Understanding Language

Words are important. The anatomy of language is something it is vital to understand for a writer.How do you find a voice? Well, you listen to yourself, and as you develop it develops. But how do you best translate that onto the page?

Sometimes Irvine Welsh’s writing presents a challenge with its heavy dialect. I was prepared by reading Oor Wullie comics. Wuthering Heights translates the Derbyshire accent into text. There are numerous examples you can probably dredge up from memory, or find in a Google Search. The thing is, how would those guys be able to write in a way that was representative of a certain dialect while still making it comprehensible, without some understanding of language?

Do you have to have studied linguistics? No. But, what you can do is learn the basics of how language is bolted together into a workable system, and then, as you listen to it,you will be able to see that certain regional variations play with the placing of things like prepositions and interrogative speech. Idiom-laced vernacular is easier to replicate if you can see the code in that particular section of The Matrix.

Iambic pentameter is a great example of a literary technique that replicates the language in everyday use. Where the stresses fall in the speech pattern is where a British English speaker would typically place them. It is a living breathing technique that is rooted in recreation of the spoken word, and should not be viewed as some arcane rule that helps you to create “real poetry” or somesuch.

Learn the language. Even if you are a native speaker: dissect it.

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