race, characterization, and historical fiction

Today LanguageHat pointed the many readers who visit that weblog to my posts about language anachronisms in historical fiction; as a result, a slew of people have stopped by with interesting things to say. As I’m not sure you’ll find those comments, hidden away as they are, I’m making a point of pulling them into the light. But first LanguageHat’s take on the anachronism quandry (I’m going to keep on eye on this post, as it seems that it might be the start of an interesting discussion):

Personally, I would be willing to write off readers who couldn’t handle “the eighteenth century terms for natives of Africa”; if their sensibilities are that tender, they shouldn’t be reading about the past (and shouldn’t go visit most of the world). But I recognize that that’s an extremist position, and as a straight white male American I’m doubtless less susceptible to the power of disparaging language than most.

Prentiss Riddle points to Bill Poser’s excellent post about the anachronistic use of Latin in Gibson’s The Passion at Language Log. Language Log is a group blog that some ten linguists (a couple of whom I knew in my former life as an academic) post to, on topics that interest them. I don’t read that blog often enough, I find, because I just noticed Geoffrey Pullum’s post about The DaVinci Code and Brown’s prose style. Something I mentioned in my review, but Pullum does a much better job of really taking Brown apart. She said gleefully.

Also on the topic of language in film, Ray at The Apothecary’s Drawer points out that by the time of Shakespeare in Love, people were speaking early modern English (this in response to a discussion on that post).

In a different matter, Aaron has pointed to some resources for people who read this blog and have trouble adjusting the font size:

Hi, I’m new to this blog — thanks to LanguageHat — but wanted to suggest a couple of links that I find helpful when trying to read smaller fonts:

1) Internet Explorer’s Text Size change doesn’t always work for Movable Type blogs so maybe give Mozilla Firefox a try. Firefox gives you the ability to increase font sizes by simply pressing “CTRL” plus “+”.

2) Thanks to the WSJ’s Walter Mossberg I just learned of Web Eyes. There’s a free trial and then it’s only $20 — his review is free and over here. It’s a toolbar you can add to Internet Explorer and it gives you the ability to read most pages like a book, and it means no more scrolling. (However, I use Firefox for websites that take forever to connect to advertisements off-site.)

One Reply to “race, characterization, and historical fiction”

  1. This was very interesting, your thoughts about anachronistic language. I would like to give some examples that I have come across.
    Huckleberry Fin. I read an anotated copy of this with the text on one side and the analysis on the other. I studied Art History at University so for me this was interesting. Some may think the language used offensive, but I didn’t. Mark Twain brings you into a vanished world. It seems to me the perfect writing device. He was from close to that time so he probably got the accents and language used just right. I can see straight through books where the action takes place in an other time yet the characters babble on with modern speech and have seem to have contemporary sounding thoughts. He purposed to use the language of the day. PC or not, who cares? The story was hilarious. I tried reading it to my kids (10 and 9) who didn’t understand much. I’ll have to wait on that.
    Another is Timeline by Chrichton. While you might not think it highbrow literature, this book explored many things while telling a marvelous adventure story about time travel. The most interesting part for me was the expolration of the differences of modern French to that of 14th century. Without retelling the plot, there were these characters that time travelled. One of these was an archaeologist who also specialized in Occtain.(sp) This was the form of French used in the 14th century. Facing the dangers of appearing normal with dress, actions, and language in this time period he had to be careful what he said and how he said it. A great detail. Loved it. Most movies and books fail to explore these types of details much to my dissatisfaction.
    Another one that comes to mind is Captian’s Courageous. Almost unreadable, one has to slog through the words printed in the accent of the Northeast. Sara, you as a linguist know what writing like that is called.
    I’ll think of some more later.
    Sara, in your books I see that you don’t use too much vernacular but I think the characters reflect the time they live in. So enjoyed them.

    Cynthia in Florida

Comments are closed.