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I'm a novelist and playwright, traditionally and independently published.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Divided by Language

Last night, my son and I watched Collateral on DVD. He had seen it in Glasgow, and persuaded me to watch it with him. It's watchable, reasonably entertaining, and I enjoyed it, but about half way through, I began to wonder if the current heatwave here in the west of Scotland had addled my brain. I could only understand about one word in three. It was like hearing something in a foreign language, of which you have a very basic working knowledge - you get the jist of what's being said, more or less, but miss all the nuances. And sometimes you listen to whole exchanges and think 'Well that went right over my head.'
I said as much to my son. 'Thank God' he said. 'I thought I was going daft. Or deaf.' And he's only nineteen. A quick poll of friends and relatives of all ages reveals that this is a problem for most of them, with all kinds of TV programmes as well as films. CSI is a particular culprit. 'I kept turning up the TV' said my sister in law. 'I thought it was something to do with the sound levels. But it isn't. I only get about half of what they say.'
Languages are organic. They change all the time. You only have to listen to radio broadcasts from the forties and fifties to hear just how far we have come in fifty years. But now, American English and British English are beginning to diverge so much, that very soon, we will need subtitles. I gather that the Americans already do this for regional British TV programmes. If vast swathes of the audience are not going to give up the unequal struggle for comprehension, they ought to start considering the same aid to understanding over here.

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