On Language and Writing

When I first decided to see if I could actually write a novel I didn’t quite know what kind of work was a head of me. I did know, however, that I had to choose a language first of all.

For most people this is easy. You write in your native tongue. It’s the language you know best. It’s the language that is mostly in your head. And it’s the language you are most comfortable with. It’s an easy choice. But that wasn’t so for me. I’ve been living in Sweden now for 10 years which means that the languages in my head are many. I use three languages on daily basis and Icelandic, unfortunately, does not get a large share of that usage. I also think that Swedish and Icelandic are uncomfortably related which makes me do all sorts of mistakes in both languages nowadays, although I’m getting better at separating the two. I felt uncomfortable with writing in Icelandic mainly because I didn’t want my Icelandic too contaminated with the Swedish. I thought it would be a struggle. I didn’t think I’d be comfortable writing in Swedish because even after ten years I still can hardly hear the difference between a y and a i. Strange, I know. (Having said that I would like to say that I did write a first draft in Icelandic.)

So I chose English. It wasn’t an easy decision but it came in many layers. I decided that if I did write in English most of my friends would actually be able to read what I had written. I felt familiar with English and I felt that my English didn’t get as contaminated with outside influences. Having said that I am not a native English speaker so I knew it would be a struggle. I am not a good speller in any language (a fact that let to the feeling of guilt when I realized that I wanted to write!) and I don’t know any grammatical rules – in any language, although I think I manage well with the grammar none the less.

Ever since I started I’ve been doing my best to built my English the best I can. I play scrabble (thank you Facebook now I know all about the Gar fish) and I read almost exclusively in English. Still it’s not easy to get a feel of the “geography” of the language. A few weeks back I was puzzled by a sentence where it said: “Entries are invited of no more than 2,000 words.” It’s an easy enough meaning to understand but the word “invite” in that context puzzled me. I muddled over it for at least a week, trying to feel familiarity with it. It still strikes me as odd. I don’t know where it comes from, although I suspect it has British origins and I don’t know if this is something any English speaker would feel familiar with. (Understanding is one thing, familiarity with the phrases and wording is another).

It is the biggest setback. I don’t know any “geographical” English. My English is mainly “International”. I know neither British, American, Australian or any other kind of English although I suspect my English comes mostly from the US. Still I have to rely on what I know. I have to rely on dictionaries and the internet to provide me with what I don’t.

And I think I do alright. The book is written. It stands tall in a folder waiting for me to re-read it and re-re-read it and decide if it’s precisely the way I want it. Should I change the ending? Should I move this part to the first chapter? Should I cut this part out? And finally I will have to ask someone to read it to see if my English is right and presentable and I fear that time. But up until then I’m going to do the best job I can and hope that I’ve dotted all my i’s (so to speak) and used my appostrophies right.

The story is good. I think so anyway. The question is how much more work do I need to put in it.
And finally, will anyone ever want to read it?

(p.s. the picture on the top of the flickr sidebar gadget is of my new knitting project. Something I’ve been playing with the past few days while I’ve been getting over a small fainting spell and my cold. I have no idea what it’ll be. It’s a monster project, like so many of my projects.)

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Shannon says:

    That “invite” phrase: I understand it, but would never utter it. And I can’t think of anybody else that would either. Very formal to my ears.

    Like

  2. Mae says:

    Congrats on finishing the first draft of a book! I’m still working on several. I have trouble finishing even one. And, through reading your blog, you write English like a native. 🙂

    And, ohmygosh, I’m so addicted to scrabble on Facebook. One of the best things to come out Facebook, in my honest opinion.

    Like

    1. Eygló Daða says:

      Thank you! It isn’t finishing things. Quite the struggle. I tend to drift off to new projects before I quit others which isn’t very productive but I’m learning.
      And thank you for the English comment. It warms my heart more than you know! 🙂

      Totally agree with you on scrabble and facebook – after that application – what else does one possibly need? =)

      Like

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