Saturday, January 28, 2012

Does What We Write Limit Our Vocabulary?

I'm currently editing a friend's novel. My focus lies on the story, because as foreign speaker - the story is written in English - I can hardly argue anything on the grammar and vocabulary front. But then in chapter 2 a single, little word has caught my eye and interest:

"He made the mistake of looking into her eyes. They were large in her elfin face, pale blue with a thick fringe of lashes, full of emotion that he was unable to keep himself distant from."

Elfin - a lovely word in a wonderful sentence in a fantastic story!

Only that this story is located in space. There are different species on various planets, there are space ships and laser weapons ... and I simply wondered: 'Are elfs known in this world?' I had a feeling like Captain Jean Luc Picard (from the U.S.S. Enterprise/Star Trek) would come to Hobbiton and share some smoke with Gandalf and Bilbo! Very weird!

What I'm talking about: Does What We Write Limit Our Vocabulary?

How far can I go with the words I use to describe things, people and places? Similar thought in contemporary writing: Comparisons with movies, music tracks, singers, living or dead VIPs, etc. Do I run danger to lose my readers because they might have no glue what I'm talking about?

Well, I should keep an eye on that question while editing!


  • January 29, 2012 2:02 PM

    I was just reading a published novel that made me think about this. It was a space opera set several hundred years in the future. The author constantly had characters comparing things to other things 'back on old earth'. Very disorientating. It didn't seem to me at all realistic that characters would describe things this way.

  • January 30, 2012 9:35 AM
    Anonymous :

    Thoughts on vocabulary and language......I live in Italy and therefore much of my life is 'spent in a foreign language' which has limits - my Italian is good. However it will always be a second language because I was not brought up in this culture - you can translate a word but you can't necessarily translate the cultural context. Language emerges from, and lives within, its culture. Does that make sense?

    re they might have no glue

    I think you mean clue

  • February 01, 2012 5:00 PM

    @Victoria Snelling: Now I'm dealing with those questions I can totally understand your disorientation ... how should those characters in future know how it was 'back on old earth'??? It should be an authors' job to visualize exactly those differences!

  • February 01, 2012 5:03 PM

    @rowlandjones: It makes totally sense!
    Actually, I'm currently dealing exactly with the same problem: My mother tongue is German, but I write my blog in English. I know, my English is rather good, but quite often I deal with matters, especially when it comes to quotes. Some simply can NOT be translated 1:1 from German into English ... I hope my readers will appreciate at least my tries (and errors! *g*)!

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