Saturday, 23 May 2009

Historical language and its uses


"Amazon, which commands 5 to 15 percent of the book market, claims that for titles with Kindle versions, digital sales represent about 35 percent of total sales."
This interesting snippet comes from a longer article here. It seems a best-selling American thriller writer has lost fans because Amazon priced his latest book too highly and they are refusing to buy.
I read an interesting blog today in which Anne Gilbert- link - discusses what some call "gadzooks" language, or "writing forsoothly". Ms Gilbert calls it "fake poetic," a kind of artificial "archaic" supposed to suggest an "olde-tymey" type of speech.
She uses "upon"(rather than just plain "on"), "ere", "nay", "mayhap" as examples and claims a lot of writers of historical romance think they are conveying "olde-tymey" speech patterns.
The style is closer to Shakespeare's time than early medieval English. She thinks some historical fiction writers in Victorian times used this kind of language and that the "tradition" has never entirely died out. I think she's right on both counts.
She goes on to say that some readers of historical fiction enjoy this kind of fake "archaism" because they think it gives them a flavour of the way language was spoken then.

Since she is thinking of Sharon Penman's writing, she goes on to wonder about Penman's use of "Britishisms," and because Penman is an American writer, living in New Jersey, she wonders why she spells words in the British way - "whilst" or "amongst", rather than "while" or "among" in the American way. She wonders why American writers do this.
I applaud Penman for spelling the British way when the story and characters are set in Britain. There is nothing that makes me grind my teeth more than reading a story set in this country and having so-called English characters who talk like modern Americans. It happens in narrative passages as well. Suddenly a glaring spelling error leaps off the page and I think crappy writing, crappy editing and then realise - American author, American spelling.
If I read a modern American story - and I do - Gerritsen and Roberts come to mind readily enough - then I want the characters's dialogue and the narrative writing to be US English. But I wonder if American audiences want a UK story set in Regency Yorkshire to have characters who speak like Americans? And if so, why? How can this be less of an issue than using "mayhap" and "gadzooks"?

4 comments:

Linda Banche said...

Oh, I agree, language should be appropriate to the story. I try for some period slang and sentence structure, and I do use "mayhap" occasionally in my Regencies. I try not to use words that were not extant in the Regency, or that are Americanisms. I also try to use a more formal type of speech rather than our casual speech. Otherwise, it's normal modern English. After all, it is fiction.

And since I'm American, I write "honor", not "honour". I notice in the Harlequin Historicals, you can tell the British authors from the American authors by the use of the "u" in these words. **grins**

Jen Black said...

Oh yes - I can spot the American authors almost from the first page of HH! Perhaps it is more a mind set than a spelling thing

Anita Davison said...

I agree too, Jen. I find it jarring if a Regency miss suddenly says,'I think we're through here.' You can overdo it of course and make the narrative incomprehensible, but a little attention to detail gives an authentic flavour - or flavor! 'smile'

Anne Whitfield - author said...

I try to keep my British words in my books, but sometimes that is hard to do with American publishers as they want the USA spelling even if the book is set in England with English people!