Inappropriate language style

These comments are based on an article in the May 1985 edition of Omni, where Charles Platt in the "The Arts" column writes about the use of language in science fiction.

Here you are hundreds of years in the future, yet all the players are speaking in an understandable language (typically some American dialect). Everything else has changed almost beyond recognition; shouldn't the language have changed?

The obvious reason why this isn't done, is that if it was, you probably wouldn't understand it. Just a couple hundred years into our past, the English language spoken was quite often very different. Take a person from that time, and dump them into the present day, and start to have a conversation with them, and it would be strained at times. Heck, the older generation can't always understand the younger generation, and sometimes that's just the language that's used.

Platt gives some examples in the article. Probably the most famous is A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, which I read after seeing the film when I was 14. That was my first X-rated film and it was recommended by my English teacher, Calvin Goodall, a very liberal man. It left a lasting impression on me, mostly for the violence, but also for the use of this Nadsat language - a mixture of English and Russian. Reading the book was not hard. You could quite often infer what the new words meant.

Contrast that with another of Platts examples, Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban. Hoban invents words that looked strange but sounded like English when you read them aloud. Even though it's won the National Book Award, I found this book totally unreadable.

The article gives other examples of futuristic language use, including The Marching Morons by C. M. Kornbluth and Golem 100 by Alfred Bester.

Since 1985, I'm sure there have been several more examples where the author has made a concerted effort to explore new language possibilities. Two I can think of are Feersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks (which I enjoyed immensely), and Elvissey by Jack Womack (where I gave up after twenty pages when I tried to read this - I might try again some day).

More often or not, a science fiction author will just introduce a few new words to try to give a futuristic impression. I've noticed the reverse recently in reading the books in the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson (Quicksilver, The Confusion and System of the World). Here the plot is set around about the end of the 17th century, but the writing style is very up to date, with a few old (frequently unused nowadays) words or the old spelling of words. It's making the novels extremely readable (assuming you can keep track of the dozens of characters).

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