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The Language of English Fiction

The Language of English Fiction

arundhatiGautam Malkani

The language of fiction in English has been perplexing in these last few decades. The nightmare of today’s English fiction writers can be, ‘Which category of English would the majority of readers appreciate in a novel?’ The rate at which the ‘acceptable’ English language has evolved is unnerving. There has been a tendency to do away with form, grammar, spelling, purity and everything else that can be visualized as part of the Queen’s English. This may not be entirely bad. Bad to what limit is the question? There is a limit to our appetites for hybrid and deformed English. Conservative Englishness has given way to hybridization and nothing about the language is what it ever was. The English that spoke the Englishman is now speaking the global man.  British English, once the pride of the nation, has been displaced by an English that connects the Commonwealth nations and their flirtations with the language. Not just that. The streets of London and its surrounding areas seem to be entering the drawing rooms of purists in language. English ladies and gentlemen look on aghast, not sure whether to growl or gently smile at this onslaught. English has become much more open to absorbing dialects and lingoes. It is to the credit of the English language that it can allow the language of the street-ruffian to encroach upon formal expression. As a result, when an author sits down to begin a novel they wonder whether their formal style will not be irritating for the casual reader. If a Cambridge scholar and journalist like Gautam Malkani can write this new language and be lauded, then anything can go down as classy. In any case, Wordsworth had already begun the trend when he said that the poet ought to use the language actually used by men, particularly the rustics. This might well include the crudest swearwords.

England, unlike several other nations, is both traditional and untraditional, or individualistic, when it comes to literary writing. It has shown a remarkable amount of flexibility as well as resistance in such matters. That is a plus point. But what happens to the writer who is setting up his shop of fiction in such a confused marketplace?

Today’s writer has to be a super smart operator. They need to not only tell their stories but tell them in a language that has been wisely selected from the library as well as the garbage can. It must be a careful maneuvering between the Queen’s English and the hybrid lingo of the street brigand. Fictional art is increasingly turning out to be the liberties an author can take with the use of the English language.

The interesting thing about the English reader is that the same fastidious critic who scarcely allowed any variation in the language’s respectability is now happily swallowing any kind of shit. The biggest publishing houses await writers of both categories, ones that can reduce writing to savory puddings and those that can make it sound like defecation. Shakespeare’s England has displayed that remarkable negative capability which welcomes with open arms the meanest and the most vulgar expression if that is intelligently done. That is why London is the cultural capital of the world. England can adore an Arundhati Roy for making the language chocolaty just as it can a Gautam Malkani for making it fucking shitty. The content seems to be overriding the form of fiction in current times.

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Published in Language of fiction


  1. Ajay Kumar Yadav Ajay Kumar Yadav

    Great comment sir.

  2. Devraj Singh Devraj Singh

    Chetan Bhagat seems to have done both the things. He did capture the imagination of his readers with his kind of written English.

  3. That is a great observation, Devraj. His writing is still very tolerable as he writes from India. It is the ones who have been brought up in England in the last thirty years or so who take every liberty possible with the language. But that makes their writing interesting in its own way.

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