Roseta Stone: Redux

Craig Hancock hancock at
Thu Feb 10 15:35:39 UTC 2011

On 2/9/2011 11:15 PM, Sherman Wilcox wrote:
     I think Hemingway was being a bit disingenuous with "getting the 
words right," a bit like a cook saying he wanted to "get the ingredients 
right" in a recipe. It's a flip answer, for whatever reasons. The words 
have everything to do with each other and with the functional pressure 
of the whole novel at that critical, concluding point. He had to pay 
attention to plot resolution (or resistance to that), point-of-view (a 
constant attention in fiction), to staying within character (though 
characters are often dynamic), to getting the conversation right 
(character speaking the way characters speak), and so on.
     Fiction may draw on elements of language very common to speech, but 
it puts them to work in very careful ways. Some of the patterns are 
obvious: past tense verbs, perfect aspect verbs, present participle 
clauses, personal pronouns (1st and/or 3rd person, depending on the 
narration), synthetic negation, public verbs (speech act verbs).  Both 
present tense verbs and "attributive adjectives" correlate negatively 
(see Biber, Dimensions of Register Variation, 1995).  The lack of 
adjectives is probably driven by less complex nominalization, especially 
in comparison to news writing and academic writing, which are both 
heavily nominalized.
    The work of the story pressures an appropriate language. In this 
case, fluency means responding appropriately to that pressure, 
developing one's craft over considerable time.


> On Feb 9, 2011, at 8:53 PM, Dan I. Slobin wrote:
>> And when all of you Funknetters became undergraduate and graduate students, and later professionals, you were still acquiring many aspects of English grammar, vocabulary, and style.  Indeed, it goes on throughout the lifespan of an engaged individual.
> Okay, so writing isn't the same as speaking. Nevertheless, I think this interview with Ernest Hemingway is relevant:
> Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
> Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of "Farewell to Arms," the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
> Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
> Hemingway: Getting the words right.

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