Talking Good: on Grammar and Communication

Love this video about language, linguistic prescriptivists and descriptivists, and why it’s okay to bend the rules.

I’m a big rule-follower, especially when it comes to language. (I’ve gotten a major thrill from referencing specific sections in the Chicago Manual of Style in non-writing work conversations.) But communication is more than a set of rules–each situation has its own flow and language is a living entity that evolves with time.

So maybe let it go the next time someone uses “me” instead of “I” when telling you about their day. That doesn’t mean you don’t respect language–it just means you respect communication.

The Sound of Silence

I have a very clear memory of learning about long vowels and the silent letters that often accompany them. I was in first grade, and writing in my class journal. I wanted to spell “made” and thought “Okay, I’ve got an M sound and an A sound and a D sound,” but when I tried to spell that out, it came out “mad,” which I knew wasn’t right. Fortunately, that was the day my teacher introduced long vowels. (Nice timing, Miss O’Neil!)

So I was really intrigued by this video, which demonstrates the part that silent letters play in languages like English, French, and Danish.

Language is so fascinating. As someone who has a hard time learning foreign languages, I was really interested to see their use of silent letters as well.

Click through for more information about the Silenc project.

(via The Dish)

May the Words Be Ever in Your Favor

Another reason to pay attention in school–you could get ideas for your own bestselling dystopian YA series. The Oxford Dictionaries looks at the language of The Hunger GamesThey point out how Panem is a take “panem et circenses,” a reference by Roman poet Juvenal to Ancient Roman society. Another part I liked in particular:

“Like many fantasy writers, Collins has invented some new vocabulary of her own. Anavox is akin to a slave – someone who has been punished for a ‘crime’ and thereby made a mute servant. Her reason for choosing this word is simple: the Greek prefix ‘a’ means ‘without’ and the Latin ‘vox’ means ‘voice’ so avox literally means ‘without voice’.”

When I was in sixth grade, I was so mad at my parents for signing me up for Latin class. But apparently they–and Suzanne Collins–were onto something. From real history to bits of inspired Latin, a little knowledge can really inspire your book.

(image: NYPL Digital Gallery)

All the Words in the World Aren’t Enough

Sometimes you need a word that doesn’t exist. A word that just feels right. And according to Erin McKean’s article, that’s okay:

“One thing that shouldn’t stop you from using an undictionaried word: worrying about whether it’s “real” or (as Wordnik users like to say) “madeupical.” All words (aside from unintentional errors and malapropisms) are words at their birth. All you have to decide is whether the word in question is the right one for the job. Dictionaries don’t measure realness; they serve as rough proxies for the extent of a word’s use.”

That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of underused words in the English language that would be perfect for these occasions. But it’s also fun to play around with language and see what comes of it. They may not all be Shakespeare-esque gems, but they might be exactly what you need.

(image: jollyville)