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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 191

Interlanguage

Bewildering Stories is proud to have contributors from all over the world. Many of them write in English as a second language. That is quite an accomplishment: it is much easier to attain intermediate proficiency in English than in French, for example. But once you reach the intermediate stage, attaining advanced proficiency in French is easy; in English it’s very difficult.

Bewildering Stories occasionally receives submissions that, frankly, don’t make a whole lot of sense. They may have a good story, but the grammar, sentence structure, and word choice don’t bear scrutiny, and they sometimes leave us mystified.

Now here’s the shocker: those texts do not come from our contributors writing in English as a second language; they come from native speakers of English! Jerry has been writing editorials lamenting the decline in reading in North American culture. Keep it up, Jerry: one learns to write by reading.

Viacheslav Yatsko’s two philosophical poems in this issue have a distinct “accent.” Technically it’s called “interlanguage,” a text that shows influences of another language. You can see it in the word order and in the use of articles. But Bewildering Stories does not let “accents” stand in our way. We can learn something from what our writers have to say, and we can even acquire innovations from them. That’s in the grand tradition of the history of the English language.

However, readers are bound to notice details. For example, English has definite and indefinite articles, while Russian has none at all. How do Russians distinguish between, say, “the tree” and “a tree”? By word order, if I understand correctly, and only if the distinction is really necessary.

The usage of articles can be perplexing. In French it’s relatively simple: the general rule is that nouns must be preceded by an article, a numeral or a functional adjective. That’s about as neat as can be. English usage is much more complex. What’s a Russian to do?

Viacheslav Yatsko does an admirable piece of work in his two philosophical poems in this issue. Let’s get one of the details out of the way: the Challenge is to supply definite and indefinite articles where they seem to be needed. What does that do to the poem? Does it help a lot? Or only a little?

Once we get the details out of the way and begin to listen to the message, what is Slava Yatsko saying? That’s a much more interesting Challenge.


Responses welcome!

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