Thursday, March 18, 2010

What Happened to My English?

I tend to I think I've got a pretty good grasp on the English language. It's my first language, and I spent a fair amount of time learning about grammar. I read a fair bit, and, you know, I do that whole writing thing. What I'm getting at is, I thought I had my English pretty well sorted.

But, lately, something funny's been happening to the way I write. While editing a paper, I noticed myself shifting clauses because I thought they sounded better in other places. But, when I thought about it, I realized syntax wasn't what I'd have used a year ago or what most people seem to use.

I have a theory. I've started studying Chinese, and the grammar is pretty different. For example, prepositional phrases must proceed the verb. Yeah, we don't do that in English. Except I've started doing this. I'm pretty sure that's weird.

This surprises me. I didn't do this when I took French in high school. Maybe it's because French grammatical structure isn't uber-different from English, but though French taught be a lot about grammar (certainly the first time I'd ever heard the words Indirect Object Pronoun), it didn't do trippy things to my English.

So, what I'm leading up to is this, has anyone else experienced a similar phenomenon? Has learning a new language effected the way you use for other one(s)?


  1. I studied Spanish & Russian a few years ago when I went back for my degree. The Spanish helped my English writing skills. Reading a book in Spanish was awesome, to see how the language flowed in another language. Course Spanish & English are both Latin based so maybe that's why. I never got that far in Russian, not enough to read in it. Or not enough to have it affect my English. I've known people who live in foreign countries for awhile and when they come back, it's like they can't talk in English for awhile. So maybe that's what you're experiencing. Only with writing.

  2. I completely, 100% empathize with you. I've studied Korean and have lived with Korean speaking people for years.

    An example of a sentence in Korean is: Bread buy going to (English: I'm going to buy bread).

    I don't know if you remember my query on Evil Editor last summer (I recall that you commented on it), but in the comments someone actually assumed I was a non-English speaker because of the syntax. Needless to say, this is a pretty big hurdle to overcome as a writer.

    I also took french in high school, and that had no effect on my language. It's because European languages are all influenced by each other, whereas East Asian languages grew up independent of the west.

  3. I've found that in writing historical romance, (believe it or not) has had an effect on the way I write. I tend to use more formal language and sentence structure than I would have in the past. Although as to speaking, combine a bad Boston accent with a lazy man's verb and well, I don't come across as being too smaht.

  4. Studying German did that to me a little bit.

    But I agree with Piedmont. When I worked on The Shadow Scribe, both my written and verbal English took on a Regency flavor. I got a lot of strange looks for a year.

  5. Karen -- I'm always very impressed with people who can speak any Russian at all. The conjugations and noun agreement just seem so complicated to me.

    Mathew -- I guess there's some comfort in knowing that Korean would have warped my mind as well, though I didn't know the Korean grammar structure was so different from English or even Chinese. Interesting.

    Piedmont -- I am not familiar with the expression 'lazy man's verb.' Is it a Southern saying by any chance?

    Jenna -- I can imagine. It must be interesting to get so immersed in the flavor of the story.