Thursday, September 1, 2011

Language and a Writer’s Responsibility

The love of language and all it can do for us is a love born from our need to communicate. Is that all it is? Is language simply a means to share concepts, to voice our wants, to record our history?

Language is an expression of who we are. It evolves over time and varies over locations. Through language we have stories and imaginings. Through language we are made greater by communal ideas. Through language we reveal so much more about ourselves.

That’s why I think writers in particular have a responsibility to use language with care and respect. This is not to say we have to always cling to correct grammar and sentence structure. However, we do need to learn the rules so we can mould language into the best means of offering understanding to our readers. Language is a precious tool.

Is it a writer’s responsibility to preserve language? To an extent. Language is an ever evolving creature. In the last twenty years we’ve seen massive changes in the way we communicate. We’ve seen the advent of emoticons, text messaging and abbreviations that have made it into the spoken word. We’ve become less formal. There is no point getting snobbish over these changes and no point holding onto the past.

I think it is a writer’s responsibility to fight complacency and laziness. I think we should utilise the best that language can offer, not the worst. It is a gift, after all.

Do you think it’s a writer’s responsibility to preserve language?

Note: I have decided to reduce the number of my posts to two per week (Mondays and Thursdays) so that I’ll have more time for writing and blog visits. Thanks to all those who left comments and encouragement on Facebook.

Award: Huge thanks to Carrie Butler for the 7x7 link award. Please visit her fabulous blog and say hi from me.

Reminder: The Insecure Writers’ Support Group, started by Alex J Cavanaugh, will post on the first Wednesday of every month. You can sign up here.


  1. Yay, glad you've decided to reduce your posting times and increase your writing time. NOT that we don't appreciate and love your posts, but we'd like you to have more time to write. :)

    And I dunno whether it's a writer's "responsibility" to preserve language. We CAN. Often writers have more extensive vocabs than the general public, and we can keep certain words fresh and alive in a new generation's mind. Otherwise words can fall into a Black Hole of disuse, fade away.

  2. I like your point about writers fighting laziness:) I also love the pic you have of ancient Australian art!

  3. We need to fight the laziness that is text language! When kids can't even write a short term paper without it being full of text speak, then there's a problem.

    And I hope that the Insecure Writer's Support Group post doesn't mess up your new schedule too much.

  4. I do think so, Lynda. Down to the last comma before the adverb. This is how I conduct myself as an author.

    Superb post.

  5. I recently cut back to two posts a week as well. I'm in first draft mode right now and, truly, I can stare at a paragraph for an hour searching for just the right words some days. Dedication to using the right language is huge for me.

    Oh yeah, I gave you one of those 7 X 7 awards the other day too. :) Do it, don't do it, it's up to you. It involves a lot of chasing down links, so...

  6. It is absolutely writer’s responsibility to preserve language :) Writers, translators and teachers are the protectors and saviours of language.
    This is why they have such great responsibility and this is why it is so sad when you see some of the wanna-be writers, who are in the game just for the money, usually the writers of YA novels, stoop to the level of corrupted language spoken by teens or kids in order to suck up to them. They don't understand they are actually the ones who should protect the language not bury it six feet under.

  7. I agree with you in that writers cannot be lazy about language. Absolutely. However, I wouldn't say that it's a writer's responsibility to preserve language, I think it's a writers responsibility to improve language. To use the best of language so that elegant, radical, or crystal prose becomes the norm. Shakespeare did not preserve the English language, he radicalized it. Changed it. And was it more beautiful? Yes. :)

  8. No it is not a writer's responsibility to preserve language. Language is constantly evolving. It is a writer's duty to stay on top of whatever is relevant at the time.

  9. Everyone should protect language and words! Personally I'd not do the same to txt speak! In a recent forum discussion about the riots in London, some person wrote their comment in pure txt speak - now for me that was just lazy.

    Take care

  10. While I understand that the language changes over time, I agree that it should be preserved.
    That is to say that a normal adjustment shift is one thing, but polluting the language is quite another.

  11. I agree with you. I'm just not a big fan of grammar classes in school... And it is a writers duty to preserve language! I completely agree with that!

  12. I'm loving everyone's different opinions on this topic.

    Carol, well said. I do think it's important to keep language and words alive. Without words it's harder to think with clarity.

    Mark, the pic was taken in the north end of the Northern Territory. It was an exceptionally hot day and a long trek. Was so worth it though.

    Alex, gr8 point ;) (couldn't resist). But I totally agree with you. There is a place for text language and it's not in a term paper.

    Suze, thanks. I thought this post might resonate with you.

    Luanne, oh! How'd I miss that award from you??? I didn't do this one because I didn't think I'd be able to answer some of the questions. A belated thank you for the award.

    Dezzy, I thought you might say that. I think as a translator you have a huge appreciation for the nuances of the written word.

  13. Jess, yep, she said it well.

    Bethany, also nicely said and will a great example. Often we forget that detail about Shakespeare.

    Michael, writers can also create new words and aid in the evolution of language.

    Old Kitty, txt speak is... cute, but there are places that it is simply inappropriate.

    Anthony,'polluting the language' well put.

    Jess, yeah, learning grammar can be a little... dry. It's worth it though.

  14. I love language and will always do my best to convey thoughts in a clear, yet lyrical manner. Thanks for discussing this subject.

  15. I'm with Old Kitty. I refuse to use text language!

  16. Angelina, clear yet lyrical. I love it.

    Theresa, aw, you are missing out ;) Some of it is exceptionally clever hehe.

  17. (Writing from a part of the world where it’s still August.) Hear! Hear! For every book on craft, I try to read a book on grammar. Mistakes are distracting and they make writers look like they don’t know what they’re doing. I always hoped an editor would take care of those things, but these days we have to do as much as we can for ourselves and especially in this age of FaceBook and blogger.

  18. I'm a big fan of preserving language, mainly because my native language (Welsh) is very much dying out. I don't speak it at all beyond the most basic of levels, and that kind of saddens me. What I love most about language and the differences in language between places is the ability to express concepts in a single word or phrase that other cultures are unable to express.

  19. I've always found it a little sad how language evolves, because it means that old aspects of languages get left behind and forgotten. I hate the fact that so many of the Aboriginal languages are being lost over the years. I'd love to learn Nyungar, so I can help preserve it.

  20. Hi Lynda, lovely blog and I can see I am going to learn a few things here. I am a newbie on this third campaign, looking forward to getting to know you.
    Sorry I'm late!

  21. I don't think it's our responsibility--but I think it behooves the writer to write as clearly as possible. Certainly I would not read a novel filled with emoticons and LOLs.

  22. I agree, but I think if we have teenage characters in our stories, we should take care to capture their vernacular. If you have a character that's texting, you've got to get it right - I would need to consult my teen. My texts are always properly constructed full sentences - I must be doing it wrong.

  23. Funny you should mention this; I've been having this same conversation with a couple of friends lately. One is in the banking business, and her impatience with business jargon and word misuse is driving her around the bend. I also noticed, when setting up my blog, that instructions on the web about how to deal with HTML are so badly written, for the most part, that the instructions are impossible to follow. So it's a relief to deal with fellow writers who care about language.

  24. Oh my God, yes, yes, yes! Especially nowadays with the advent of "text speak," somebody, SOMEBODY, has to remind the good people that there is such a thing as proper language and preserve it. I truly do believe that "somebody" is the writer. As you said, "it is a writer's responsibility to fight complacency and laziness...utilise the best that language can offer, not the worst."

  25. I believe in preserving language which is why I write historicals. With historical language. There were not many contractions back then, and people spoke in a civilized manner.

  26. I don't think it's our responsibility, but everyone's. Every time I see a text message I cringe, because unfortunately, the use of such shorthand it's not limited to texting nor teenagers.

  27. Even though 'text novels' (or txt novels?) are a thing, I don't see texting or modern technology as a REAL threat to language, at least at the moment. Personally, I prefer today's modern language over language used even 100 years ago - hopefully in another 100 years, there will still be language that people can do beautiful things with.

    I've heard people argue that modern writers just don't invent turns of phrase the way the classics masters used to. I beg to differ, and I argue that anyone with this opinion has simply not been reading much these days, or at least not reading the right things.

    Many modern day writers do Emily Dickinson proud - I don't know how many times I've been stunned by something, realizing I just saw something described in a way that was totally true, that I would never have thought to voice myself.

  28. Children (school children) need to be taught when it's inappropriate to use slang and text speak. If they use street language in an exam paper they should fail.

    There's nothing wrong with text speak in the right place. But we should all try to use language tat's fit for the job we're trying to make it do.

  29. Hmm... I think that it's important to respect language, but I always worry about people talking about preserving a language.

    My home language is one of those "preserved" ones that just isn't allowed to grow on it's own, because any evolution is seen as a threat.


  30. I don't think it's our duty, but I think we help preserve it either way. Teachers and parents should help preserve the language. Make sure kids know how to spell things properly and use punctuation.

    We just provide good examples that are fun to read :)

  31. Oh, you're very welcome, and thank you for the shout-out! :)

    I agree that it is a writer's responsibility to fight complacency, but it is also his or her right to remain flexible. As you said, the language is constantly evolving, and we should make an effort keep on top of it. :)

  32. Nikki, yuo make an excellent point about FB and Twitter.

    Jamie, yes exactly! The differences in language is awesome.

    Trisha, I once knew a woman who translated the bible into a number of the aboriginal languages. It was brilliant plus a great way to preserve the language.

    Dreamer, welcome! You're never too late :)

    Matt, behooves! I love that word.

    Tonja, haha. I agree it is important to get that authenticity in writing for teens.

    Gail, oh yes! I think the correct use of language is just as important in the business world as anywhere else.

  33. Crystal, I think the main problem with text speak is that it is alienating for many and sometimes difficult to understand--I actually think that's part of it's appeal to those who use it.

    Anne, I admire anyone who writes historicals. Gaining that authenticity is crucial.

    Marilyn, agreed. It's not justs teens who use text speak. Even I'm guilty of using lol. As much as we might cringe, I honestly think we are seeing evolution in action.

    Annalise, oh yes, I prefer today's language too but that's because I'm used to it. People 100 years from now will giggle at the way we write and speak today.

  34. MorningAJ, totally agree! Teachers have a huge responsibility too.

    Misha, aah, now that's an interesting new viewpoint. I hadn't thought about the possibility that preserving a language can stunt it's natural growth.

    Devin, well said.

    Carrie, anyime. And I agree flexibility is important.

  35. Wow, it's been a while since I've visited this blog. It's still wonderful.

    I support changing language, but not dumbing it down. I am shamelessly tough on grammar and make a point of learning as much as I can on the subject. Language needs structure, otherwise it would be impossible to keep track of it all. English is already confusing because it's so many languages fused together. It doesn't need shabby grammar too.

  36. That's amazing about the bible being translated into Aboriginal languages! Very cool!

  37. Lynda great point.
    I can get as lazy as most on my phone while texting - but there's a time and place. I agree - keep our language rich in our novels.

  38. If we don't preserve language now, what's to become of our future. A couple of years ago I watched a movie in which the world had turned utterly stupid because of texting and video games. I decided I didn't want to be part of that world. :) I'm probably cutting down to Mondays and Fridays.

  39. Preserve, um... no. Sorry! :) I do think we need to learn the rules, and treat language with respect. But language is constantly evolving. Look at what Shakespeare did - he made up loads of words.

  40. This info should be given to our school kids! Nicely done.

  41. It definitely is a writer's responsibility to preserve language. Other than us (writers) people are just not concerned with the rules of grammar and punctuation and sentence structure.

  42. Yes, I do think writers have a responsibility to preserve the language, but only to a certain extent.

  43. Hey, Lynnie. Me, again. I invited you to play a blogging game on today's post so if you'd like, you can come have a look.

  44. Lynda - I agree that it should be preserved. There can be an adjustment here and there. I'm going to miss your daily posts. Good luck with your writing and aren't we lucky that you will have more time to visit our blogs. I will still be back for the twice a week posts. I am calling them my needed fix!

  45. I think literary fiction will preserve it, but when you start getting to YA, it needs to appeal to the target audience. And unfortunately, that means language will get slaughtered.

  46. Did you know that the word okay actually started out as an abbreviation, only to evolve into a longer word? What's great about language is that it's almost always in constant flux. Words are born and die all of the time. Kind of like life itself, huh?

  47. I think it's important to preserve some language but also create language. It is ever evolving and a fluid force.

    That being said, the main goal of writing is communication so words that are dropping from favor or no longer relevant should be used sparingly if at all. I think it's just the way languages evolve. Leave preservation to dictionaries and linguists.

  48. I share your thoughts on language evolving. Even the sparse use of colloquialisms is tolerable in the name of variety.

  49. followed you in from the UF circle in the campaign.hi. Interesting post.

    Jana Denardo

  50. I think it's a writer's responsibility to represent English correctly (proper usage, etc). It's kind of part of the job description, I think.

    At the same time I think that it's also a writer's job to embrace language. Just because we wish the language was fixed doesn't make it so. [g] It's so fluid and flexible - that's one of the things I love about it. There's a lot you can do with it while still following all the important 'rules.'

  51. Absolutely fantastic blog!!! Glad I found it! Love it!!!

    Lola x

  52. Well I don't know about 'preserve'. Perhaps 'safeguard' or 'cultivate', because while people do tend to butcher the English language through social media English is a language that has always been a mish-mosh of other languages, and so I think it would be silly to refuse to add to the language or change it in anyway at all. But definitely I think the quality of the language should be preserved. :)

  53. This is something I've thought a lot about. I don't want my writing to sound prudish or snobby, but at the same time, I don't want to encourage laziness, like you said. I think every writer has their own way of doing things, but I do agree that it's important for us to work as hard on our prose as we do on our stories. Language is a powerful tool, especially when used well.

    Good luck with the new blog schedule, by the way! I hope you get more writing time in. :)

  54. Fully agree with everything that's been said - but I also believe that pat of a writer's job is also to nourish and enrich it - which may mean (respectfully) breaking a few rules every now and then :)

  55. Hi Lynda,

    You make a good point about laziness and text language.

    All th best with your new schedule!

  56. McKenzie, totally agree

    Trisha, indeedy!

    Michelle, exactly

    Laila, lol, sounds like an amusing movie.

    Talli, Shakespeare was radical for his time...and brilliant.

    E. Arroyo, thanks

    Rachna, writers and teachers, yes.

    Shari, we can aid in preservation and growth.

    Suze, hehe, thanks heaps. I had fun with it, although I didn't exactly follow the rules... um-ah

    Maeve, thanks so much for the support! I really appreciate it.

  57. Diane, depending on the YA genre, I agree that language will sometimes need to get slaughtered to capture the target audience.

    Jeff, I love little facts like that.

    S. R. Remmek, ha, well put.

    Shockgrubz, welcome!

    Jana, thanks

    Jillybean, I think you said it well when you said it's a writer's job to embrace language. So true.

    Lola, thanks.

    Jasmine, cultivate is a good word for it.

    Shallee, thanks. And yes, language is a mighty powerful tool.

    Sam, totally agree!

  58. I'm considering doing the same thing. :) Hope your writing is going great.


I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.