atw: Re: Looks good, but ....

  • From: "Michael Lewis" <mlewis@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: austechwriter@xxxxxxxxxxxxx, <austechwriter@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 28 Apr 2004 16:00:39 +1000

Elizabeth Fullerton:

> This is an interesting definition - I speak French as a second language, =
> and when I'm immersed in it I tend to think in it - but not with =
> anything near the fluency of native speakers. My grandparents are =
> another example of this - native Dutch speakers, they think in English, =
> presumably the same way they talk English... badly, with an accent!

Hardly a definition! My words were "tends to be identified with" -- that is, 
broadly true that people who can and do think in a given language are fluent in 
that language. The reverse, of course, is more consistently true; those who 
can't or don't think in a given language are certainly not fluent in it.

> But another interesting point about this discussion is something I am =
> currently dealing with. My company is dealing with an Indian software =
> company. Indian English seems to be stuck in turn-of-the-century (that =
> would be the turn before last) colonial English, and involves using as =
> many words as possible to convey a minimum of information. This is also =
> their verbal style. (In my opinion. Allegedly.)

This ties in with Miriam's very pertinent observation about the relationship 
between language and culture. I don't suggest that it's more common in India 
than elsewhere, though it might well be: status-conscious writers and speakers 
often attempt to use language as ornament, dressing up their ideas in "robes of 
authority". (Think of the modes of speech adopted by policemen and union 
officials when they are interviewed for the TV news.) Plain English is for 
people; important people use Important English. <g>

> On top of this, in this particular company they have "generalists" - =
> that is, one person does the analysis, design and build work for a =
> project. So we also have the "developer wrote this" factor...

Again, and as you imply, not confined to India.

> It can be very frustrating to figure out what they mean (and I'm sure =
> there are things about our use of language that drives them nuts, as =
> well - my only solace!), but if you sit down and look at it, you can =
> actually figure out the bits which are simply their normal forms of =
> expression, and which bits are just badly written, and that's quite =
> interesting. Though it doesn't necessarily aid comprehension.

For many people, "normal forms of expression" and "badly written" are one and 
the same thing, alas. A major part of the problem, even with "native speakers", 
is that we aren't taught to write as a means of communication. Writing is, of 
necessity, decontextualised; it's removed from the here and now, simply 
because the writer and reader are separated in time and space. So people 
often finish up writing as a reflection of self image rather than as a way of 
transmitting ideas.

> I suspect, also, that the wordiness of their English may be influenced =
> by the forms of the other Indian languages and culture, but I don't know =
> a great deal about them. Something to check out one day.

Good point. Do you tend to write French in an English-y sort of way, or vice 

Michael Lewis

Brandle Pty Limited, Sydney, Australia

To post a message to austechwriter, send the message to 

To subscribe to austechwriter, send a message to 
austechwriter-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with "subscribe" in the Subject field.

To unsubscribe, send a message to austechwriter-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with 
"unsubscribe" in the Subject field.

To search the austechwriter archives, go to

To contact the list administrator, send a message to 

Other related posts: