Tuesday, May 20, 2014
long hidden dialect roundup
So, this anthology has been available for what, 10 days? 2 weeks? Anyway, it hasn't been long, and already Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History has sparked a rich and necessary debate about the use of dialect in fiction.
It started with Katherine Farmar's review of the anthology in Strange Horizons, particularly this sentence:
"Troy L. Wiggins's 'A Score of Roses' features heavy use of phonetic dialect, a literary trick which works perhaps one time out of a hundred—a shame, because the story underneath all the 'chil'ren's and 'yo'self's is charming."
The dismissal of the use of African American Vernacular English as a "literary trick" is particularly unfortunate since the anthology is concerned with marginalized people, histories, and expressive forms. As Amal El-Mohtar commented on the review: "I don't understand, at all, how a diversity of Englishes is out of place in an anthology explicitly about showcasing diversity and placing marginalised narratives front and centre."
Strange Horizons issued a very professional apology, which people (including me) really appreciated, but the discussion of the issue continued, and this is where it gets interesting to me, because it seems that there's a deep need among SFF writers to talk about this.
Troy L. Wiggins responded here.
Long Hidden editor Daniel José Older was, I think, one of the first to respond to the review; see the storify here.
Rose Lemberg wrote about language hegemony: that storify is here.
Abyss & Apex posted an editorial here, in which the editors discuss "toning down" the patois in a story by a Caribbean writer. I was mentioned in that editorial, so I responded; a storify of those tweets is here. Please read Tobias Buckell's response here. You can also read the unedited and edited versions of Celeste Rita Baker's "Name Calling," the story discussed in the Abyss & Apex editorial; Amal El-Mohtar talks about her experience of reading both versions here.
Most recently, I came across LaShawn M. Wanak's thoughts on writing dialect here.
This is merely a SELECTION of the stuff you can find online that has been inspired by this anthology and the review.
It's not all a fun conversation; some of it's been difficult. But to me it's still really exciting, because people are writing about their experiences transferring spoken words into writing. Writers who do this in their fiction are blogging about it for the first time. Personal writing histories are coming out, tentatively and with pain, because language is so closely tied to identity. Identity has language (whether that language is verbal or not) the way skin has nerves. Language is how identity interacts with the world and, in a weird way, how it feels. That's why a negative comment about someone's language hurts so much, especially if their identity is already bruised.
And that's why people are writing these long, circuitous posts, I think, trying to say what language means to them, the language they speak and the language they write. It's so complex, and they don't want to get it wrong. And by the way, this is a conversation that's spread beyond the issue of different kinds of English, into what it means to write different languages together, whether or not people use italics, why to code-switch and when, how to write in a language that's usually not written at all. It is AMAZING. And I don't think this jinni is going to go back in the bottle (jinni, genie, genius). And I think that's great. It's great that SFF writers are being explicit about how we use language. It's great that we're thinking about it. It can only make our voices stronger. All these long hidden thoughts on language coming to light.
Updates, because people are passionate about this topic! Recommended reading:
Joyce Chng, "Languages, dialects and accents: why our voices matter"
Charles Tan, "Language in the Written Word"
Posted by Sofia at 12:35 AM