If This is Colloquial Diction…

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From Sharon Hamilton's Essential Literary Terms:

“In contrast, the American novelist and short story writer Ernest Hemingway made a point of writing in colloquial diction.  The following description of a trip to Spain is from his novel The Sun Also Rises (1925):

“The bus climbed steadily up the road.  The country was barren and rocks struck up through the clay.  There was no grass beside the road.  Looking back we could see the country spread out below.  Far back the fields were squares of green and brown on the hillsides.  Making the horizon were the brown mountains.  They were strangely shaped.  As we climbed higher the horizon kept changing…

“Several qualities contribute to the colloquial level of the diction: the plain syntax—short, either simple sentences or compound sentences made up of clauses linked by ‘and’; the monosyllabic, Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, with its emphasis on nouns…and the repetition of words…and sentence structures” (Hamilton 69-70).

If that’s colloquial diction, I’d rather have formal or poetic diction any day.  Hemingway’s description of the landscape to me, was very dry and boring.  There is no emotion, no excitement.  It’s just cut and dry plainness.  Hamilton went on to describe the elements of colloquial diction and it becomes clear why it wasn’t so interesting.  How can short sentences, with the focus on the nouns show anything?  How many times have I been told to use a powerful verb to make my writing more interesting?  In Hemingway’s description, where are the strong verbs?  There aren’t any, because the focus is on the nouns.  If you ask me, it makes for a rather uninteresting read. 

4 Comments

Maddie Gillespie said:

Greta, I couldn't agree with you more! I, myself found Hemmingway to be a very dry read. I never could "get into" the storyline or characters. They seemed as bland to me sometimes as Hemmingway's writing. However, if we hadn't read his works or those like him, we wouldn't be able to fully appreciate the other works that we read! This was a greatly informative blog that also tied in other pieces of literature. Don't sell yourself short, you write some pretty awesome blogs!

Jessie Farine said:

Well, I think it is effective showing. It shows that the person who is describing the scenery is completely uninterested in the scenery. Of course, the book mentions this same fact, but I can see it myself. I think it's a great tool to show some emotion, or lack thereof. What better way can you show that a person is basically like, "Well...so this is Spain? Yawn."

Greta Carroll said:

You know Jessie, you make a really good point and I did not think of it that way. Thanks for helping me appreciate that a little bit better.

Jessie makes a good point. It may very well be that the story starts out this way, so that later when the action becomes more riveting, we will notice a change in the diction, just as a serious drama will have a moment of comic relief specifically so the audience can be fooled into feeling comfortable right before a big shock (or a comedy would use a sad scene for the exact opposite reason).

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