Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Language! Edited Transcript

Jedburgh30 Dagger: *clears throat* Hello everyone! Ladies and Gentlemen, Viv, Serafina, Jasper and I are pleased to welcome you to the May edition of the Aether Salon - Language!. I would like to thank each and every one of you for joining us today. As many of you know, the Aether Salon meets to discuss steam and Victorian topics on the third Sunday of each month, in Palisades and Academy, New Babbage. We have been doing so since October '08. This is our 26th salon and I hope you are all as excited about being here today as I am.

As many of you know, the Aether Salon meets to discuss steam and Victorian topics on the third Sunday of each month, in Palisades and Academy, New Babbage. We have been doing so since October '08. This is our 26th salon and I hope you are all as excited about being here today as I am.

Just a few matters of housekeeping before we get started. If you are standing in the back, please move forward onto the maze so that you can be assured of hearing the speaker. Please hold your questions until the end, and as a courtesy to all, please turn off everything that feeds the lag: all HUDs, scripts, AOs and so on. For the consideration of your neighbors, please refrain from using or deploying any weapons, unregistered particle accelerators, or any summoning rituals not previously approved by the Aether Salon staff. Your cooperation is appreciated.

Edited and unedited transcripts will be posted this week on aethersalon.blogspot.com so you can revisit today’s merriment, read transcripts of past salons, and for a laugh, peruse “overheard at the salon.” Please join the Aether Salon group and receive notifications of future salon events, click the lower right hand corner of the large brown sign by the entrance. We sincerely appreciate the support we receive from everyone in the community and we humbly thank you all.

Many fine people have contributed to today’s salon: We are grateful to Miss Canolli Capalini of Capalini Fine Furnishings for the wonderful salon chairs and to our own Mr. Jasper Kiergarten for his expertise in creating today’s craft. We appreciate all of you who have contributed to salon. As a reminder, all speakers' fund jar donations go directly to the speaker. Now I will turn the stage over to Mr Kiergarten for the introduction of today’s speaker. Jasper?

Jasper Kiergarten: Thank you! It is my great pleasure and privilege to introduce today's speaker. Diogenes Kuhr has been mucking around in SL since 2005, mostly in sims with historical or literary themes. Drawing on a rl background that includes experience in living history and theater, she has enjoyed developing and playing characters for various communities over the years, ranging from Queen Elizabeth I to a PTSD-stricken former auror-turned-librarian at Hogwarts.

At present she is literally “unstuck in time” flitting in a most irresponsible manner between an ancient Roman resort town, a crappy working-class neighborhood in Weimar-era Berlin, and a charming little principality in 18th century Italy. She periodically writes about this foolishness on her blog, “The Ephemeral Frontier,” though lately she simply hasn’t had a lot to say.

Please join me in welcoming Miss Diogenes Kuhr

Diogenes Kuhr: how do, y'all. Thank you Viv, Jasper, Jed, and Sera. It's a pleasure to be here, and an honor to have been asked. The followin mind-numbing bout of personal pontification you are about to be subjected to... is something I have entitled: Wordplay: Enhancing the immersion experience through creative use of language

Second life is a remarkably useful platform that brings together a broad range of tools for creative self expression. Some of these tools--the lowly prim, the noble sculpty, the mystical (and perhaps mythical), mesh, as well as the beloved texture and other elements that the Lindens have provided to us--are elements incorporated into the technology of the platform itself. But other tools--tools that arguably are even more important than the technology-based ones--are brought on to the platform by its users.... that would be Us... and our creativity, our ideas, our ability to form and build collaborative and cooperative relationships, our skills at conceptualizing the possible and working out how to achieve things for which there are no tutorials, our desire to develop shared narratives... ...and our language.

How many of us, just love to play with words? Hehe, I'm guessing pretty much most , if not all the folks in this room... As much as I love fiddling about with making textures, and bashing prims (mostly rectangles due to my limited skills in such matters) into something that vaguely resembles an object or structure I pictured in my imagination... what I really love doing in SL is playing with words.

Her typist actually has been in SL since 2004, but six years ago I elected to create the avatar who has evolved into the character known as Dio Kuhr....and her other eventual permutations, such as: Diogenes Pentheseila Kuhr, a former auror with PTSD who became head librarian in the Hogwarts of a future speculative version of the world of Harry Potter; Diogenes Aurelia Kuhr, a down-on-her-luck confederate widow who worked to become a successful entrepreneur and community leader in Deadwood during the Black Hills Gold Rush of the 1870s; and Diogeneia, Freifrau von Kühr, an impecunious and extremely minor member of the German rural nobility who has settled in an imaginary (but historically plausible) little principality in 18th century southern Italy... and through my years in SL, there has been a key tool I have used in developing these characters... in creating an impression of who they are and how they think and feel, as well as outward manifestations their imagined backstories (which tend to be a jumble of pure fancy, historical research, my own life experiences and miscellaneous narrative bits and bobs I’ve read or heard from various sources)....

That essential tool was not clothing or shape or skin or various prim accessories (such as Jasper's exquisite historical firearms)--although all those things are necessary and jolly well fun to play with in assembling the total package... no, the most important part of developing and deploying your character, and refining and expressing the persona and personality of that character, has been through language:

Vocabulary, style, syntax and narrative structure...in effect, "voice” No, not THAT Voice... When I say “voice” I don’t mean SL Voice, I mean your WRITING voice. Here’s a dandy little explanation of it which I cobbed from a web site called “Teaching That Makes Sense ( http://www.ttms.org/writing_quality/voice.htm ):

“Everyone's writing needs to be different from everyone else’s. And the only way that happens is if writers make different choices when they write, choices about the topics they pick, the words they use, the details they include, different beginning and ending strategies, and so on. The set of all the different choices a writer's makes determines, and the collective effect they have on the reader, is what is often called the “voice” in a piece of writing. Voice, sometimes referred to as “tone” or “mood" or even “style,” tells the reader about the writer’s personality in the piece.

Because each of us has a unique personality, each of us has a unique voice in writing, and that is what makes our writing unique. The trick is in letting that voice come through. And the only way that happens is if we make different choices in our writing than other writers make in theirs, choices that reflect who we are inside — our original thoughts and personal feelings, our particular way of seeing things and interpreting them — and writing it all down.” I thought that summed it up pretty well...better than I could have said it. So I have thought about how I write the dialog and emotes for my characters with an eye towards generating a distinctive, identifiable and unique “voice” for each of them. And yes, it is always in typed chat. In part because it works better for this purpose, but also because, in fact, I loathe SL voice... I always found it unreliable (though that may just be me being a recovering cyber-luddite). But more importantly, I think its use can detract from the impressions and moods that we are trying to create in our collectively-imagined immersion environments. Plus, if I used voice, you would undoubtedly then realize that I am not the Dio Kuhr character I have tried to foster and present, and whom you have undoubtedly pictured in your mind... but am in fact, an elderly, androgynous alien from a bellicose planet in the vicinity of what you call Antares, and I am here working towards the eventual overthrow of your...oh wait....

I probably shouldn't have put that in open chat, should I? Never mind. Oy, I’m glad I didn’t say anything about Golden Corral and how that’s another part of the overall strategy, generating a ready supply of humans who’ve been fattened up nicely for...um...oh Goddamnit. None of you are writing this down are you?

By the way, an aspect of the voice that I seek to give to all my characters, in case you hadn’t noticed, is humor. Or at least an attempt at it. I enjoy surprising people and hopefully getting them to smile and not take all this cocktwaddle way so seriously and...Oh hell, who am I trying to kid? I’m mostly just doing this nonsense in order to entertain myself. If anyone else gets some amusement out if it, that’s just gravy.... anyway, I digress...as usual... The fact is, if behooves us to choose how we write our dialog just as carefully as we build our shapes and choose our skins and clothing, and craft our streetscapes and structures.

We are collectively building environments in which we want to allow our imaginations to take us away into a different reality of time and/or place... Inappropriate choices in vocabulary and syntax--not to mention details--can shatter the illusion for others...but when we chose wisely, we can actually reinforce the sense of immersion and of being in a different time and place for ourselves as well as those around us. For example, let’s take an Old West environment. How do we make our language reinforce the sense of that distinctive time and place? Well, at the very least, a good place to start is to not use modern terminology and slang. Modernisms can be as much of a mood killer as the saloon girl doing a pole dance to Duran Duran and yeah...I have seen that.. though I am still trying to get the memeory out of head... ok, so avoiding verbal anacrhonisms is a place to start... From there, you can look at literary sources like Mark Twain, and period letters and newspapers to get an idea of how people back then put their sentences together and chose the words they used.

Diogenes Kuhr: As for details, you can do research in advance--or for that matter, as you go along. I'm frequently popping into a window to google various things even as I am in a conversation. This a key strategy for finding authentic and appropriate detail that can be used as the dialog develops, and helps ensure the avodiance of avoiding anachronisms. For example as I am "talking" with someone, I might suddenly wonder if anyone in the 19th century actually used the phrase "to face the music." If I just do a quick google run, I can learn that yes, they did--with a recorded instance as early as 1834--and then plug it into my next sentence.

Furthermore, you can access lists of old west and civil war-era slang that you draw on to give your dialogue a increased element of verismo, as well as making clear that the action and discussion IS taking place in a different time and place. When someone uses the word "skedaddle" in a sentence, it's a pretty good indication that their world-view is probably not a particularly modern one. And yeah, it’s fun and it’s a learning experience. I am utterly convinced that a lot of educational activity takes place in SL all the time... get ready for yet anothr digression folks... but very little of it is going on in the “educational sims” where traditional teaching institutions mostly seem determined to force the square peg of traditional teaching methodology into the round hole of the SL platform.

No, from my observations I have concluded that the most extensive and successful educational experiences come through what some of us have taken to calling “self-directed cooperative learning.” What that means is that in places like Deadwood, Alisum, Versailles, Roma, or 1920s Berlin, the members of the communities in those sims encourage and inspire each other to learn all manner of things on their own, to read good books and see interesting films, to share their information and understanding as they progress. And there is reinforcement of that learning through our play. But I’m getting off the track a bit here....

Let’s go back to our example of creating a character for an Old West mining town. You think about your character...what kind of education did they have, what kind of books did they read, what were there experiences growing up..and how would that shape how they “speak?” Let’s take the case of Dio Kuhr, a middle-aged, ex-ranch wife and confederate widow who grew up on the edge of the commancheria, in a grim part of west-central Texas, raised by her grandfather (a former mountain man).

She did learn to read, but only had access to three books while growing up (a volume of Shakespeare, part of a King James Bible, and a translation of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius). So what would she sound like? Based on how I pictured her background and experiences, I determined to give her a mixture of formality and down-to-earthiness. And when say 'down-to-earth, " that means she could out-cuss any man in Deadwood, BUT in a form of cussing that was based on 19th century cursing as recorded in Mark Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi.”

Of course, Twain--while he captured the essential structure of the artform--had to scale back on the actual vocabulary he employed in order to make the dang book publishable. So I would take that structure, along with a selection of some of Twain's vocabulary, and mash it up with colloquialisms from the slang lists... as well as ideas gleaned from various collections of Shakespearean quotes (mostly insults)--remember, two of the books Dio learned to read from were her Papaw's volume of Shakespeare and the part of the King James Bible he hadn't burned. Yeah it's long story about why Papaw done felt compelled to incinerate a portion of the Good Book so we shall save that for another time... anyhow I would also take some naughty bits obtained from various “dictionaries of mid-19th century profanity” which have been assembled online, mostly for the benefit of living history practitioners and re-enactors...

And yes, while the preferred swear words in 19th century America addressed issues of faith and damnation, scatological and sexual references were used as well (though arguably they reflected more of a coarseness than the fearsome inappropriateness of swear words drawn from religious issues).

You may now cover the child's ears again, agin Miz T... “Well, then, ye feckless, dog-hearted sonofabitch, are ye intendin’ t’ face the music, or shall ye skeddale after all? Christ’s bootlaces! I swear y’ain’t half the fuckin’ sojer my Jack an’ his pards was back in their day...I reckon they coulda damned well shat a better man than the likes o’ you after their mornin’ cuppa buffalo sweat...sweet Jeezus an’ his horn-blowin’ host, it would seem I’ve no goddamn course but to correct the situation m’self...and so I shall...yes, so I fuckin’ well shall, ye tin-plated, mud-eating puke...”

Viv Trafalgar looks around for urchins to ear-cover

Diogenes Kuhr: I don’t know about you, but for me, that was fun. Of course, this example represents an elaborate effort which took some preparation and forethought (for a character like Dio, it never hurts to have an arsenal of insults and historically plausible profanities close to hand--I actually made lists and kept them on a notecard for possible use). Yes, it required a certain amount of work ...but the impact it achieved made the effort worthwhile: one bad guy in Dodge City who I hit with something similar to the above just sat there for a minute and then commented... “I think my ears are bleeding.” Which I took as a compliment.

But the key thing is that the text I generated was appropriate for the character. Obviously, if your character is a Quaker school teacher from a middle-class family in Boston, her vocabulary would be different--but the syntax might end up being somewhat remarkably similar. There would be a certain level of formality in the structure of the sentences being used. Actually that’s a good rule of thumb for a great many historical and literary-themed sims--even if you don’t have an extensive grasp of the vocabulary and many of the cultural details to draw upon, you can still achieve a great deal by simply ‘speaking” in a more formal, carefully structured voice than what we customarily do in a modern context. It is a standard thing many of us do to create an impression of being part of a different culture. It’s kind of analogous to how in the movies, ancient romans always seem to have British accents...

Nonetheless, I very much encourage the research into vocabulary. It’s enlightening from a self-education perspective, it helps enhance the immersion environment, and hey, it’s fun having a more diverse inventory of nuts and bolts in your literary tool box... like being able to now then pull out and use a term like “temptation bumps” (a lovely Civil War-era slang term for female breasts which I found in an actual letter written by a Union soldier). And such an approach is of course, not limited to something like an Old West sim, whether you are trying to develop a character for to use in an 18th century royal court, or the trenches of the western front in WWI, or a slum in Weimar era Germany, there are so many wonderful sources to be drawn upon... for that matter, just reading books from the particular culture and place you are going to be playing in will make a world of difference in your own head, and that translates into a more interesting experience. I think similar ideas apply to futuristic and literary themed immersion environments as well.

It's simply that the sources you draw upon are going to be of a different nature. But whatever sources you utilize it will make a difference in your ability to interact. Our social give-and-take in the immersion environment sims of SL represent a sort of improvisational theater experience, in which we are all both actors and audience... especially when the style of roleplay is a form of what is commonly called “real-time interactive” style (as opposed to RP lite or Paragraphing).

To be prepared for fully and creatively participating in that give-and-take, it is helpful to have done some preparation in advance, to draw from your sources in order to fill your intellectual tool box so the responses and comments can come forth quickly and naturally.

“Ok,” you say, “that’s all well and good, but Miz Dio, I don’t do roleplay--what does any of this have to do with me?” I am glad you asked that question. To some extent, we all can--and do-- create a character or series of characters in-world. We can choose to speak in certain ways and choose our words so as to convey clues about who are..or who we would like to be. Communication lies at the heart of so much of what we do in SL. Forming communities, encouraging each other to learn and understand...to just have fun with other people ...we have to communicate as effectively as we can and in as many ways as we can.

Even when we are communicating in parallel to SL through blogs and forums, we are doing so with a certain ‘voice” that has been chosen--or evolved--in order to convey a certain perspective and set of values. Whether it is my version of Dio Kuhr writing on “The Ephemeral Frontier,” or someone like Prokofy Neva, Crap Mariner, Ordinal Malaprop, Headburro Antfarm, or Emilly Orr on their blogs-- we are all more or less characters, each of which has been crafted to communicate with a distinctive voice. Even though our blogging personas may, to a greater or lesser degree, be a reflection of the personas of the actual individual typists--we are all to some extent fabrications, which express a point of view through how we choose to write, as well as what we choose to write.

So if communication lies at the heart of so many of the things that we are doing in SL, then should we be concerned about things that may perhaps stand in the way of communication, rather than facilitate it? For example, dialects: Well that’s a balancing act. Yes I can make my dialect so thick that it becomes impenetrable. In some circumstances when I was doing a character with a dialect, and I found myself trying to interact with non-native speakers of English, I would tend to “tone down” the dialect a bit.

I have been told that Dio’s southern/rural speech patterns (combined with my natural tendency to make enough typos for six avatars) has made smoke come out of some people’s translators... so I don't even want to speculate about what full blown jäger-speak does to those folks. but that's another issue entirely... and yeah, I know I said that I do this silly stuff mostly for my own amusement....but if you are going to try to be a part of a community, I think you have a responsibility to try to make a certain level of adjustments in order to be a functional participant in that community.

It like the issue of “paragraphing” as a style of rp. We all have a right to do our thing and to do it the way we most enjoy. Some people really enjoy doing roleplay in the form of long paragraphs with extensive descriptions of actions, emotions, and narrative detail.... “It is a dark and stormy night, but the Countess Foofalottaca Jones has braved the weather and now she pauses in the doorway of the smelly, crowded, casino, scanning the opulent, smoke-filled room, looking eagerly for the thick-necked, small-headed man in the yellow pantaloons, whom she had met on that Genoese ship sailing from Corsica to Naples. ‘Or was it from Sardinia?’ she thinks to herself, her mind briefly pierced by her doubts about her deteriorating memory which has periodically afflicted her ever since that chocolate cart and sedan-char accident in Brussels. Then, as she stands there beneath the flaking gold leaf of the sumptuous door frame, her nostrils flaring at the wafting scent of the dreadful little canapés made from the big fish the Neapolitans call the ‘baccala,’ the Countess suddenly feels a burning sensation in a place that most women of her station in life do not like to think about, let alone feel something going on down there, and she immediately concludes that last night’s casual liaison after the gondoliers’ annual award banquet was perhaps not such a good idea after all. The pin-headed man in the hideous yellow pantaloons is now the least of her concerns.”

Yeah...and if people have their typing anim turned off, more than likely the person you;re talking to wanders off before your done... Now look, I’m not saying we should totally eschew that type of writing. It has its place. But in the context of developing communities on the platform, it is perhaps best to find like-minded players who will not wander off while you are crafting this kind of work. It is fine to indulge what you like to do and how you like to do it in terms of writing, but it should be appropriate for the circumstances. In short, mixing styles too much will result in confusion and frustration.

But enough of that. Let’s go back to the positive aspects of creatively using language... of playing with words. The appropriate application of well chosen vocabulary, syntax and yes, even dialect can add to the impression of place and time that infuses a sim. Fit what you say and how you say it to the context, and the entire experience for you and for the other members of the community will be substantially enhanced.

Thank you

Viv Trafalgar: Folks we'll take questions. If you have one for the (very brave, very eloquent) speaker, please IM me. Darlingmonster has the first question, please

Darlingmonster Ember: oh thank you M Trafalgar. M Diogeneia, I found that very lovely. And I want to share one thing, you may find agreeable

Diogenes Kuhr: ok Hon, shoot

Darlingmonster Ember: it is a trick I use, to sometimes draw someone back from the modern to the formal or genre or some such. Sorry about whisper. Did you catch?

Jedburgh30 Dagger: no

Viv Trafalgar: I'm not sure if that made it to the stage

Diogenes Kuhr: yes that is a common tactic often used by interpretive staff in living history museums, like Plimouth Plantation...

Darlingmonster Ember: it is a trick I use, to sometimes draw someone back from the modern to the formal or genre. I ask a question: and let them do a teaching for me, basically I ask "what do you mean when you say... 'sorry capt she can't take no more'"

Viv Trafalgar: Next question/comment from Doc O - please

Doctor Obolensky: This is related to our own little setting here. As tied as we are to outlandish mechanical creations....people have a bad habit of calling them "robots" which is a word that wasn't coined until 1920.

Viv Trafalgar: Do you have a question, Doc, or are you suggesting a weapon to use on such phrases?

Doctor Obolensky: No, I'm just suggesting that people watch for things like that, if they're trying to stay immersed.

Viv Trafalgar: Miss Sinclaire is up next

Diogenes Kuhr: well taking Darlingmonster's trick into play, you might respond..."hmmm robot? interesting ...might make a good name for the automatons...someday"

MaddoxSinclaire Resident: There's a lot of jargon that's associated with Psychiatry and Psychology... and not lots of it was known about in the 1880s.... what kind fo research should I be doing for that? It's not as if the problems of the mind weren't around, there were just some that had no name.

Darlingmonster Ember: vapors.... humors

Diogenes Kuhr: or were called things like " melancholy"

Viv Trafalgar: hysteria

Doctor Obolensky: "Lunatic". :P

MaddoxSinclaire Resident: So using the old names for things that they shouldn't understand?

Darlingmonster Ember: science literally still held 'humors' to be metaphysical I believe

Diogenes Kuhr: well sometimes when you use vocabulary that someone might not understand you can employ the writers trick of including definition in your statement. "poor Foofalottica, ever since the gondoliers awrds, she has been in a deep melancholy, you know a sort of inexplicvable sadness that she cannot seem to shake"

MaddoxSinclaire Resident: Perhaps I can also say that she's writing a paper on the subject to dig deeper into the problem than just what everyone calls it. Maddox is truly insatiable when it comes to research ^^

Simeon Beresford: and a number of other problems of min have dissapeared lunatics no longer assume the postures of saints and matyrs.

Diogenes Kuhr: but as for sources, I think you have a great research proejct on your hands there... which is my way of saying, I've got no dang idea

MaddoxSinclaire Resident: I suppose I'll have to research 1880s psychiatry terms. And start from there.

Viv Trafalgar: we can take another question or two and Jasper will be putting out the fine craft - a dictionary! Ladies and gentlemen, please give a hand to our amazing speaker for today, Miss Diogenes Kuhr.

Diogenes Kuhr: hey Jed, that's a good diea..I bet there are other museums that that address care of mental disorders inthe 19th cenruy and they would have things ontheir web sites to help guide you in a research direction

Viv Trafalgar: Next month's speakers will be Dame Kghia Gerardi and Sir JJ Drinkwater

Diogenes Kuhr: Thanks, y'all. It's been fun

Viv Trafalgar: (I'll be giving the speaker's fund jar to Dio in 1 minute) It's been great having you visit Dio - where can people find you these days

Diogenes Kuhr: I hope y'all had as much fun as I did

Doctor Obolensky: Indeed. A good subject, and well-covered.

Jasper Kiergarten: thank you Dio, that was great

Viv Trafalgar: So fantastic to see old friends here, and new faces as well!

Serafina Puchkina: Thank you, Dio. This was interesting and amusing

Viv Trafalgar: Again, I'd like to say thank you to everyone for coming and invite you to return next month when Dame Kghia Gerardi and JJ Drinkwater join us to discuss Libraries

Serenek Timeless: It will be even more fun to read about what Dio thought of this experience. when she writes about it in her blog.

Diogenes Kuhr: oh hell's britches Sere...I guess I oughtta do that shouldn't I?

Serafina Puchkina: Thank you all, honored Salonistas, for coming today

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