Writing about Texts

Word Choice

Words words words by Chris Blakeley is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Does the author use simple language that all readers understand? Or do they use language that contains complex language and may not be understood by all readers?

Simpler language can help make a text available to everyone. On the other hand, overly-simple language may frustrate some readers. Using more complex language allows a writer to add deeper layers of information and meaning to a text, and this can work if the audience is familiar with the language (or jargon) being used. But if they’re not, they may find the text confusing, irritating, or even impossible to understand.

Do they do anything unusual with words or punctuation?

Sometimes writers do this in order to create a certain sound or dialect within a text. Dialect is a language or language-sound that is known by and particular to a specific group of people or a specific geographical region. For example, think about how people define a sweet carbonated drink as “pop,” “soda,” or “Coke” depending on what part of the U.S. they live in.

Consider this example from the book, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; it’s set in the south and written in words that create a distinct dialect:

“Reckon I have. Almost died first year I come to school and et them pecans—folks say he pizened ‘em and put ‘em over on the school side of the fence.”

Translation: “I suppose I have. I almost died the first year I came to school and ate those pecans. Folks say he [Mr. Radley] poisoned them and put them on the school’s side of the fence.”

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Word Choice by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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