Rant: Fifty Shades of Grey and the Importance of Research

Oh yes, I jumped the bandwagon and read the first book in E L James’s trilogy. This will not be a review as such, though. Other people have said pretty much everything I would say about it – Grace put it all very eloquently and amusingly, so I suggest you read what she had to say – and so I will do something a little different.

There’s two things that really got to me about the book. First of all, the style. It practically screams “mediocre fan fiction”. And before you jump to the conclusion that I have something against fan fiction – I don’t. I’ve been reading and writing it for about a decade, and there’s so much good stuff online it’s very impressive. What baffles me is that this particular one has been turned into a book, and with so little effort to conceal the fic origin. (I also suspect there was no editor at all. All the repetition, the same phrases and words used over and over – aargh!)

But now to the matter that’s been eating me since I read the line in the book. It is the importance of research, which I have ranted about before, namely in June when I read Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver. In Fifty Shades there is, towards the end, a scene where Ana dreams about Christian feeding her strawberries. Let me quote the offending bit:

“Eat,” he says, his tongue caressing the front of his palate as he enunciates the t.

– E. L. James: Fifty Shades of Grey, p. 442

Let’s get this straight. Here is a picture of the parts of your mouth:

The consonant [t] is not palatal. Try to say “eat” with your tongue touching the front of your palate, and you’ll get quite a nice lisp. Hardly attractive and very much reminiscent of Pratchett’s Igors. But why take my word? You can consult any table of the International Phonetic Alphabet (mine is in the back of Plag et al.’s Introduction to English Linguistics, second revised edition) and see that [t] categorises as a voiceless alveolar plosive (or stop, whichever name you prefer).

I know I’m picking nits here, but this is the kind of information that is not hard to obtain. And if you don’t feel like doing the research, then don’t put that kind of details anywhere.

Ahem. That’s all for me right now. Carry on.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Rant: Fifty Shades of Grey and the Importance of Research

  1. Haha, so true! Also, there’s the lack of research into being a modern college student, leading to Ana having no e-mail address even though you get a .edu e-mail address the moment you enroll.

  2. You’re going to kill me but…

    It’s “picking NITS”.

    Now that’s poedantry 😉

  3. Absolutely correct. Very nice point.
    The voiceless palatal stop is represented as [c] in the IPA, and it isn’t actually a sound of English. And it isn’t made with your tongue tip! If you make a retroflex [ʈ] then you get a little closer to having your tongue tip there, but then you’ll sound like Apu from the Simpsons. (Anyone still watch that?)

    By the way, I’ve started a series on the International Phonetic Alphabet on my blog and the second, and most recent, installment talks about these places of articulation in your vocal tract.

  4. Couldn’t agree more! There are tonnes of holes in this book…

    And as for the fan fiction thing, after I read the book I literally thought to myself I have read probably 20 fan fiction stories that are far better written than Fifty Shades!

  5. I can see a dude saying “eat” tthexually by slickly slithering the lateral borders of his tongue back along his canines and premolars from the high front tense unrounded vowel until it’s rolled into position for that voiceless alveolar stop, and ending by slowly enunciating the “t” with a soft flick of the tip. The passage just lacks a sense of time. It’s like everything’s happening all at once.

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