The Importance of Language

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I’d like to talk about language. And no, I don’t mean the English language or any other languages for that matter.

What I want to talk about is the words we use to describe. People all over the world, and even the country, use different words to describe the same thing. Midwesterners say pop, Southerners say coke, and Northeasterners just say soda. Americans say chips, the British say crisps. I’m sure you get the point. People say different things that mean the same thing, duh. Yet, it is in these different descriptions that we can find the differences between people. Someone’s origin and the time period they lived within can be determined by the language they use (a person born in 1750 would describe a gun differently than we might describe it today).

The ability of language to separate and define us was brought to my attention by my mentor last week. He made the point that if you want to create an original world within your writing, the language that people, including the narrator, use must be indicative of the world in which they live. Keeping in mind that my world is set 200-300 years after a catastrophe has wiped out present-day civilization, I realized that I’d have to come up with some interesting language. My mentor commented that in most examples of good fiction in which a new world has been created, different words are used to describe simple, everyday things. He also mentioned that since my story is centered on a group that is focused on just surviving, the different language they use relates to what is most important to them (weapons, food, water, etc.). But how, I wondered, can I take an original spin on what is common without risking confusing the reader?

That question sticks in my mind whenever I write a new page, because I have to make some of the language I use special and different, yet still communicable. The trick is just to keep the language simple. That doesn’t mean calling a knife a “pointy-sharpy-thingy,” but it does mean realizing that some words change slightly and some words stay the same. In the world of my novel, animals retain the names we associate with them today, and weapons and food usual do as well. Why? Because those things are important to survival and would have been just as important from the very start of the cataclysm that defined my fictional world.

However, some things are a little different. Anything that was made or used during the present day (anything from clothing to bullets to entire cities) is called a “remnant” for obvious reasons. The group my novel focuses on gives the word “remnant” an air of caution and hesitance, as they don’t really understand the era from which “remnants” came and a lack of understanding, to them, oftentimes indicates danger. Another difference in language I use is that when describing something or someone dead, my narrator never says the word dead but he instead uses the words “cold and gone.” Does this have something to do with the belief system of his group? Well, we’ll find out some other time. It’s just another fine example of how the language we use defines our differences. As I progress in my writing, I aim to use original and creative language, so I’ll leave with a link to a list of words from one of my favorite fictional worlds, that of Game of Thrones, so that you can see how a world creator oftentimes uses strange words to describe things we may see every day.

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2 thoughts on “The Importance of Language

  1. ainsleybruton

    I really love that you’re thinking about little details, like language, in your writing. I like your example of having characters describe things as remnants, because not only does that set up the world your characters exist in, it also tells readers some really important details about the way these characters view that world as well.

    Reply
  2. anrowshan

    I honestly never noticed the slight difference in language while reading books, but now that you’ve mentioned it, it seems so apparent. I’m interested to read more into the characters’ values as hinted at by the use of “cold and gone”.

    Reply

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