15 March 2007

Do English-as-a-second-language writers (and speakers) have more fun?

I'm asking this question quite seriously, because —

1. I am coming to the conclusion that English is a feast made best today by people whose first language is not English. By 'feast', I am not referring to puddings enriched with words and expressions from other languages. Hobson-Jobson and the like, though deliciously rich, are just desserts.

2. I have come to the conclusion that many people who use English-as-a-first-(and possibly only) language professionally have less interest in communicating than they do in using language as a marker, like a cat's pee. They might be so highly educated that they write and speak in two languages — the one that uses words to signify a level of education that takes English beyond meaning; and a level of language that has so few words that it is not language as much as social grunting, sometimes in friendship, often not. "Yeah duh spence, god sum guys are just so thick!" was the total text of an anonymous comment left on this blog the other day. To really express yourself in modern English as spoke by natives, you need emoticons, because English like, is boring and it suks when you wanna say stuff. Avoid misconceptions in emails with emoticons, and have some fun, too, instructs email. com.

English can be full of fun. The more well-read one* is, the more fun can be had — and in a literate society, that fun doesn't need to be competitive. I don't mean that one needs to quote Shakespeare, though quoting Shakespeare is popular amongst a surprising number of hack journalists in the non-Anglo world (who tend to quote so many of the writers we Anglos were supposed to have read that one wonders if they actually read them).
(* Never use 'one' in this context if you want to pretend that English [or Texan] is your mother tongue)

Going by a Greek proverb, a beard signifies lice, not brains. On the contrary, William Shakespeare made Beatrice assert in Much Ado About Nothing that he who has a beard is more than a youth and he who has no beard is less than a man.
- Amlan Chakraborty, Of beards, goatees & stubbles, Sports Tribune, Chandigarh, India

Bachi Karkaria (another Indian journalist) has so much fun with English that I am a Karkaria addict, and not just for the fun of it. She writes a regular column for the Times of India, where she is a senior editor. Here's a typical column by her that is in the archives, and her latest: Wimmen vs. Woemen. One of the features of her writing is her use of puns, a game that is rarely played today in English, and certainly not a feature of Western journalism. Is punning popular in Indian languages? I don't know. And what about alliteration?

Alliteration and a fiercely articulate sense of justice come into play in everything that Professor P. Radhakrishnan writes. Although he is an academic, he has ideas, expresses himself clearly, and is not afraid to write forcefully. He would no more wish to be obtuse than to have a gag shoved in his mouth. I recommend his latest book, The Perfidies of Power. The publisher, Ideaindia.com, has made this book and others available by download. The site is well worth browsing.

The daily Ghanaian Chronicle isn't exactly fun and it doesn't alliterate, but it's definitely worth reading. The newspaper must cope with a frustrating infrastructure, so it is often not online, but many of its stories and editorials are reprinted in allAfrica.com (a portal that leads to many writers I would love to cite as reasons for my questions). The Ghanaian Chronicle uses plain English, to communicate — and how! Here's a current editorial that should be reprinted in the International Herald Tribune: The Tomato Farmers' Plight

If I began to talk about fiction, I could never stop, so I will just mention one writer — a Canadian.

Claude Lalumière writes fiction with such a feel for the sound and emotive quality of each word that his stories are more like poetry to my ear, with all the suspense and excitement that used to be the stock of travelling storytellers.

But since this is my blog and I can contradict myself, I'm not stopping there.

Dean Francis Alfar, in the Philippines, writes with a lyricism that has no affectation. His stories are full of pathos without bathos, deeply emotional without a bit of melodrama. He isn't afraid to mix languages and to play with meaning. He is only one of many writers who make me aware of the meaning of words. He chooses. He expresses with a particularity that doesn't pretend that any one language can express all, yet he finds verbal and written language rich enough that he doesn't need emoticons.

I would love to read more by the author of FANaticism, Baskar Dutt. This is
one of my all-time favourite short stories. I am happy that the Indian Science Fiction & Fantasy site still exists, though this short story section looks comatose (perhaps it is only sleeping, in which case, I hope some frog kisses it awake). I once wrote a fan letter to Dutt, c/o the site, but don't know if the letter was ever conveyed.

Vera Nazarian writes sensuous, semi-fairytale novels and short stories that make me want to sit in a deep wing chair reading while eating marzipan; and non-fiction that can be incandescent. Sometimes she burns herself with a passionate essay, but never because she didn't know how to express herself. Her problem then, one that more people should have, is that she expressed herself so well. Her short story "Young Woman in a House of Old" is another of my all-time favourites. Nazarian learned English as her third (or fourth?) language. When we came to America, she writes, I read all the time, and devoured sometimes two books a day, ever since I learned English. Although at first, I didn't even understand the books very well, because my English was still not that great. But because I was so curious to know what happened to the characters in the books, I struggled and read them anyway.

Finally, in this list that grew, is Célestine Hitiura Vaite, the author of Breadfruit, Frangipani, and Tiare, three novels that form a trilogy. Recently, I posted a recommendation on Medlar Comfits to read everything she writes, including what she says about herself on her site — about the Barbie doll and Les Aventures D'Olivier Twist, about families and reading and writing and the way Books do change lives . . . they changed mine . . . My life mission is to blast the literacy rate in French Polynesia to the sky. Her trilogy that she says is "about people who just happen to be from Tahiti" should be an international best seller. I'm pleased that it's already on its way. She wrote these books in English, and her style is pure, storytellingly transparent — perfectly (under)stated and true to the narrative and dialogue, even to giving a feeling for vernacular. She hears and sees people speaking while she's writing, and so does the reader (though happily, we don't have to translate). She's a great observer and has a gift for the throw-away line. She has a mighty, earthy sense of fun and writes from the heart. She wields a mighty pin against pomposity, though is never nasty or a poseur. I'm so happy that she didn't get that Barbie doll — and that she writes in English.

Observing the natives

It's too stomach churning to metaphor English-as-a-first-language as it is used today (and taught) as foodstuff, so please imagine it as a set of chisels. Modern Anglo-only pro's often use three chisels max, as hammers. When that doesn't work, they often get angry — at being misunderstood, and at other people being stupid. Or they don't notice, as they bash away.

News Channel 32, Georgia, USA (a Media General Company, "Serving Northeast Georgia") has a constant online presence, a news team they're so proud of that they display their News Team bios, and much to say about communication.

Here are some current clips from Channel 32's 'Top Stories' :
(Note: I've removed paragraph spacing.)

Every half hour the children hear a different story from a different character. Etheridge adds, “The whole idea is to encourage children to read and open whole world of what reading is to them.” Studies show reading aloud to kids increases their vocabulary and demonstrates fluency. Not to mention, reading is a lot more fun when everyone is dressed up. It seems to be working. John Isaac says, “I learned words and other stuff.”
- Megan Heidlberg, Children Celebrate Read Across America Week

"Hi Tyesha," yells an excited Katie Townsend. Thursday afternoons are a favorite for Katie and Tyesha Davis. "So how was your week?" asks Katie. It gives the friends a chance to catch up and talk about like. "She's like a best friend to me," says Davis. It's a friendship that developed through the Stephens County Middle School Mentoring Program. Katie is a student at Toccoa Falls College and spends at least one hour a week with 7th grader Tyesha. "I look forward to it every week," gushes Katie. "I'm like I get to mentor Tyesha today." Most of their hour is spent playing cards. But don't get the wrong idea. When the hour is up, they both walk away with so much more. "It doesn't matter what their hands are doing," says Mentor Coordinator Beth Gangel. "Their hearts are connecting."
- Megan Heidlberg, Mentors Make a Difference

Stephens County High School senior Benjamin Moore is getting the star treatment. It's not everyday you get a reception after school with your teachers and administrators. It's also not every day you're recognized for years of hard work. But on Thursday that's just what happened . . . But Thursday wasn't just about Benjamin. He's sharing the spot light with his AP Biology teacher Ken Camp . . . Mr. Camp has always supported Benjamin by writing letters of reccomendations for varioius scholarships for Ben . . . The STAR Program is in it's 49th year . . . Later this month all will meet for a state wide reception.
- Megan Heidlberg, STAR Student and Teacher Honored

Heidlberg often writes about education and literacy. Here's another of her current headlines:

Teacher's of the Year Honored at Luncheon

She (and News Channel 32) first came to my attention in 2005, with her story about reading and communication in which Heidlberg wrote:
"Communicating is much more than just speaking," Webster.

Heidlberg's stories are written in the what must be the house style for News Channel 32. Here are more clips from their current Top Stories, all written by another 'Anchor/Reporter', Scott Myrick.

Jean Armstrong and her husband own "The Basket Peddler" cafe in downtown Cornelia. They setup shop here three years ago --because-- of the downtown area.

Last month, the program mailed out 721 books. But as more people join, the more expensive it is to keep the program running. It costs $2000 a month now. "We have been able to keep up, but as it grows so does the amount per month," says Lisa Prickett of the Stephens Education Literacy Foundation. So for kids like Tori to keep getting new books each month, more people need to step-up to help soon.

A Towns County Bank has been robbed for the second time nine days. Thursday morning two masked gunmen got away with an undisclosed amount of money from the Bank of Hiawassee in Young Harris. This makes the third bank robbery in the county in two months. The people who live there say this isn't a good representation of their quiet mountain town.

More from Myrick — three sentences from a 346-word story, Hall County Firefighters Burn Barns:

This is the day that brings-out what they're really made of.

Days like this make sure he's ready for whatever the job throws at him.

Twenty-eight recruits are training to join the hall county fire department now.

Every day in every way, the News Channel 32 news team is consistent, so I haven't been particular in cropping, though for space reasons, I've chosen to quote only two of their star reporters.

News Channel 32: Top Stories

No country left behind

"The youngsters in Asia work harder, outnumber us, and have an educational system that prepares them better."
- Holden Thorp (chairman of the chemistry department at UNC-Chapel Hill, dean of its College of Arts and Sciences) Hang on to arts education, The Fayetteville Observer

The misuse of language and wording is the saddest thing there is - the deterioration of the language via 'SMS' texting and, just generally, the way kids today speak and write is heart-wrenching - and me with 3 kids, all of whom don't give a damn! - email to me from a friend in Australia

"In the Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith's colleague boasts about how Newspeak, the language invented by the party to eliminate the possibility of rebellious thought, is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller each year. Next to the vocabulary of the average teenage girl, it already reads like Shakespearean verse."
- Luke Escombe,
Passing Orwell's deadline won't avert grim days ahead, Heckler, The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 March 2007

"Launching the books, Undersecretary for Formal Education in the Ministry of Education, Alfred Ilukena, said language was the most important tool for thinking, a means of communication and one of the most important aspects of identity."
- Mother Tongue Project Distributes Thousands of Books by Wezi Tjaronda, New Era (government newspaper), Namibia

A high level of communication in one's language is a prerequisite in a knowledge-based society.
- Alfred Ilukena

"For now, people without an access to computer are called illiterate but not those who don’t read and write."
- Saleh Bassurah, How to reform education? Yemen Times

"Keep you (sic) English up to date" with the BBC's Learning English site.
Today the word is 'wuss'.


Martin said...

Whoa. That's a real news network? How sad. Oh yes, I got here from Mr. Alfar's site (though I am not connected to him in any way, aside from writer-reader).

JP said...

Alliteration is a popular device in some Indian language, I'm not sure about puns. I do know that puns were very popular in my crowd at college, most of whom studied Journalism or something called Communicative English, and several of whom went on to work in the media. An enjoyable yet effective way to exhibit your mastery of what can still be considered an alien language, or some sort of national genetic wiring? Who knows.

I've also tried to find out more about Baskar Dutt, but he seems to have vanished like a thing that vanishes very thoroughly.

Anonymous said...

I feel compelled to mention that all of your citations from journalism are the result of one book: the Chicago manual of style. Journalists are taught to write like that, unfortunately -- and it's worth mentioning that lean prose isn't always a bad thing. Certainly Hemingway wrote some very beautiful and quiet moments with his spare wordsmithing; and if, perhaps, his literary descendents inherited too much of his style with too little of his grace -- well, who can blame them?

Most of my native English friends do have a natural fear of the language, but not all. So while non-native speakers may have more fun on the whole, they're not the only ones who enjoy toying with the English language.