Friday, 27 July 2012

The dawn of ‘contemporary’ English


Good language in a book is a basic hygiene factor. At least for me, it sure is.When I say good language, I mean a polished one with impeccable grammar, without slang being thrown in. Yes, there can be a little bit of slang to add authenticity to cultures and people being talked about or for the sake of bringing in a conversational tone. But if the narration itself is liberally peppered with them, it irks me.  Books by contemporary authors are beginning to have this trait.

The funniest thing about slang is that it features in places where no filling is required! Take this sentence for example - ‘I was like totally blown away!’ Was the ‘like’ required here? No, it wasn’t. And this is what irritates me. I also feel that extensive usage of slang comes in when you are unable to use the language that you have been taught, properly. The person who speaks/writes does not want to take the trouble to form sentences. So thoughts that form in their head just tumble out with scanty or no regard for structure and coherence.

Consider these - 
‘Yesterday, I saw this news item and man! Like it totally knocked me out of my wits. I was like ‘What the hell is this’ and then my friend was like ‘Chill yaar’ and then I …’
Conversationally, this may be fine. But in a book? I feel it is not.
‘That damn thing cost me a freakin 1000 bucks.’
Okay, so you did think that it cost you a lot and you may say so too. Probably while talking to a friend or when you pass a note. But in a book? Well, I disagree.

Anything practiced professionally definitely deserves the respect due to it. When I scribble on bits of paper, I can do what I like. But when I have an audience, I have a responsibility. Maybe authors do it for the sake of giving a feel of the book being ‘current’ in every sense by depicting life, as it is today and language, as it is widely spoken today. But it steps down from the status of a book then. This is totally my take of course. For me, the joy of reading is lost when the writing doesn't preserve the beauty of the language. And a topper in the list of ‘killers of good language’ is unnecessary usage of slang.

My opinions are no different when it comes to talking. If I find somebody repeatedly using irritating slang in every sentence, I just feel like walking away from there.

I am sometimes concerned that books will increasingly start turning out this way. We already have a bandwagon of people who extensively speak this language. Maybe we will soon have an entire generation talking and writing in this ‘contemporary’ style, resulting in the English language that we know now being wiped out of the face of earth. It is a highly paranoiac thought but I do feel it may come to happen sometime. 

But then, even Shakespearean English went out of trend to be replaced by what we currently speak and write. And maybe some insufferable prissy like me would have worried about it during those times too :)

6 comments:

  1. I hate blogger. Just typed a long comment and it made the comment disappear :(

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    1. I hate blogger too :(
      Would have loved to read the long comment :( :(

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  2. Have you read Shakespeare's biography by Bill BRyson? It's very interesting. It talks about how standards of language and spelling were so lax in those times that even shakespeare used to sign his name with random spellings every time. The same word used across several of his books and plays was quite likely to have entirely different spellings!
    I guess norms and maintaining a certain standard of English only came into force in Victorian England.
    I would be interested to know whether vernacular tongues are undergoing the same kind of corruption?

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    1. I have not read Shakespeare's biography .. So I have the next book recommendation in line :) Thanks! Shall try it out ..
      And when I said Shakespearean English, I was simply referring to the language that was used during his times and in his plays which we do not use anymore .. Words like 'thee', 'thou', 'thine' etc .. Those that we refer to as 'archaic' words now ..
      I tried reading up on English during the Victorian era .. You are right about standardization coming in only then .. The battle between the conformists and the people who supported change as far as language was concerned was still on .. But there has been little change in the English language between that age and the 20th century .. So says Google :)
      Talking about vernacular languages, I cannot be an authentic judge for I have not read Tamizh literature (That is the only regional language that I know).. But I have a feeling it would have certainly undergone change .. And there too, we must be having conformists and the change supporters .. I have heard that even Bharathiyar's writing has a bit of Iyer slang in it!! Words like 'Peshardhu', 'Shollradhu' etc :)
      All that said, I guess change is inevitable in language too, as in every other sphere of life .. And am not liking it :(
      Thanks for your thought provoking comment Aparna!!

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  3. Oh..that's an interesting tidbit about Shakespeare signing with random spellings.
    Language does evolve over time, the rigidness of the pure form breaking down with each generation depending upon the exposure to the language. For.e.g. colloquial tamizh is far different from the pure brahmin tamil. But this is as far as speaking goes. When it comes to the written word, am also not too forgiving. I am also of the opinion that regard for correct grammar without too much of slang is necessary. The written word stays with you longer and this is one way, the legacy of this age and time gets carried forward.
    I haven't read too much of the contemporary Indian authors but I have been hearing similar reviews about the usage of a watered down version of the English language.

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    1. 'The written word stays with you longer and this is one way, the legacy of this age and time gets carried forward.'
      Well said!! Its completely true that written words are a means to carry forward imprints of a certain time period.

      Talking about Tamizh, our Iyer lingo is a dialect too .. The pure tamizh is the 'Senthamizh' that was spoken and written once upon a time .. And I guess it is still being practiced to some extent in writing as far as books are concerned ..
      So language does keep changing .. But at the end of the day, it should still be beautiful to read .. Too much of colloquial language kills the beauty of the writing itself .. If this is practiced widely, we will have lesser and lesser of worthwhile literature to read in future .. Worthwhile as far as language and expression are concerned ..

      Thanks for the comment Uma !! I liked your thoughts on this subject ..

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