English is not my first language.
While I have completely anglicised, my mother tongue is Afrikaans. Out of my three serious relationships, my first two were with Afrikaans girls. I only changed my home language to English once I met Andrea and we moved in together.
Having said that, I could speak conversational English when I was very young already. I grew up with English as my second language. I’m no stranger to the language, and it isn’t one learned purposefully later in life, it has been a natural ‘by-language’ for as long as I can remember.
This is where the trouble comes in… Afrikaans is a beautifully descriptive language. It’s a wonderful language for sitting around the table with a few mates, a good meal, and visit until late into the night. It has beautiful idioms, and oh boy, can it swear! It can curse like no other language on earth, both in the expletive form that would make a New York hooker blush and in the clean form that would make Shakespeare look like a mumbling third-grader. But it is also very limited. You simply cannot do technology in Afrikaans – it’s just way too clumsy for that. Also, it is not a language for serious discussion. Even in my own Afrikaans family, when there needed to be a serious discussion, we subconsciously slipped over to English simply because it has a much wider vocabulary than Afrikaans. And you can ‘make up’ words that do not exist and people will still get your meaning within the context of a sentence.
This is why I chose to write in English. While Afrikaans have the most beautiful vocabulary (and swearing capacity) it is just too heavy-handed in grammar and too small in vocabulary for fiction writing. While Afrikaans reads and writes beautifully, it also reads and writes with great difficulty, and life is difficult enough, I do not want to battle with my writing as well – it’s my escape, I do not want it to become a job. (A criticism I’ve often given on Afrikaans literature is that the language overpowers the narrative. One can get so lost in language that the story is forgotten.)
Thus: welcome to my paradox, and the errors of my ways. I get English grammar wrong – very wrong, very often. (Just now: I do not know if it is ‘wrong’ or ‘wrongly’!) I manage to get ‘is’ and ‘are’ right about 80% of the time, but ‘has’ and ‘have’ still confuses me more than rocket science. My wife corrects me constantly. As does the constant influx of red squiggly lines under my writing. Some of the idioms and similes I use are confusing and makes (or is it ‘make’?) no sense simply because they are direct translations from Afrikaans. Bottom line: I get my grammar very wrong, very often.
This, for a writer, is death. I spent the bulk of my rewriting time checking speller and gramming errors. (See what I did there!) I employ a wonderful program named Grammarly to help me get things right, and at times, I feel like a chastised 11-year old in English class because of this thing. And STILL I do not get things right. And this is where the wonderful lady named Flo Smith comes in, she checks my work and makes all these grammar and spelling and tense corrections the Afrikaans me would never even see or notice.
“And you call yourself a writer!”
Yes, I do. And this is where I sit on this Sunday morning: I’ve decided to simply write, to concentrate on the story, to tell it as beautifully and viscerally as I can, and not to fret about the technicalities of language too much. This is why I have Grammarly, and the ever dependent Auntie Flo – they will correct my mistakes I make while I go play. I’m going to go explore the world of the imagination, and trust the editors to clean up my prodigious messes.
To see the relatively grammar-error-free new second, and illustrated, edition of Discovering Leigh, you can get the paperback directly from me, or at Skoobs at Montecasino, or you can grab the Kindle edition from Amazon.