Languages Matter: Some Thoughts on Language and Dialect

28 May

I want to expand on what I have written in my essay, “Languages, Dialects and Accents:  Why Our Voices Matter.” Much has been said about the use of dialect in science fiction and the outcry that follows. I would like to see more of such discussions because we have been shying away from issues that really matter to us. Perhaps, it is the shift from white Anglo science fiction to a more international/world science fiction that has started the ball rolling. For a long time, the world has been white, male and painfully Anglo-centric, not to mention US-centric. Now we have new voices coming into the song, and some are naturally reacting rather angrily, I would say.

Why are we fixating on English – and for that matter, proper grammatical English English? Let’s not bring in the American versus British spelling argument. Let’s talk about English. Why do we insist SFF writers write in English? Probably because science fiction, at the moment, is dominated by the Americans and the British? Bear in mind that science fiction is also written in Mandarin Chinese, Finnish, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Bahasa. Why does English have so much hegemony in the SFF-sphere?

Now, let us bring in dialects. Dialects are not literary tricks. Dialects are what we use – for the non-Anglo-centric world – in daily life. However, for the most part, we have been told sternly that dialects are illusions — dialects are a lie and we should not use dialect. Hence, the moral bind that holds many in thrall:  because 1) we do want to be acknowledged as real SFF writers, and 2) we struggle with the truths within us, the dire and agonizing push-pull of yes-no-maybe. It has come down to being right or wrong. It is right to write in English. It is wrong to write in dialect. But it is also wrong not to write in dialect. Note: there is no such a thing as ‘real’ or ‘fake’ SFF writers. We all write SFF, right?

At the moment, there is this great push for diversity in publishing… geez, in everywhere. But are we truly able to accept diversity what it is, warts and all? Or are we enamored with the glossy and shiny aspects, the buzzwords and the passes we might accumulate because gosh darn, we are so diverse? Diversity also includes the way(s) in which we speak:  dialects, patois, accents, all variants of English. As storytellers, we should not be hampered by silly “One True Way” dictums. We have stories. We tell them. In our own voices. In our own tongues.

Ironically, Southeast Asia is a region of great diversity. When people were talking about diversity in YA publishing, diversity in SFF publishing, nobody thought to look at Southeast Asia. I am with Charles Tan here. We need to find “safe spaces for works that do not matter to a monolingual minority”. But a question I want to throw out to the wider audience is this:  how many publications and publishers out there are willing to do so (and because they really want to, and not just to get ‘cool passes’ because they are ‘diverse’)?

I am waiting for the day when we do not need safe spaces for works that do not fit the monolingual minority, where speaking in dialects and in the languages we are taught by our ancestors and families is as acceptable as breathing. When language is not dictated by the layers of privilege and authority.

——————————————-

PS: I am writing in English, yes?
PPS: I am also using American spelling. I should be using British.
PPPS: I am going to mix it and use it.

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One Response to “Languages Matter: Some Thoughts on Language and Dialect”

  1. jolantru May 28, 2014 at 10:11 pm #

    Reblogged this on A Wolf's Tale and commented:

    Where I talked about dialect and how it matters in SFF!

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