Thinking in dialects: Know Thy Audience

Subject: Thinking in dialects: Know Thy Audience
From: "Stitzel, Ken" <kstitzel -at- itc -dot- nrcs -dot- usda -dot- gov>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 14 Jun 2004 10:04:23 -0600

OK, it's Monday, but this mutated Tina thread roped me in...

The provocative Bruce Byfield wrote:

> I remember picking up a book once that had
> someone thinking in Scots dialect. I decided
> that any writer dumb enough to imagine that
> people think in dialect wasn't worth reading.

Good point mostly being lost: For an English language book, this seems like
a very Bad Idea unless the book was written for an audience that also speaks
in this dialect and expects to see it in print. An example of Know Thy
Audience, one of the great commandments of technical writing.

Separate but fascinating point: Yes, people do tend to think in terms of
spoken languages. They say you're not really good at a foreign tongue until
you've had the experience of thinking and dreaming in it. This has happened
to me only once with my smattering of Spanish, but it was a revelatory

Related separate point: Thinking in terms of sounds is one thing that
prevents us from being natural speed readers. Most of us subvocalize when we
read, needlessly pronouncing every word as we read it. This prevents most
folks from reading faster than they can speak, although human eyes/brains
can be trained to read far more quickly. (I have two natural speed readers
in my immediate family. I speeded way up after struggling through one of the
old Evelyn Wood courses.)

Not so humble opinion: Studying another language is good. "He who knows not
another language knows not his own." A lot of the prescriptive grammar
applied to English is based on Latin. I never understood infinitives, for
example, until I studied a Latin-related language that had real

Ken Stitzel
Rent-a-fed tech writer


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