The Written Accent

‘Oh, six or seven, over the yirs. But he’s well inae the drink, y’ken. Y’canny be sure someboady like that isnae gauny pop off any day noo. Then you’d be tellin’ y’self, Ah couldy went and seen John Martyn, an’ now he’d deid! An’ whit did Ah dae instead, eh? Watched telly mebbe!

This excerpt is from Michael Faber’s surreal thriller “Under the Skin”, which takes place in the Scottish Highlands. The book itself was given to me by a friends, who not only lives in the Highlands, but informs me that Faber himself lives five minutes away.

While I’m enjoying the book, I’ve never really taken well to the written accent. It makes me wonder how many screenwriters write lines in foreign accents using the phonetic spelling instead of intonation directions. Sometimes, I even find this intentional misspelling to be haphazardly used. The main character in this book, for instance, is described to have an exotic accent that is foreign to the Scottish natives, yet (probably) European (she even claims to be from Germany at one point). Even still, all of her lines are written in proper British English.

Compare to “On the Beach”, which takes place in Australia, written by British-born Nevil Shute (later to become an Australian citizen). Despite the distinct differences between British and Australian English, the only written difference between the Australian speakers and the American Navy captain are uses of regional slang. Worth noting is the lack of any American English mannerisms at all – The American captain seems to only speak neutrally, ignoring the undertones of strong American English dialects.

I’m still undecided as to when it’s appropriate to use the written accent and when it’s superfluous. It seems to bother me most in comic form than anything else. If anyone has any good examples of the written accent done right, I’d like to read them.

You and I Fight, We Solve With “I”

I meant to talk about this a while back, but I wasn’t able to. Here goes:

I often hear the idiom “actions speak louder than words”. While anyone regurgitating that fun fact may be of a more passive nature than someone who just takes a swing at their aggressor, it’s safe to assume that the phrase would apply to conflict, if violent people wanted to articulate exactly how they felt before doing anything. But for me, your choice of words in conflict is a pivotal “action” while inciting a fight.

The article I linked above was written at the beginning of the  month by Professor Pennbacker of the University of Texas. I’d like to focus on this quote:

The graceful-I versus the sledgehammer-I. Not all I-words are alike. The graceful-I, often associated with the use of hedges, is one where the person is subtly acknowledging multiple perspectives. Phrases starting with “I think that..”, “I wonder if..”, or “It seems to me that..” are all examples where the person is implicitly or politely making a request or an observation. “I think it’s cold outside” (as opposed to “It’s cold outside”) is actually saying “I know that there are many views on this matter and I may, in fact, be wrong. Indeed, when you go outside you might find it a bit warm but I personally felt that it was a bit cold outside. But I don’t want to intrude.”

A few years ago, I took part of a conflict resolution program developed by students and faculty from Columbia University. It involved having the two argumentative sides talking out their problems and then signing a contract saying they will definitely never fight again. While I found that part kind of fruitless (so much so that I never cared to actually apply what I learned to peer arguments), I thought a different part part where we discussed about language was more important than the whole.

In the Columbian model, all second-person pronouns were considered “sledgehammer” pronoun: you’d never be able to accuse someone directly for the strife they’d caused. Instead, you’d begin by talking about how you feel in an attempt to get the other party to empathize with you, hence the graceful-I.

Consider an ex-girlfriend was talking beef about you behind your back, and you didn’t think that shit was cash at all. Let’s say she called your current girlfriend slutty and you desperate, and you took offense to that because you care about your girlfriend, and stuff. Well, come face-to-face with your accuser,  your first instincts are either to reply with insults, or to tell her off. Your sentence will probably begin with “you”, putting her on the defense immediately.

If you were to instead say, “I feel…” and then tell her how she makes you feel while resisting the urge to spread the sarcasm on thick, the Columbian University model of peer conflict resolution suggests that  the level of terrible incident will decrease. The model also suggests there be a moderator in case things get out of hand, so bring your friends trained in peer psycho evaluation along if you’d like.

The tricky part is to stop yourself from saying something like “I feel like you’re being a beyotch” or “I feel angry when you run your dumbass face off and I hate you.” To aid in softer sentence structure, you should take this test. You may be pretty surprised with the results and learn something about first-person singular, graceful- and sledgehammer-I words.

According to the model, the nicest way to go about explaining your dilemma to your accuser is to begin with “I feel insulted and a little hurt, and I don’t feel as though I or my girlfriend are being given a fair etc, etc.” This establishes that you’re upset with the petty insults without resorting to your own. Obviously results vary – it’s suggested some time distances all parties from the pain to the resolution. Unfortunately, I can’t find the teachings on any website, although CU has a pretty hardcore program, which is apparently one of many. Having not seen Conflict Resolution Network students in action, I can’t say I have first-hand experience as to how practical their techniques are beyond the distilled version I learned some years back. But the use of dialogue is a big step in their program, as I always felt it should be in basic human form when solving problems.

Actions speak louder than words, you know?

One Jamaican Creole

This video, which I came across on BoingBoing yesterday, has an odd caption; it claims that this Dr. Seuss book is being read in “Jamaican Creole”, known locally as Patois. It’s read in English with a strong Patois accent, but no viewer is really going to get a good understanding of the speaker’s native language.

The thing that drew me most to this reading is the habitual replacement of “one” occassionally for the articles “a” or “an”. Having known a speaker of Jamaican Patois who never did that, I’m wondering if this instance is isolated, or if it’s commonplace.

I looked it up, but the only resources I could find didn’t go into detail on articles. It may be leftover from the African languages the dialect is derived from (along with British and Hiberno English). I admit, I don’t really know much about African languages.

I found the wikipedia page to be the most helpful, and I thought the use of “fi” as two different prepositions and as a modal auxiliary to be interesting – again, not something found in its English language parents. Also clever are the texts I’ve found with translations into modern English.

Yet still, I can’t find much about this guy’s article replacements.

Immersion… Ruined? Product Placement and the Epic Struggle

Doing a bit of research today on advertising in movies lead me to this link on HowStuffWorks.com. It’s an elementary explaination on how product placement has effectively (and ineffectively) been invading media like movies, video games, books, music, etc. One of the points it likes to make is the usage of product placement to impact the work’s immersivity. My favorite piece comes from this page, reading:

In Sega’s Super Monkey Ball, the bananas sport Dole Food Company stickers. Surprisingly, this kind of product integration isn’t about the cash. Just as product placement in movies promotes credibility and realism in the movie, it does the same thing in the video game — making the “environment” of the game more lifelike.

Obviously this article is a bit old, as that example if from 2001. These days, advertisements in video games are rotatable thanks to cutting-edge new Internet technology designed to emblazon its commercial messages into our unexpectant brains. But my skepticism lies with the idea that product placement promotes credibility and realism in video games. I’ll use Super Monkey Ball as an example.

Super Monkey Ball is a game about a monkey forced to live his treacherous life within the confines of a transparent plastic ball. You perilously tilt the world your prisoner avatar inhabits in an attempt to reach an arbitrary goal without having the monkey slip off and fall to his untimely death. Here’s a picture of it:

super-monkey-ball-banana-blitz-screenshot-big

When this game was originally released for Nintendo’s Gamecube in 2001, the “Dole” brand was plastered everywhere, especially on the bananas. Did the inclusion of this brand increase the “credibility” of the game?

The answer is absolutely arguable, but I’m going to have to go with “no”. The use of the Dole brand was clearly to offset the costs of development as Sega was trying to make a profitable transition into being a third-party developer (having just ditched support of their failed Dreamcast). In modern-day games there is no question what product placement is for: much like the promotion of Audi cars and Nokia phones to anyone paying to see a Jason Statham flick, targeted advertising within video games is crucial for those looking at the apathetic 18-25 demographic (that which has a disposable enough income to be able to buy the video games in the first place).

Now here’s the flip side: not until reading this article did it cross my mind that William Gibson may have received advertising money for Neuromancer. Hate on it all you want, I very much enjoy this book, and I contest that usage of brands such as RCA really added to its gritty realism. It’s also a great time capsule, because RCA closed its door just two years after the publication of the cyberpunk classic, which brings the timeline of the book down to the camp value level. It seems not even futuristic neo-noir could have saved the electronics giant (and if Neuromancer couldn’t, then what could have?).

Maybe it’s easier to hide product placement within the rolls of the written word than it is the more passive forms of entertainment. I now suppose I’ll keep a sharper eye out when I’m subliminally being sold things I don’t need.

Anyways, welcome to my BRAND NEW BLOG. It will probably be about advertising and linguistics, which I’m sure you’ll all love.