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Frazier’s use of old-fashioned words, patterns delights native speakers

August 2011
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@dcn.davis.ca.us

When I read a pre-publication review copy of “Cold Mountain” in 1997, I knew I was looking at a best-seller. I urged my local bookstore to order a number of copies to be ready for the deluge – but it hadn’t quite come out yet so the early order resulted in my kind bookseller, Mark Nemmers, receiving several books of obscure poetry called “Cold Mountain.”

Once the historical novel became widely available, however, books stores sold out quickly. It won the National Book Award and later was made into a movie. Whenever I go to a used book store or thrift shop and see a hardback copy of the striking blue book, I buy it. At one time I had six or more copies on my shelf.

I pressed one copy on a friend, Ken Sawyer, so he could read it on a flight from Sacramento to Chicago. He didn’t want the book, he was too busy to read for pleasure, and he had plenty of other things to keep him busy on the flight. So imagine my delight when I found out later that he took a short look at the book – and couldn’t put it down until he’d finished the first 100 pages. Yes!

But I may have gone too far with my most recent recommendation which was to a Ukrainian friend, Stas Igorev. Stas and his wife, Natasha, teach English in Kiev. I sent him a couple of copies of “Cold Mountain” for his advanced English students. Hmmm. I wonder if I have saddled them with a book they won’t enjoy since the language is so perfectly attuned to the 19th century?

Charles Frazier himself said he was interested in creating a historical, fictional world where the language of the book would “create a sense of otherness, of another world, one that the reader doesn't entirely know. It occupies many of the same geographical points as our current world, but is in a lot of ways very different. I wanted the language to signal that.

“So one thing I used to help with that was words for tools and processes and kitchen implements that are almost lost words. Ugly, old words like piggin and spurtle and keeler, which are all kitchen implements. Those kinds of words would signal to a reader that it's a different material world, a different physical world from ours.

“The other thing I was interested in, since I was writing a lot about the southern Appalachians, was getting a sense of the particular use of language in that region, the rhythm of it. I didn't want to resort to spelling liquor "l-i-k-k-e-r" or something like that. I wanted the music of that language more than just oddities of spelling and pronunciation. So I thought about the way old people talked when I was a kid, who had that authentic Appalachian accent, and realized that it was more a music, a rhythm, than anything else in my ear, and there were days that I could hear that -- a voice, a pattern of voice, somewhat like, say, Bill Monroe's when he was talking rather than singing, that has a very musical quality to it.

“When I could hear that in my ear, I was sure I was going to have a good day of writing,” Frazier said in a BookBrowse interview.

But is this use of old-fashioned words and rhythmic speech too much to ask an English learner to appreciate? I hope not. Stas, let me know if you and your students are enjoying “Cold Mountain” as much as I do. If so, I’ll send you a few more copies!

For More Information, Visit These Links:
Charles Frazier at Wikipedia
Cold Mountain (Novel) at Wikipedia
See: Crater at the 3rd Louisiana Redan at Wikipedia
American Civil War at Wikipedia

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