I finally got around to looking at the Girl Genius comic for the first time (in fact, I managed to piss away the better part of a weekend reading all the way through the online version of the stories, which first began appearing in hardcopy form in 2001). And this got me back to considering the different ways we express ourselves in our typed chat in-world.
The issue of people "speaking" (ie, typing ) in some form of dialect or "accent" in SL has been kicked around quite a lot in recent months and seems to have been a catalyst for a certain amount of angst and anger in certain communities. I have been thinking about this a good bit, especially after Miss Eugenia Burton commented on some elements of the conversation on her blog, Complicated Conundrum and mentioned that yours truly goes around the grid, frequently using an approximation of a rather thick 19th century rural Texan dialect without running into any obvious hostility or irritation because of how I "talk." Eugenia holds up the example of my experience as a contrast to that of other folks in sl who use an "accent" and feel that they are getting a substantial degree of negative reactions for their use of non-conventional spelling and speech patterns. Not unreasonably, she asks why.
At the time she wrote this piece, I had commented that I thought the question deserved some pondering, in part because I felt like I must be missing something. To some extent I felt this way because in the last couple years I have spent less and less time in the sims where the debate was growing, and also because I really didn't know very much about the group of players who seem to find themselves at the center the discussion in a great many cases. These are the sl residents who take on the appearance and speech patterns of "jagermonsters," fictional soldier-creatures that feature prominently in the stories of the Girl Genius comic by Phil and Kaja Foglio.
In the comic -- and when recreated by players in SL -- these creatures speak a heavily accented form of English that is represented through a distinctive arrangement of spelling and word choice that is meant to suggest a Germanic/Balkan background for these characters. It tends to look like something along the lines of, "Dollink! Dot is vun goot-lookink hat hyu got dere!
And yes it can be somewhat hard to follow sometimes. But does it really foster as much of a negative reaction as people think it does? And does it actually rub people the wrong way to greater extent than the happy horseshit dialect I tend to inflict on others in-world?
In some ways, I would think what I do would be more likely to piss people off. My dialect is not merely a construction of dropping g's, using o' rather than "of," and employing the ever popular "y'all." It also draws on colorful and profuse period profanity, good ol' working-class frontier vulgarity, and speech patterns, spelling and vocabulary that is drawn from sources such as Mark Twain, period newspapers, and historic diaries. The way I talk can not only be confusing, it can be downirght offensive to Victorian sensibilities. And it doesn't help that I am a woefully wretched typist to boot. I am told by some of our rl German-speaking residents in Deadwood that my chat makes their translators emit blue sparks and smoke after a while.
Yet I don't think I have ever really caught a ration of shit about what I am typing as Dio (other than within the context of rp, where it is not uncommon for some greenhorn lady fresh off the stage to get all offended by my coarse talk...but that's all in fun...um...I think).
Well it may be a bit of apples and oranges, being as in places like Deadwood, everyone expects some expression of persona through typed chat. I'm not that different from other people there. And I don't go to parties and dances in Caledon or the other steampunk sims any more, so consequently, I am not in contact with a non-frontier rp society at large in any big way. I gather, however, that many of the "jagerkin" spend a lot of time participating in the general social life of the Victorian and steampunk sims on a very regular basis. So that very well may be a large part of why they can end up ruffling some feathers, while there aren't negative emails or blog posts (that I am aware of, anyway) talking about that dreadful Kuhr woman and how hearing her speak is like being subjected to the sound of nails on a chalkboard accompanied by fumes from a portapotty at a outdoor rock concert that the honey-wagon boys forgot to pick up until a week later. I'm just not around enough to irritate the fuck out of people for the most part.
So is part of it about that "being hard to follow" thing? There may be something to that. In Deadwood we had a grizzled old character named Crakajack whose typist went to almost mind-numbing lengths in creating long segments of chat that were truly spectacular examples of "genuine frontier gibberish." It was funny and brilliant and entirely appropriate, and holy Mother of God, I wish I had saved some transcripts of it. At the same time, I seemed to be the only person who had the least goddam idea of what he was saying (and yeah, it took some effort to read it over a couple of times and figure it out). I don't think Crakajack ever got the kinds of interaction or reactions he hoped for, and finally his typist killed the character off (he got shot over a gambling debt back on China Row).
So there is a balance we have to seek between giving free reign to our creativity and actually being able to communicate with others effectively. I do at times find my myself adjusting my dialect for the situation: if I know I am talking with a non-native speaker of English who is probably using a translator, I'll pick simpler vocabulary and type it out more fully so there is a better chance of the translation making some sense. Likewise, I will tone down the colorful and earthy stuff in certain circles, just because the idea of getting the message across often takes precedence over the authentic feel of the language. So maybe we need to be willing to make compromises if the goal is communication.
That said, once I actually got into Girl Genius, I came to get a sense of why people are so committed to taking on the persona of a jagermonster, including the occasionally impenetrable chat.
These guys are a hoot and a half: funny, sarcastic, tough, brave, enthusiastically violent, and uglier than a Fox News marketing meeting. They wear a wacky mix of pre-1900 European military-style uniforms, and most ordinary folks are scared shitless of them. They provide a regular comedic element to the Girl Genius storylines, and at the same time they often function as a kind of Greek chorus, commenting on the action and main characters as the classic outsiders, who periodically make observations of substantial profundity.
So, of course, lots of people want to be jagermonsters: I so totally get it now that I have read the comic (which by the way, I thoroughly freakin' enjoyed). The jagers are characters that appeal to certain kinds of people who feel a connection there -- the sense of humor, the sense of being outsiders, of being different from the rest of society (and so perhaps appreciating the very unique different-ness of the jager way of looking and talking). The more I have pondered on this, I don't think it really is about rp as much as it is about selecting an avatar and a way of speaking and comporting oneself -- the persona -- that we feel best represents the uniqueness of who we are, even in a virtual context. People clearly are putting on the jager look and doing jaeger-speak not so much in the interest of telling stories or creating specific scenarios -- they simply are choosing to move through the world in a form that they have found comfortable and fun..
Hell, Dio is pretty much her typist, other than Mrs. Kuhr is a little younger, a little tougher, a little more fun to listen to, and a better shot. We do tend to take on personas that amuse us, that are perhaps the slightly more polished or intensified versions of what we think we are (or wish we could be), and it is understandable that when we have a less-than-enthusiastic reaction to our choices of avie and persona and speech patterns, we will feel it is, in essence, a rejection of ourselves in some way. Ultimately it probably is only about not being easily understood, but it feels to us like something more.