How language has changed....

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How language has changed....

Postby Cassie » Sat Oct 09, 2010 2:25 pm

O's been listening to Dracula lately and I've caught a few bits of it here and there. Aside from the amusing talents of the readers ( ;) ) what really struck me was the form of language used back then, how the characters used ten words when one would have done the job from today's standards.

Now, due to my education, I have read my fair share of old texts and wordy articles without batting an eyelid, but for some reason I just wanted the characters to shut up and get on with it in Dracula. Of course, it may have been due to the 'accent' of the person trying to 'read' the chapter but I have never had that problem with other older works. I love the language in Pride & Pred for example.

Do you enjoy reading/listening to the English language of the past, or do you skip in favor of something more modern? And, more in general, do you think we've dumbed down the American/English language as a whole too much over the years? Part of me wishes we all still spoke like that. It seems a lot more polite and civilized than "R U out 2nite m8?" ;)
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Re: How language has changed....

Postby Shuggy » Sat Oct 09, 2010 6:30 pm

I'll be brief and to the point ;) ;

I find the language used in Dracula nigh-on unbearable. I have no problem understanding it, it just makes for a difficult and dull-as-ditchwater read.

I have also mentioned on old RB that I find this to be the case with LOTR - heresy I know! But - especially from about the middle of TTT onwards - Tolkien's language takes a serious change and becomes so leaden and 'old-fashioned' that not only does it contrast massively with the beginning of the trilogy, but it starts making me lose interest, and I find myself speed-reading.

Conversely; I LOATHE 'txt spk', and would gladly chin anyone using it other than when needing to send an urgent text message. :D
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Re: How language has changed....

Postby TomCotton » Sat Oct 09, 2010 7:54 pm

Some of the 19th century writing makes me feel like I am wading through a bog when reading it. I have a vague memory of reading a book where someone was getting out of bed in the morning and going down stairs. It took ten pages of drab writing for the character to accomplish that. Why use one word to describe something when a half-page sentence is available?

Some of the words used do throw me for a loop. I have an unabridged dictionary of the English language handy to look up some of the more unusual words.

Dracula does get bogged down. The use of letters and diary entries to move the story along gets to a bit of a bore.
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Re: How language has changed....

Postby Withywindle » Sat Oct 09, 2010 7:55 pm

If you have a book set in victorian England, actually written in victorian England (published 1897) by a victorian author with its main protagonist being a medieval undead nobleman I would find it frankly bizarre if the writing was not 'old fashioned' and requiring of a little extra effort to read? :lol:

In LOTR the change in style is again quite purposeful. The Shire is meant to be a quiet rustic kind of place and hobbits quiet rustic people. The elves and men they meet are similarly characterised by thier speech - getting more antiquated and archaic the more rarefied and aristocratic the company. Aragorn being the only character to show a flair for the common and the aristocratic within the book. This gives him the 'man of the people touch'. "Look, Strider the Ranger has come back!" is a quote from later in the books which leads to him saying something like " I am both Strider..." and a long list of about the 50 other names he has. At the end of the book alot of shirefolk comment on the new and aristocratic bearing, speech and manner of the returning hobbits.

I understand the points about readability but a books setting, theme, timeframe, mood and context all affect and steer that books prose and must represent and display a 'believability'. If it is an attempt at serious fiction that is. Time travelling tales and stories perhaps less so in this respect but even then the people, places and times written about must have believable context in thier respective timeframe. And if a book was written over a 100 years ago I think you have to accept that it going to be different - by all means still find it difficult, awkward and boring but accept that this styyle may well have been quite mainsteam and accepted in its time. What contemporary readers of Dickens and Poe would have made of Stephanie Meyer would have been hilarious!

After all take this vampire stuff currently all the vogue. We have 2, 3, 400 year olds looking, dressing and acting like contemporary teenagers. There is I suppose, a 'trying to mingle and fit in' argument that could be made as to thier jarring modernity in manners and speech but it frankly does just that. Jars. They need to be written differently and use expressions, manners and words that betray thier ancient origin. This would do a much better job of highlighting thier differences than golden yellow eyes... :roll:

Short, punchy and modern works for modern themes - thrillers or sci-fi (although the edwardian charm of HG Wells is also fabulous because the time of 'origin' is the early 1900's) for example. I prefer my horror, my fantasy to be a bit more gothic, long winded and description heavy. Poe and Lovecraft are great and are enthusiastic proponents of long words and flowery phrases.
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Re: How language has changed....

Postby Shuggy » Sat Oct 09, 2010 9:40 pm

Withywindle wrote:If you have a book set in victorian England, actually written in victorian England (published 1897) by a victorian author with its main protagonist being a medieval undead nobleman I would find it frankly bizarre if the writing was not 'old fashioned' and requiring of a little extra effort to read? :lol:


I don't think the question was if anyone was surprised by the language, but more how people felt about it! ;)

Withywindle wrote:In LOTR the change in style is again quite purposeful. The Shire is meant to be a quiet rustic kind of place and hobbits quiet rustic people. The elves and men they meet are similarly characterised by thier speech - getting more antiquated and archaic the more rarefied and aristocratic the company. Aragorn being the only character to show a flair for the common and the aristocratic within the book. This gives him the 'man of the people touch'. "Look, Strider the Ranger has come back!" is a quote from later in the books which leads to him saying something like " I am both Strider..." and a long list of about the 50 other names he has. At the end of the book alot of shirefolk comment on the new and aristocratic bearing, speech and manner of the returning hobbits.


I'm not talking about the characters' style of speech, but Tolkien's writing style as a whole. Apparently this wasn't as purposeful as you may think, but was as a result of Tolkien beginning LOTR as a sequel to 'The Hobbit' (thus the more whimsical beginning), then taking a break for many years before starting again. When he picked up again he had adopted a new writing style to add gravity to what was now an epic trilogy.

The difference in even how he describes the countryside, or lays out the narrative between the first half of the trilogy, and then towards the end of ROTK is vast; the language he uses towards the end becomes almost archaic.

Compare these two excerpts from LOTR:

"Frodo dozed, though the pain of his wound was slowly growing, and a deadly chill was spreading from his shoulder to his arm and side. His friends watched over him, warming him, and bathing his wound." - 'Flight to the Ford', p 193

"And so the fifth day came since the Lady Eowyn went first to Faramir; and they stood now together once more upon the walls of the City and looked out. No tidings had yet come, and all hearts were darkened." - 'The Steward and the King", p 940

The second quote sounds almost like a Bible quote - even the syntax of his narrative has changed.
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Re: How language has changed....

Postby Withywindle » Sat Oct 09, 2010 11:10 pm

I agree in so much that the language is victorian, stilted and slightly overblown. My post was a long winded victorian way of saying "No shit, Sherlock?" ;) My point was that if that is the scenario in which it is set is the language really so surprising??? Bram Stoker is going to write like a victorian writer because he is a victorian writer writing about his contemporary victorian time. Very natural and very normal. Modern authors writing about victorian England would do well to imbue the manners and characteristics, ways of speaking, morals and so on seen in your Dickens, Stoker, Trollope etc into thier characterisations if they want thier victorian novel to be taken seriously. Having a pop at this victorian style without acknowledging that seems very strange. Frankenstein and stories by Poe (and Austen as Cassie says) are similar in period and are admittedly better books - but the language is essentially the same. The application is different. Better writing is just better writing rather than a function of period 'language'. So my thrust is that it is more a question of the writing than the language used which I believe was the point?

It is a little like the chats I have with people who think I'm odd because I can quite happily watch black and white films. "They're rubbish! Well because they aren't even in colour! The dialogue is so strange..." and so on. They'd happily watch Dude Where's My Car? rather than It's a Mad (x 5 ;) ) World, Laurel & Hardy or The Marx Brothers. Fair enough. Being outraged that there are no explosions every five minutes or that a plot has some dialogue you have to listen to for longer than a minute is just beyond them I suppose in our digital straight away now world. :D That something is a little creaky, old and a bit dated doesn't mean it has nothing to offer. Dracula after all has a cracking plot and a fascinating baddie! Seems all very old hat now but in 1897 it wasn't!

LOTR. I see what your getting at but the fact is that the novel gets progressively darker as you go along and the style changes accordingly. I've already mentioned the change in demographics (Gondor and Rohan are feudal based autocracies after all!) hence more stiff with feudal manners and styles - See the chapter The Window in the West for more detail. What starts as a There and Back Again quest swiftly becomes a more serious undertaking. Alot of the earlier novel is supposedly being written by Bilbo as the narrative is unfolding (he mentions there are 'chapters of the stuff before you even get here' when he scribbles notes as Frodo recovers at Rivendell) so the early light 'The Hobbit' type style can be explained. Even so Bilbo has been affected by his time at Rivendell and his increasing familiarity with elven lore and ancient history - even early LOTR is much more serious than The Hobbit. It is mentioned in the text that alot of the later writing is done by Frodo (a very serious and very troubled hobbit by the end!) before Sam sticks a few lines in after The Havens and then generally organises the Red Book into some coherant whole including appendices and what not. Tolks does a good job of conveying this imo. As an aside there is of course a change of style in The Hobbit too after the death of Smaug...

What you can show on a screen with sets and props to create mood has to be achieved differently in prose which means that the intended style can also escape the confines of the character speech into the body of the text - into the descriptions and the syntax itself. It seems a reasonable literary tool to me.

So taking the point immediately above... :bad: Faramir (who we know already is on a private Numenorean nostalgia fan fest as it is!) and Eowyn being two of the archaic, aristocratic characters I already alluded to, who are sharing a private grief between them (both thier 'fathers' - beloved uncle for Eowyn but a father figure - have recently died and in fact they have both just been very near to death themselves) then is it so strange that thier meeting is full of such stiff awkward language (both speech and syntax)? I mean, "So er hello? You alright Eowyn?..." Nope. Doesn't work. Faramir being in love with her doesn't exactly help - he is well on a roll his gallant numenorean knight persona. Thee, thou, aye and the rest is on its way. ;) They are not hobbits in a meadow checking thier stings after a raid on bee hive. They are both aware they are royal personages. When royals meet it is always 'And so upon the fifth day after...' There are rules, etiquette, ceremony and the rest of that royal rubbish to be followed. Even on the cusp of the possible end of everything. So whilst JRRT may well have got a bit carried away I think it fits as a way of describing their particular situation.

Also the language of the novel gets less formal again as the hobbits set off on thier way back to the Shire. It doesn't stay stiff and archaic as in your second example but rather becomes again more like the first. Tolkien must therefore have been purposeful in writing it one way then another. It's no bag of laughs at the end but then the Shire has undegone a tragic transformation. Indeed the novel becomes somewhat a bitter sweet tragedy and is all the better for it.
Last edited by Withywindle on Sun Oct 10, 2010 12:56 am, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: How language has changed....

Postby resoundingjoy » Sun Oct 10, 2010 12:05 am

I just want to say that posts like Withy's above are one of the major reasons why I love RB.

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Re: How language has changed....

Postby shireling » Sun Oct 10, 2010 2:19 pm

resoundingjoy wrote:I just want to say that posts like Withy's above are one of the major reasons why I love RB.

Yes, indeed.
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Re: How language has changed....

Postby MsBrandybuck » Mon Oct 11, 2010 4:26 pm

One of several reasons why I've always loved Withy anyway. ;)

I agree that the language forms are a tool to set the mood of the event as well as defining characters.
I have never been one to 'skip the boring bits' or speed-read past wordy prose- reading has always been an "all of nothing" endeavor to me.
So the archaic language and extreme wordiness of certain authors of that era don't bother me.
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Re: How language has changed....

Postby ashbow » Tue Oct 12, 2010 1:38 pm

Reading Withy's post makes me miss the old chapter 'read alongs' from his boards and RB.

I do feel that today's magazines, news articles, and even some novels have been subjected to the 'Newspeak' dictionary from Orwell's 1984. That whole theory of reducing the language to a basic communication set in order to limit thought, seems to be taking hold on today's society.

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Re: How language has changed....

Postby Shuggy » Tue Oct 12, 2010 2:54 pm

See, I would love Withy's version of events to be the definitive, however, I distinctly remember reading (somewhere!) that the good professor himself said it wasn't necessarily deliberate.

If I could remember where I read it, I would cite or provide a link, but basically (IIRC) JRR says that he started out with no clear idea where he was going other than a sequel to 'The Hobbit', which he wasn't too keen on writing. He got so far in then stopped; went away and properly designed Middle Earth, its' languages and peoples and culture, etc, etc, then started again - by this time, the story had become more serious and epic in scope, hence the change of writing style. I think he took another time out (IIRC) before finishing, then retconning elements of FOTR to make Bilbo's ring 'The One Ring'.

The first time he read it all through, he basically admitted he could see the joins, but effectively he couldn't be arsed tweaking all 1000 pages of it, because - as far as he was concerned - it would never sell; he wrote it mainly for himself as an exercise in linguistics and creating mythology.

That's the version I know.

Not quite as artistic as Withy's - which is why I prefer his! :lol:
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Re: How language has changed....

Postby Withywindle » Tue Oct 12, 2010 6:01 pm

Of course I might just be full of shite...

;)

JRRT was drawn towards his Elder Days (and I also remember reading something along the lines of Shuggy's quotes) as he was still tinkering with the Sil but I don't think he did it 'unknowingly'. He wanted it that way as it probably pleased his own 'epic' preference to write it that way at those points in the story. To be honest the main 'thee' this and 'thou' that moments are Eowyn and Aragorn (Sorry luv but I've got a bird already...) and Eowyn and Faramir (Let's get it onnnnn, baby...!). Denethor does it a bit but he is a crusty old bleeder anyway and other than that it is all in battle descriptions. And come on - if you can't get a bit 'old school epic' in writing about heroic self-sacrifice you may as well forget it.

For all this type of epic writing slipped in later on he also put in absolute 'vulgar' gems like Shagrat and Gorbag... :D
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Re: How language has changed....

Postby Shuggy » Tue Oct 12, 2010 8:30 pm

Actually, Withy, you just reminded me of a bit in LOTR that made me LOL - it's during the Battle of the Pellenor Fields when Eomer (I think) meets up with Imrahil (?) and they stop and have a really inappropriate chat before carrying on the fight. Not only does it conjure a bizarre mental image, but the way JRR has them speak and describes the meeting is hugely archaic!!

I've always said that the professor couldn't write an 'action scene' for toffee though - you really appreciate how difficult PJ's job was when you compare things like the Balin's Tomb fight in the film with the book, which reads like football scores! For the Brits among us; go and read the bit in the book from where the goblins bust through the door, but do it in the voice of the announcer from Grandstand!
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Re: How language has changed....

Postby Azriel » Wed Oct 13, 2010 2:54 pm

This is a beautiful debate. I am quite enjoying reading it.

However... getting back to what, I think, was the original question...

Cassie wrote:Do you enjoy reading/listening to the English language of the past, or do you skip in favor of something more modern? And, more in general, do you think we've dumbed down the American/English language as a whole too much over the years?


I love older books because I grew up reading them. I rarely come across words I don't know or can't figure out, so comprehension isn't a problem, but I totally understand getting bored with too much description. I never made it past the first chapter of Ivanhoe because I couldn't take the full-page description of what one character was wearing (slight exaggeration).
Still, I think it's worth it to make ourselves work through books like that sometimes. So many excellent books would remain unread if everyone allowed themselves to stop when they reached heavy description.

I don't think our language is 'dumbed down' so much as adapted (though I'm torn on this issue).
I think that in the past, before television, happy-meals, drive-through-*insert business here* and other instant gratifications people were a lot more patient and had longer attention spans. Our generation has been trained to get bored after 10-15 minutes of the same thing. Explosions, commercials, microwave meals, all are training us to expect action pretty constantly. Thus I think we tend to get bored of long descriptions much faster than the readers of the time would have, even if we're patient well-educated people.
It's hard to say if it's totally a bad thing - perhaps it trains us to think faster. I don't know. But I think that is probably why today's novels tend not to have such heavy descriptions. I think continuing to read classics would really be beneficial for young people today so that they can have larger vocabularies, but it's hard to say if today's vocabulary is dumber than previously or just different. Also hard to say if words are being lost from our language too quickly or not.
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Re: How language has changed....

Postby Cassie » Wed Oct 13, 2010 10:02 pm

Wow, I didn't expect a random thought of mine to produce such lengthy discussion :lol:

But in answer to Withy's "no shit, Sherlock' ;) Shuggy had it right. Of course a book written in Victorian times about Victorian times is going to be written in the style and language of the day, that wasn't my point. My point was, as 21st century people, do you find that style and language hard to read? :)

Anyway, skipping over the in-depth JRRT discussion that I am in no way qualified to comment on ;) Az, I like your thoughts. In my mind I saw the "dumbing down' as a bad thing, but you're right, it does make us think quicker and get more accomplished these days. I'm sure that long and wordy conversation was something of an artform in the past, when people didn't have tv/radio/internet to pass the time. These days we don't need to sit around talking to stave off boredom, we have electronic goodies :roll: ;)
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