Saturday, April 21, 2012

Talking vs Dialogue

Why are we so forgiving of bad language use in conversation and so upset when we see it in print? Is there some part of the human brain that subconsciously translates halting, error filled, and staccato conversational bursts into proper meaning?

We hear real conversations all the time.  Their sentences are punctuated by "uhs" and "ahs" throat clearing, coughs, and disconnected diversions that  usually start with a "by the way" or "hey, do you remember" expressions that signal a shift of focus.  Bursts of speech are seldom structured nicely, parsed into well-formed diagrams, or even grammatical.  No, instead the ways we talk are idiosyncratic, messy, untamed, gabble that would drive our poor English teachers around the bend.

Dare I mention inappropriate or misguided word choice? Or how about the awkward pause when the word you want is there, just on the tip of your tongue but you cannot bring it to mind and stand agape, mouth hanging open as your brain concentrates on the WORD instead of productively working on the idea you were trying to get across. Of course the word eventually arrives, but usually far too late to be effective.

Then there are the jack rabbits; those whose conversational veers take the exchange to ever-new subject areas and seldom loop back to the original conversational thread.  You might start talking about the latest novel by ". oh, and did you know that so-and-so broke up with... she's the one who... you do remember him, don't you, the one with that book whose title I can't recall, but it was like the big one that won the award in Chicago, which is really interesting because when I was visiting Sheldon - you do remember him, don't you, the guy....."  On and on it goes, leaving we more pedestrian speakers with brain fatigue from struggling to chase the meandering quarry and wrest comprehension from its grasp.

But the world of novels and short stories do not recognize any of these human communications modalities.  Instead literature's dialogue is usually grammatically correct, properly structured, and always uses the right word at the proper time.  People in stories rarely digress, interrupt, or even mess up their language unless their writer deliberately and with malice aforethought chooses to savage them to establish a plot point.  Even those who dally with dialect do so in short spurts and "normalize" the dialogue after the character's linguistic foibles have been established in the reader's mind, This latter is done because digression from proper speech always rankles the reader and abruptly pulls them out of the story.

Why do we tolerate so much misuse of language in our daily life yet expect perfection in our stories?

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