Friday, April 20, 2012

The Texture of Language: He Said, She Said

In my book Apart From Love, you can identify a unique speech pattern in each one of the characters. Here is a fun exercise: lets take a single paragraph spoken by one character and--without changing its content--make it sound as if it came out of the mouth of another. All we are going to change here is the texture of language.
Ben has a refined speech pattern: one with well-formed grammar and an abundant vocabulary. Here he is at the first page of the book, thinking of his father:
I imagined him back home, leaning over his desk, scrawling each letter with the finest of his pens with great care, as if focusing through a thick magnifying glass. The writing was truly minute, as if he had hated giving away even the slightest hint to a riddle I should have been able to solve on my own. I detested him for that. And so, thinking him unable to open his heart to me, I could never bring myself to write back. In hindsight, that may have been a mistake.
In contrast to Ben, Anita speaks in slang. You would be hard-pressed to find a three-syllable word in anything she says. The lack of long words is compensated by descriptive sequence of short words (see the replacement for ‘magnifying glass’ below.) You can spot a liberal use of the dreaded double-negative, and of the word ‘like’. 

However, she is constantly learning, constantly adding words into her vocabulary by listening to Ben and his father, a would-be writer with whom she has had a ten years affair. By now Anita has built up a surprisingly rich vocabulary, and her descriptions are sensually pictorial--but alas, her grammar is atrocious. At this state she reminds us of her distant ‘cousin’, Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower-girl struggling to advance her language in the play Pygmalion. Like her, Anita is a ‘work-in-progress’. 
In my head I saw him back home, like, leaning over his desk, scrawling each letter with an awful fine pen, with great care, like he was aiming awful hard through a glass, a thick glass that made every mark real big. The writing was real minute, like he’d hated giving away even the slightest hint to a riddle I should’ve been able to solve on my own. I hated him for that. Anyhow, there wasn’t no way he could open his heart to me, so there wasn’t no way I could bring myself to write back. Now looking back, me, I made a mistake. 

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  1. Isnt it fascinating how "love" can inspire us to new heights...when we develop new skills from a deep passionate yearning?