Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Linguistic Responsibility

post by Jennifer Carter

In college I was always intrigued by the idea of linguistics. Webster defines it simply as the study of human speech including the units, nature, structure, and modification of language.

When I think of it though, I do so more in terms of linguistic anthropology, and the way language is so much a part of culture. But which came first, the language or the culture? On the one hand we manipulate or modify our language to suit our needs and change with society. On the other, language can limit our accounts of experience because we only know so many words.

Then there's the matter of dialect--presumably the same language but with differences so pronounced it becomes a thing of its own, seemingly derived from the landscape. It's a beautiful thing, I think, to picture the globe and turn the sound up on the thousands of languages and dialects spoken every day in cultures so different from ours.

As a new writer I struggle often with that daunting task of "finding my voice." But as I picture that global view and begin to zoom back in on my own country, state, city, house, and writing chair, I start to feel like finding my voice is not so much a hurdle I have to cross as a writer, but a responsibility. It's a responsibility to use the language I inherited and tell stories so that (hopefully) others can read them, both while I'm here and after I'm gone.

How long did it take to find your voice? And how did you know you'd found it?


coffeelvnmom said...

I think you know you've found your voice when you've been chugging along, writing at full speed, and haven't even realized it. When the words come easily, and you're able to say exactly what you wanted to say and do it easily, that's when you've found your voice. Just my opinion.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I agree with coffeelvnmom -- you know you've found your voice when your work flows and you don't agonize over every single word as you're writing.

Of course, you'll still have to revise and self-edit. Voice rarely brings perfect grammar and flawless sentence construction along on the first draft.

Jenny S. said...

Sometimes I feel very confident in my voice, sometimes it seems to wander off to some other writer for a while. But it always comes back more or less intact.

Kerrie said...

My critique group help me find my voice. I had been struggling with an article and they kept telling me something was missing, it was missing the mark, it didn't flow... Then I brought it back again, and read it to them again. When it was done being read aloud, someone said, "That's so much better. It sounds just like you." What she meant was, I had found my voice and I finally understood what it meant.

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