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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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Language

So, I’m slowly building my editing business…..

……and it’s starting to take shape.  I have a few potential clients and am creating a website designed for this purpose.  My portfolio is beginning to look respectable and I’m excited to see where this will take me.  Yes, it means taking time away from my own writing to help others shape theirs.  However, by tackling issues in someone else’s work, it will help clarify similar ones that I’m having with my own work.

Most of my work will be focused on managing website content for local businesses.  Keeping the information short, to the point and exciting helps direct traffic to their site and then to their business, which encourages cash flow.  Marketing pamphlets and press releases will also fall under the umbrella of my business.

Will I be tackling manuscripts?  Yes, and I’ve already got a couple of potential clients.  My own experiences with my editor taught me a lot on what to look for and what to ask.  My goal is to help the writer shape their work into the best possible story it can be.  Beyond that, is up to the writer.  Just like it’s up to me to push my work into published form.

As mentioned earlier, I’m excited to see where this business will take me.  It involves words, I love words and it’s something I’m very good at.

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So, one of my favorite things is etymology….

…… which is the study and history of the origin of words. Have you ever wondered how some words came to mean what they do? I did – as a kid, I always wondered how the word ‘cup’ came to describe something that held your drink.

Well, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins, the word ‘cup’ is an Old English one, from the Latin, cupa (meaning tub or cask). Such a funny word, when you stop and think about it long enough.

I remember holding a cup, a blue one with ridged sides, contemplating its meaning and why this particular word was chosen to identify this object. I think I was twelve and it was a hot summer day. I had just made up some iced tea and sweetened it with sugar, before drinking it down from that blue cup. Mid-way through the drink, I found myself wondering about the word and the object and their strange, symbiotic connection.

It’s one of the things I wonder about, a lot. Something I try to incorporate in my writing – words are chosen for their meaning, whether it’s a place name or a character’s.

Words have meaning and meaning has power. My fascination with etymology continues to grow.

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So, I love to watch scary movies……

…….and the spookier, the better, like Carnival of Souls (1962), The Haunting (1963), or Suspiria (1977). Haunting, surreal, these films engage your imagination and get under your skin. They’re scary because you’re emotionally involved with the characters and you root for them to escape until the very end.

Suspiria is an interesting film because the actors spoke their native language (English, German and Italian). Since they knew the script, they simply responded as if they understood. When the film went into post-production, the German and Italian languages were dubbed into English. The film would be dubbed in other languages for release in foreign markets.

I also discovered Japanese horror films, starting with Ringu (after seeing the American remake, The Ring) and then Ju-on (The Grudge). I was delighted – they are surreal and spooky and go in directions you don’t quite expect. Nor are the stories wrapped up in a tidy bow – there are loose ends that don’t get explained and an unsettling feeling that even happiness has an underlying sense of sorrow.

From my experience, Japanese horror films have an ambiguity to them that modern American horror films do not. I find that ambiguity fascinating, which is present in The Haunting – is the house haunted or is it Eleanor? – because with each viewing, you feel closer to uncovering the answer to the question, even as it ends. This kind of story-telling isn’t as present in American horror as it used to be, and I wish it would make a come-back.

Because I enjoy their horror films, I want to learn Japanese. This is due to the fact that a lot can get lost in translation. There may not be an English equivalent to specific word, so the line or meaning gets changed. Language is important – emphasis on the wrong syllable or vowel, and it can turn a compliment into an insult. One word can have multiple meanings, depending on context.

Thus, learning the language. Besides, it’s good for the brain, it’s a useful skill (because you never know when you’ll need it) and it makes it easier when traveling to a country where that language is spoken.

🙂

A small portion of my foreign language dictionary collection.
A small portion of my foreign language dictionary collection.

So, I’m learning French on my own…..

……..thanks to this little app on my phone called Duolingo. I started out with Spanish, then added French and then, in honor of my trip to Ireland, Gaelic.

Let me say, right now, that my Gaelic sucks. I can’t even figure it out in context. That’s okay – I’d never heard it before, so…..I’ll cut myself some slack on that one. I didn’t delete it – it’s still there, waiting for me to come back to it.

And I will.

I fared a lot better with Spanish, mainly because I live in California and am surrounded by the Spanish history and influence. I have a couple of Agatha Christie and Stephen King titles in Spanish, which will be helpful in bettering my comprehension of the language. Years ago, I suspected that if reading helps us with comprehending our native tongue, then surely it would have the same effect when learning a foreign one.

If I already knew the story, I thought, then my main struggle would be in understanding it in a language I’m not fluent in.

I stumbled across that idea when I was taking Spanish in college, lo, these many years ago. I read the Spanish translation of Pablo Neruda’s poetry to my tutor. In a few weeks time, she commented that my pronunciation and comprehension improving. And I was pleased.

So, imagine my surprise when, upon beginning my French lessons on the app, that it came to me far more easily than Spanish did. I’ve progressed further in the French than I have in the Spanish – indeed, I don’t think I’ve gone back to Spanish or Gaelic in over a year.

I’m not worried about that, because my goal is to learn more than one language and some far more complicated than French or Spanish (1). The better I get at French, the easier it will be to switch over to Spanish. Like Italian, French and Spanish derive from the Latin, which explains why they are similar in structure. Even particular words resemble each other.

I’m not exactly sure why I’m feeling determined to learn French right at this moment, but I’m willing to follow my instincts and see where it leads.

Sometimes, that’s what you need to do.

 

(1) Complicated in that I would also be learning an alphabet made up of letters that I won’t recognize, like Japanese.

Clockwise from bottom: Eso (IT); Ventana Secreta, Jardin Secreto (Secret Window, Secret Garden); Orguillo Y Prejuicio (Pride & Prejudice); Matar es Facil (Murder is Easy); Telon (Curtain); Une Poignee de Seigle (A Pocketful of Rye); Le Retour D'Hercule Poirot (The Return of Hercule Poirot).
Clockwise from bottom (Spanish to French):    Eso (IT); Ventana Secreta, Jardin Secreto (Secret Window, Secret Garden); Orguillo Y Prejuicio (Pride & Prejudice); Matar es Facil (Murder is Easy); Telon (Curtain); Une Poignee de Seigle (A Pocketful of Rye); Le Retour D’Hercule Poirot (The Return of Hercule Poirot).

So, I have a deep passion for language……

……and as a writer, it would be seriously detrimental to my craft to not only not love language, but to not have a deep and abiding passion for it as well. In fact, I have such a passion for words and language, that I actually have a dictionary collection (my favorite is The International Dictionary of Theatre Language).

But I also love foreign languages and have numerous foreign language dictionaries. I am in the (very) slow process of learning French. To help with comprehension, I also have a couple of novels in French, titles that I’ve read in their original English. This way, I’m familiar with the plot and, instead of struggling to learn both the story and the language, I can focus simply on the language itself, searching for words I recognize to establish context.

To hear the language in spoken form, I have a couple of films in which French is the primary language. If possible, find books in the language you hope to learn in audio format – the more you listen, the more you can pick up how words sound and pronunciation. This is helpful, but not absolute – like English, there regional dialects and colloquialisms to take in to account, and some words may have a different meaning.

I did something similar while taking a Spanish class i college many years ago. I found poetry by Pablo Neruda that had his work in Spanish on one page and the English translation on the next page. By reading the Spanish translations out-loud to my tutor, my pronunciation and comprehension of the Spanish language grew.

Of course, I’m a little rusty, but the thing about learning something, even a little bit, is that you don’t really forget it. With practice, you can awaken that muscle and get it back in shape in no time. The thought that kept me going in learning a foreign language by reading a novel I already knew was this – if reading can help us with comprehension and pronunciation in our native language, then surely it can apply to learning a foreign one.

 

A small portion of my foreign language dictionary collection.
A small portion of my foreign language dictionary collection.

Recommended:
The Essential Neruda by Pablo Neruda
Le Crime de L’Orient Express (Murder on the Orient Express – French translation) by Agatha Christie
Ca (IT) (French translation audio) by Stephen King

So, there’s this thing called language……

………and it has far more to do with story than how any one particular character speaks. Language, more than anything else in the written form, sets the tone and brings to life the world within each book.

I found myself pondering language and its importance while reading a book that, with the exception of a handful of words describing articles of clothing, could have been set in the 21st century. The time period is in the Regency era. I had no clue about the When of this story and it took an entire chapter to figure it out.

And there’s the point. I shouldn’t have had spend any time trying to figure it out. I should have known from the first page that what I was reading was set in a time far removed from my own, where modern conveniences hadn’t been thought of, let alone invented. Given that the role of women was severely limited up until the last century (though in some parts of the world, that is still the case) and, therefore, her value equated solely with her virginity, the emotional stakes should have been higher.

Did it matter that the novel in question was erotica? Nope. I’ve read historical romances with equally (and also better written) steamy scenes. I’ve encountered similar problems in other genres, though not as severe. What separates good from excellent is how one handles the language, particularly if writing a period piece.

From the very first word, language should inform the reader about the world they are about to enter, whether it’s Regency England, Ancient Greece or Egypt, or featuring scientists in another part of the galaxy.  Language is that important in determining time and place.  It can make the difference between a successful story and an unsuccessful one – either drawing you in to know more or throwing you out entirely.

Which experience would you prefer while reading?

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