long before reading this blog, but Miss Snark had the foresight to seek a patent (LOL)!

The English language fascinates me. It went through so many wonderful changes since the Celts, the Romans, the Normans and the Saxons threw their ingredients into the mix. There ARE no rules. Spanish is much more phonetic, and seems to be unsullied by other influence besides the Latin that forms its base.

A few years ago, between my school days and those of my children, the school boards embraced a free-flowing type of teaching, ignoring phonics altogether. Children were encouraged to express themselves without the constraints of the rules of grammar. It was excruciating to watch. Thank goodness I taught my children the basic rules before they entered Kindergarten.

However, we'll probably have to stand aside and allow the new slang to enter the mainstream, just as we have in the past. Remember when 'shit' wasn't in the dictionary?

Nowadays (pp?) students hardly have to think about spelling when Spell Check comes to the rescue.

I don't know whose side I'm on. As usual, I'm just a neutral outside observer.

Lorra said...

The youngest of my three sons learned to write employing a system called "inventive spelling" that is much like what the article is touting.

So guess which one of my kids can't spell or write worth a crizap?

Anonymous said...

I don't like simplified, or stupidified (pardon the term) spelling. It doesn't work and it looks ugly, at least to my eyes. As to the dialect used in the novel Londonstani I don't like it, but it makes sense if the novel was written in first person. That might be how a person raised in that culture would spell.

I wouldn't write that way myself, nor want to read it. The problem for me is that it would just be too much work. I want my prose to be largely transparent, so the reader will pay attention to what I'm saying, not how I'm saying it.

This is a step away from that, and I don't care for it.

alau said...

I think there are 2 completely different issues here:

-simplifying spelling as a matter of standardization

-the use of spelling as an art.

The style of Londonstani was a deliberate method chosen by the author in order to illustrate class, background, setting, race, and culture of the character. For those specific purposes, I think that short passage conveys all of that information in those few lines. (when was the last time you wrote dialogue that did all that?). It’s an artistic method that is confusing to read yes, but ultimately, no different in it’s use of spelling then the grammar-distorting stream of consciousness method used by James Joyce and William Faulkner, supposedly 2 of the greatest writers ever in the English language.

I think the push to simplify spelling is wasted effort because no matter what, it would only make a difference to a very small portion of the world. Sure it may succeed in the U.S., but you’re still going to need to make yourself understood if you’re doing business in Australia or the U.K. Plus, you have to remember it does absolutely nothing for the largest English-speaking country in the world: India. (And if we want to talk about language being democratic, and being standardized by the way people speak it in terms of numbers rather then economic class and political power, then the Indians should be setting the standard, with Americans speaking with improper accents).

Anonymous said...

can you explain how this got published. Please. If this can get published... I'm sure you see where this is headed.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Improper accents?

I have a tad bit of an accent. Truth be told, I probably have three accents all jumbled together.

There is no improper accent. There is improper pronunciation. That's different.

Accents can be charming, grating, regional, national, but not improper. Just different. Pronunciation is either correct or not, though there are regional differences there too, and they can all fall into the "correct" category.

Did any of that make a "lick a sense?"

Anonymous said...

Fascinating thread. In general, I come down squarely (and I do mean squarely) on the side of standardized English spelling, which I regard as a thing of beauty, but I couldn't help thinking of the masterly way in which Russell Hoban presented a deconstructed post-apocalyptic English in "Riddley Walker." Once you sink into absorb its oddities and cadences, it's riveting. The novel's first sentence: "On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time before him nor I aint looking to see none agen."

McKoala said...

oh shael!! - Scots/Scottish dialect please (not scotts). Usually the Scots are the people, Scotch is the drink and scottish is the adjective.

Dorothy Dunnett? Now you're going to laugh your head off and tell me that it's Sir Walter Scott (hence the spelling...)

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Dear McKoala,

I knew that! I always double the "t," and I haven't a clue why. Some 27th great grand daughter of William the Lion I am!

No, dear, it's not Dorothy Dunnett. The quotation is from Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush by Ian MacLaren. MacLaren's real name was John Watson. He was a keen observer of Scottish country life as it was in the late 19th century.

I believe Brier Bush was his first novel. I might be wrong on that. He wrote a number of short stories too. Most are hard to find.

He died in 1907, I think. I should look all this up before I post, huh? But ... well, I didn't.

Anonymous said...

I noticed the average Amazon.com reader hasn't rated the book very high.

It has been reviewed by exactly one Amazon reader.

Anonymous said...

Dear Hillbilly Anon (and yer shadah),

Nice bulls ... eye. Too bad you hit the wrong target. Clueless about the discussion - read again, please. You AND your shadow.

We're not discussing dialogue. We're discussing universal English spelling and its affect on language. We're not discussing ART. We're discussing imposters and lazy below average, too whiney to do better pathos that is encouraged by those who latch on to the wrong issue and ride it like a buckin' piggy. A hillbilly ain't gonna get a Picasso fer diffrent reasons than this here spellin' issue, son. Yer comparin sows and cows and dont' have an ounce of gumption. Portraying illiteracy in a character is deeply removed from stereotypes when done correctly. And on behalf of an Appalchian hillbilly family, I find yer ignorance repulsive. And that's sayin' somethin' when a hillbilly, by yer definition, is too ignorant to appreciate a few swirls of paint that only a few silly rich people hold valuable.

Oh, and before you attempt to devalue my appreciation of Picasso - I am an art historian and have a deeper appreciation of what he accomplished than you or yer hillbilly shadah...

So back to point, shall we destroy language for the sake of a few lazy people?

Point A) All language evolves and art is very influential but not the flag under which the insane march

Point B) dialect (oral, son. Stop lectin' that there salt post) confuses communication because it undermines the necessary universality of spelling.

We're talking about allowing an over abundance of slang to warp our future and obliterate our connection to the past.

Now get off your buckin' piggy and pay attention. Don't make me get the belt...

Anonymous said...

Actually, the opening of Londonstani reminded me of another novel of urban thuggery that employed a form of street English--a lesser-known work of fiction called A Clockwork Orange. I have nothing against using street English in fiction--it's the way the character talks and the language he thinks in.

I am leery of teaching courses in universities and colleges that validate the use of street slang (like Ebonics), unless companion courses in SAE are also required. All things considered, a degree in Ebonics (like pink hair, facial peircings and a tendency to use the word fuck in every sentence--all vagaries of today's youth) isn't going to help anyone get a regular job. If you want to be a professional anything but rapper, you need to know standard English.

Unknown said...

This is actually three issues:

Language reform
Dialect in writing
Poetic license

All dialects are valid. Ideas will always find a way to be expressed, whether in a high class dialect or not. Words are borrowed and/or rearranged. There is no lanaguage that stands alone, unless there's some isolated island out there that nobody's told me about. Writing it out is an expression of the dialect and yeah, art. Part of that poetic license thing.

Language reform is prescriptive and driven not by the natural mutability of langauge but by opinion, politics, culture. I think this is inherently dangerous. As many people have commented, who would prescribe the correct form?

And even if English could be written to encompass all dialects there would still be problems. Look at Simplified Chinese. Loss of root meanings and confusion all around.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

EHsquared, you're cranky.

We are discussing dialogue. The quote that got this thread started was a fragment of dialogue. ... And, yes, creative spelling has been considered too.

You presume that whomever you're scolding is uneducated, or that you're more educated than they. That's never a safe presumption. Not on this blog. Not ever. It's also intellectual snobbery at its worst.

For example, one really short, cute regular to this site has a string of letters after her name that begins with BA, goes through PhD and ends with MOM.

Besides, we goat-herds take unkind remarks about cowboys, pig farmers, and sheep-herders personally. We may not be on speaking terms with the pig farmers, but hey! We'uns is all people of the soil.

And we historian/booksellers just don't like the terminally cranky one lil bit! No siree bob!

So you just all be reformin' your attitude, or faster than you can say "bob's your uncle," you'll be in a heapa trouble, ya hear? I’ll be calling the Royal Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Net-posters and leave a complaint. And you’ll probably share the fate of Robert Kirk of Aberfoyle. T’al may be dead, but his brother lives, and I’m on speaking terms with him!

Be nice, bub!

Anonymous said...

"...Hardjit stopped for a second ... Then he sticks..."

I am shocked that no one has pointed out the narrator's inconsistency of verb tense, which clearly demonstrates that this isn't a matter of art, it is literary ineptness.

Even in the most colorful of street vocabulary, now is still now, and the past is still the past.

You can defend accent and vocabulary in dialogue and even narration all you want, but you still need to recognize that this given example is not good writing.

Anonymous said...

Hey Christine,

I likes how you putted that. You wanna do a little Picasse with me in the Hillbilly holler?


Anonymous said...

she'el, princess of pixes,

Terribly sorry to have ruffled your wings. Truly. I wasn't being cranky with the board, nor was I attempting intellectually snobbery. I simply thought the anon who made the comparison of this comment board to hillbillies thinking that they could do better than Picasso not only insulting, bland stereotyping, but also wayward.

I hold that the article linked in the original post is not about dialogue. While Ms. Snark uses dialogue as an example in her response, I believe (as does 90% of the posters here) that there are two points:
1) the evolution of language against the agenda posited by the article
2)successful artistic language - of which the example has not received total support for its success.

It's interesting that you misunderstood me so deeply - and took my response as I did Hillbilly anon and its shadow. I was miffed because I thought anon's comparison poor and the contribution - chastising the board - to be off base.

Accept my humble apologies for making my point too murky and my humor "cranky" thus losing my "readers". It is a good lesson.


Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Dear EHsquared,

Have another cookie? Take two. Some tea?

I understand. (I still think you're mistaken about the topic. We've been all over the place and back. It's not as narrowly focused, as you would have it.)

I won't summon T'al's brother. Besides, for a fairy, he's not too bad. I don't think he eats humans at all. At least he swears that he's given that up.

I'm sorry you suffered from my post. There are several on here that brought the dark and smoky reds to my wings. The defense of Ebonics was one. So was the thoughtless anti-imperialist statement found in this chain of comments.

I snarled to my self at them, but I bit you. Good thing I'm not pregnant. If my hunt-teeth were in, you might have been in some danger.

As it is, have another cookie. The Russian Tea Cakes are particularly delicious. It's my mother's recipe.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
"...Hardjit stopped for a second ... Then he sticks..."

I don't think this example is necessarily indicative of bad writing. The author is clearly going for a sense of authenticity. If this is the way the characters would speak, or even write, then it isn't bad writing, it's artistic license, and therefore OK. It's one thing to be ignorant of the rules; it's another thing to break a rule, knowing what it is and understanding that you're breaking it.

That's not to say that the rest of the book isn't total horse-pucky, but you can't really judge the quality or consistency of the style by the first six lines--especially when it opens on such a visceral and emotionally charged moment.

Of course, having recently sat through a viewing of Ali. G. Indahouse, I certainly hope there aren't any love scenes in this book. I'd probably die laughing...

Anonymous said...

As for the other issue of a politically endorsed renovation of the English language, I can't even begin to describe how stoopid that is.

Anonymous said...

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies,

Do you mind if I dunk my cookie in my tea?

And you're correct - I reread most of this board and it has been all over the place. I was too focused on one anon who made a tiny comment - I too, I think, was building up steam and decided to horsewhip one poster. Not only too focused (on my subject and my audience) but I needed to review my thoughts before actually posting!

So hope you don't mind if I have some of my Mamaw's humbler pie with yer tea cookies and Roosian cakes. She insists I eat a big slice for goin' off at the mouth like a buzz saw...


Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Dear EHsquared,

You may dunk to your heart's content, as long as you raise your pinky finger while you're doing it.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I'm too prosaic, but what bothered me in this snippet (aside from the subject matter) is the lack of quotation marks. Does one start a new paragraph each time the speaker stops, use dashes, elipses?

Too difficult to read, nearly impossible to translate with any fidelity, vaguely arrogant - I wouldn't recommend it to an aspiring author.

Anonymous said...

Sha'el, and all,

I offered only an explanation of Ebonics, but here is the full defense:

The Oakland case ended up as a fight between the Oakland school system and the California legislature. Oakland's schools passed a resolution acknowledging that their kids come to school speaking in a rule-governed system which is not Standard English, and that system was damaging the Oakland schools performance on Standard English tests. In order to improve Standard English performace, Oakland had to acknowledge what then became known as Ebonics. This acknowledgement was the first step taken to introduce a curriculum for systematically migrating Ebonics speakers to Standard English. Oakland, in short, was trying to make the transition from Ebonics to Standard English as disciplined and successful as any ESL program.

The CA legislature, engulfed in a bigoted backlash inflamed by the press, decided--not that a child doesn't control the circumstances of her birth, not that the State of California has an obligation to provide an equal chance to become a successful economic and social success--to pass Assembly Bill 1206, which institutionalized, instead, the racist belief that each individual speaker of BE is an advanced scout for a hostile tribe, bent on destroying English.

The lesson of that sad episode, if any is possible, I think, is that writers who are champions of Standard English have a vested interest in taking more than a glance at the occasional newspaper, when issues of race, ethnicity, and conflict shape both the world about which we write, and the viability of any marketplace in which we hope to sell that writing.

As for the other thing, if a cookie means agree to disagree, I'll bake for tommorrow.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Dear Kd,

I'm an employer. It makes my heart ache when someone who comes to me for employment can't speak standard American English. I can't hire them. They may be charming and hard workers. But they can’t communicate.

Those who buy from me tend to be educated. Our community has one of the highest proportions of PhD’s to population in the nation. I can't hire someone who doesn't speak presentable English.

That I can't hire them doesn't mean that I see them as less valuable as humans. But, they don't represent themselves well, and they won't represent me well. Speaking Standard English isn't about worth. It's about learning to function in society. Reinforcing a pattern of speech that is nonstandard tends to freeze people into dependency. It is not in our national interest to create dependency. We want our people to be self-sufficient, don’t we?

If we foster patios, ebonics, or any such thing in our schools, how are we serving the children?

Anonymous said...


The African American Vernacular English (AAVE), the West African Niger-Congo Language Behavior (now known by its wholly massacred press moniker "Ebonics"), is the first language of children raised in the historically under-SAE-educated language environment of descendants of American slaves.

Spanish speakers who fail ESL immersion programs succeed when the programs are supplemented with Spanish support. Hindi speakers with Hindi. Chinese speakers with Chinese support. Russian. Arabic. And so do children who speak in the AAVE, when the programs are supplemented with AAVE instruction. The science showing that native-language supplemental support increases success in English as Second Language programs by between 10 and 80% is so settled researchers consider it a dead end.

Had Oakland succeeded in their intentions, they would have succeeded in acheiving their desired outcome--more Standard English speakers, with greater Standard profficiency. They could have become a model for inner cities across the US.

This was all in 1996, ten academic years ago. By now, had that happened, there would have been approximately 50 million more qualified speakers of Standard English than there are now. All of whom would also have had the non-combatant satisfaction of having their native language group acknowledged as a cultural heritage. Like all non-standard speakers (my people are from an Appalachian Regional Commission designated county, eg., hillbillies), including all ESL-eligible immigrants who speak the native language in the home, they would be aware that the role of employee demands Standard English, and social roles allow AAVE (or Hindi, Urdu, Twi, Yue, Mende, Polish, etc, etc.)

Instead, Assembly Bill 1206 singled out the AAVE as distinct from all other forms of non-standard speech. AAVE was legislatively branded with a huge scarlet "A" that 1) limits its speakers for life socially to their native group, 2) perpetuates hostility that manifests itself as "racial" issues 3) hamstrings AAVE speakers' economic prospects--as you attest.

I know my manuscript would be happy to find a shelf in a bookstore frequented by 50 million additional potential readers. And 50 million such employees behind the register would be less likely to acquiesce to being called "bar-istas," which--given the bloody etymology of that "-ista" suffix-- I'm not sure would be such a bad thing, either.


Anonymous said...

Me ain' know is wuh wrong with some ah y'all. You tink is only one way fuh write de english language? You tink is only people who duz speak "standard english" who duz read books? HELLO PEOPLE. Literature is actually a vast territory that can accomodate all sorts of climates within it. "Standard" English is not everyone's standard English. In Guyana, Creolese is our standard English. The main difference is, we who speak Creolese can, for the most part, speak both Creolese and standard English, but most of the standard-English-speakers who would consider us an "undereducated and unintelligent sub-culture" or whatever one most-likely-racist snob wrote above, can only speak standard English (and most of em can't speak *that* very well - I've been educated both in my "third world country" and in the U.S. system, and believe me we got a better grounding in grammar, etc., in Guyana.)
It reminds me of the rednecks who look down on migrant farmworkers in California and Oregon as "undereducated and illiterate", when many of these farm workers can speak three or more languages (Mayan, Spanish and English), and the rednecks can barely master one.
I haven't read "Londonstani" and hence have no comment on it, but I'll say that anyone who will categorically dismiss a book for the sole reason that it's opening sentence looks slightly strange to his or her eye, is rather closed-minded. I was going to use more colorful adjectives, but I refrained.
PS I doubt people in Britain had that hard a time reading "Londonstani". From my brief leafing-through of it in a bookshop, it seemed to capture the flavour of speech around here quite well, d'ya get me mate?
-Anonymous G.T. Bannah (who knows what that means)?