Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin

Grammar: when to break all the rules!

There's one instance when really rotten grammar will work for you. It's the ONLY time it'll work for you, however, and you'll have to be referee, umpire and touch judge. You're going to set the rules yourself, and you must play by them consistently throughout the project, or deliberately rotten grammar will fall apart into old fashioned bad grammar.

The place four rotten grammar is in the dialog of characters who come from different cultural, social or ethnic backgrounds, and this is why you must be extremely careful when you set your ground rules, and then adhere to them like glue.

People, when they speak naturally, rarely sound like they are reading aloud from a thesaurus. Every region on the planet has its own speech patterns. People who are speaking English as a second or even third language speak it with the inflection of their own mother tongues. In other words, the grammar of their native Italian or German comes through into the English.

The most attenuated form of this is Chinglish, which has virtually come to be a recognized language. It's a literal, word for word translation, of Chinese into English, leaving all the grammar and syntax of Chinese as it was, but substituting the English words, albeit pronounced according to Mandarin or Cantonese rules of pronunciation. The result is a language which is ... and isn't English. Nor it is Chinese. It's Chinglish, and both races can take a crack at understanding it.

Bad grammar — really rotten, stinking grammar! — is typical of the dialog written for "local yokels" in the Western movies. Such characters in those movies are barely educated, most often illiterate, and have just enough English to make themselves understood. For example:

"It don't make no difference when he come to town. I sez, we git together, you and me and a bunch of them good ole boys out in that there bunkhouse, and we gives him plenty of reason so's he gits right back on that train. He don't need no more persuadin' to leave here than's gonna git provided when Butch and Joe's bit by the persuadin' bug, and they whaps him up the wrong side o' the head, or maybe they even gits a mite more hornery and comes right out and shows him the wrong end of a forty-five. Yous all recalls how them boys dam' near tore up the town, while the Sheriff weren't here? They's got passels of the means and nasties, when they's riled and ready. Dagnab it, that there new guy, he'd need to be crazier'n five ole rattlesnakes in a sack, if'n he don't just run for that train and git out before he ain't got no limbs workin' good enough to run with!"

The aggression aside, you can understand every word of what was said! The grammar is execrable, but the language remains understandable. However, this kind of grammar as deliberately bad. It doesn't belong in narrative. If it creeps in there, it will appear to be a genuine error based on (sorry!) ignorance of correct grammar. If you use this, deliberately execrable grammar inside a character's dialog, however, it gives you a very powerful tool for character building. Really stinking grammar makes a character sound like a thug (as in the above example). You're off to a head start on character building, the moment the character opens his mouth!

Here is another good example of bad grammar, and how it can be turned around to build a wonderful character:

"See, I come from Milano, I get here four, maybe five year ago, and I get work every day in market. I live in heart of town, you know, where all city, every day, she is alive, fill with so much life, you wanna sing for joy of seeing. So I sing, and cuz I come from Milano ... and I gotta be saying at you, everybody, he sing in Milano! ... so I sing the opera. I sing all the song of Caruso and Gigli and Pavaroti, and one day, I am singing while I stack empty crate for to go back on truck, and he comes to the market. He listens, he stands right there where you standing this minute right now, and he say to me, "You there with curly hair and mud on shoes, where you are learning to sing?" So I tell him, "Hey, I learn to sing at home in Milano from my father and grandfather and brother and uncle," and he say to me, "You wanna sing for crowd of people, hundred people, maybe thousand even, on stage?" And I said, "Sure, why not, whole thing, she sound like big fun."

Again, the grammar is spectacularly bad, yet it conjures an image of a beautiful young man with a vast talent and a great heart, who is about to begin a marvelous career.

TIP: make grammar work for you, good and bad alike, but to make rotten grammar work to your advantage, you have to know the rules of how it all works. This way, when you have the right (the writer's privilege) to set new ground rules of grammar ... with the single proviso that you MUST stick to them!

No comments:

Post a Comment

The commercial break ... there has to be a commercial break!