…holy FECKING GODS. I’m reminded why I don’t do this often.
Do people not realize that their use of language reflects their entire existence? When you’re online, it’s your entire being–personality, education, background–accurate or not. Photographs and aliases are faked and changed, but language is the complete interface of how you convey all your thoughts (visual arts notwithstanding) to the world. I’m not even kidding here. The sophistication of your language represents your maturity and communication ability in relation to human society.
Accuracy of representation is moot; it’s entirely true that what clothing you wear could be affected by monetary limitations rather than personal taste. But the old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is perhaps one of the most impractical things to suggest, because no matter what you do, it’s essentially biologically wired into you to take any physical presentation and interpret it on the spot, not matter how inaccurate it is. You do it for Web sites; you do it for the kids who wear the skimpiest clothes in middle school; you do it for that ridiculously shiny, pink-covered book in the grocery aisle, which, for all you know, could be a philosophical cogitation on quantum mechanics.
Here’s a secret: Animals judge their natural world on an external basis, and this is why mimicry exists. Here’s a better secret: All marketing companies take advantage of this idea, which is why pink is still a “feminine” marketing ploy. Go sell a pink deodorant to a man and tell him “Don’t judge a book by its cover!” Yeah, I’m sure that will work. Socialization works with our existing biological propensities.
Don’t bother with the argument that it’s the “story” that counts and not the technical accuracy of the language, because let me tell you: Without language, you have no story. Honey, if you write like an 11-year-old (many of the school districts I know of require students to be able to identify run-on sentences by the 7th or 8th grade–yes, that’s maybe 12-14 years old)–I don’t care if you’re 22 and in college–you will come off as an 11-year-old. (Well… I suppose some with pedophilic leanings may actually want to do this, but that’s beside the point.) It’s difficult or impossible to read and fully understand your intent if you try to convey more complicated ideas. It’s just as difficult to take the story seriously when you continuously use “ur” instead of “you’re.” Oh, let me tell you what “Ur” is (dictionary):
A city of ancient Sumer in southern Mesopotamia on a site in present-day southeast Iraq. One of the oldest cities in Mesopotamia, it was an important center of Sumerian culture after c. 3000 B.C. and the birthplace of Abraham. The city declined after the sixth century B.C.
Now, I’m not talking about pure intelligence; certainly, there are people who have severe forms of dyslexia or people who are mathematical geniuses and who couldn’t tell you the difference between a dependent and independent clause to save their lives. However, if you are trying to teach someone the purpose of calculus integrals and cannot form a coherent verbal explanation, it is the same as not knowing it.
In that context, that is the nature of the language interface I’m talking about. I’m talking about the presentation of your thoughts.
There is a gray area when it comes to “conversational text” on the Web, most notably forum posts, blogs, comments, and things like that, but I don’t care about those things. A work of fiction or nonfiction does not fall into that category.
Why? Like I said, without language, you have no story; language rules are the most stringent in the written form, but not so in the oral form unless you’re talking about an oral and scripted communiqué or something. (Listen to people speak, and you’ll realize the vast majority will never use proper grammar. There are reasons for this.) Let’s consider forum/blog/BBS/comment postings to be conversational and thus “oral” in nature. Many of the proto-linguistical elements in that setting replace other forms of human communication–specifically prosody and kinesics–and I find that interesting.
Writing, on the other hand, is static. It’s the art of solidifying a thought that will communicate your intended meaning and information to the reader. As an art form, it requires practice, effort, and study. You are supposed to be able to use the rules and properly mold your expression. These rules exist precisely for people to clarify their thoughts in written form. Yes, there are huge differences among their, there, and they’re. Writing a piece is not conversing orally with the reader. It is presenting to the reader.
I realize that American kids these days really don’t like to read (unless it’s Harry Potter, which is better than nothing but still not so great), but I do find it hilarious when I come across the occasional writer-wannabe comment that they don’t like reading books, but they want tips on how to write well. Excuse me? Ha ha ha. They go hand in hand. My current writing effort may be my first foray into fiction, but I had read a book a week since late elementary school through high school, and that’s not even considered a lot to some of my friends. Tip: Libraries are FREE. My language skills were good enough to be (actually) collegiate before I started high school. Of course, technical skills alone can never cover for creative ability and story intuition, but they should be the starting point or developed congruently.
Naturally, there are some exceptions in the stringency test: people for whom English is not their first language** (in which case I generally applaud their efforts to try a different language, because the vast majority of Americans never learn a second and never master their first); people whose socioeconomic background severely limit the quality of their education (there’s nothing to do about that, especially if even libraries don’t exist). But I’m not talking about such individuals. What bother me the most are such endeavors by people who are in late high school or in college (or even graduated) and for whom English is their first language. Ew. T_T
By the way: Reading manga doesn’t count because it’s an “oral” format. Really.
[consumes a root beer float]
Excuse me. Okay, I feel better now. That’s not to say that I haven’t read very good fan fiction pieces, of course. Here’s some root beer. I’m going to take a nap now. :)
*I suppose I should point out that I know my writing isn’t perfect either, but it’s certainly better than most of what I’ve skimmed so far. ^_^;
**apollyon-0 had this to say about ESL: “…(T)here’s a point where ‘English is not my first language’ becomes just an excuse for half-assed editing. :D” The relevance here is that English isn’t apollyon-0‘s first language either, but if you read the translations on his/her site, you might think otherwise. There are flexible margins of error for personal effort and schooling quality in this case.
I suppose the most logical thing to believe is this: As a professed fan fiction “author,” the responsibility for maintaining language quality falls upon said so-called “author” and no one else. (Don’t get me started on the quality of beta editing, either.) Okay, I’m finished.