Writers' Clinic #3: Reporting the Speech of Others
When we write, we often have to present statements made by other people. This imposes many responsibilities on us as writers. First, we have a responsibility to the speaker: we must present his ideas as accurately as possible. Then, we have a responsibility to the reader, who requires the clearest, most easily comprehended version of the statement. Then, in addition to rendering the content of another speaker's statement accurately and comprehensibly, we also endeavor to capture something of the tone and social context of the statement.
Regarding accuracy and fidelity to the speaker's original statement, the most important thing to remember is the crucial distinction between a direct quotation [My mother said, "Please close the window. It's a bit chilly in here."] and an indirect quotation [My mother asked me to close the window, saying that she felt somewhat cold.] In the interest of accuracy, it is vital to remember the distinction between these two forms. If you use the direct quotation form, then everything that you place between quotation marks
[ "] must be exactly, literally, word for word what the speaker said. You
may not add or change a single word, and if you omit some of what was said, you must exercise great care not to alter the meaning or tone of the statement. Quotation marks represent a kind of seal of trust, a mark of good faith. The reader is assured that what is between those quotation marks is exactly what the speaker said, with no alteration by the writer. If you, as writer, break that trust, you are being unfair to the speaker and to the reader, and, in certain circumstances, you are liable to legal consequences. In Korean writing the distinction between direct and indirect quotation is often not so strict, but it is important that you be very careful about the distinction when you write in English.
Now you may wonder when it is best to present another person's statement as a direct quotation and when it is better to quote it indirectly. There are no hard and fast rules about this, but I have some recommendations.
I suggest that you try to use direct quotations where the exact words used by the speaker are important. For example, if those words convey something interesting about the speaker-- his personal style, his attitude toward the listener, some particular emotion-- then it is good to preserve the exact words in direct quotation. Also, if the words themselves are clever, inspiring, elegant or otherwise deserving of attention, you might want to quote them directly. Thus, it would be foolish and absurd to write, "Patrick Henry requested that he either live in freedom or die," or "Patrick Henry indicated that he regarded liberty and death as the alternatives facing him." Of course it would be better to present his actual words: "Patrick Henry cried out: 'Give me liberty or give me death!'"
Also, if the words convey some ambiguity it is better to quote them directly and allow the reader to consider all possible meanings, rather than to impose your own interpretation through an indirect quotation. Finally, by quoting directly, you can maintain your own detachment. This is especially important if you are quoting statements by a person with whom you disagree or with whom you don't want to be identified by the readers. Directly, quoted speech enables a writer to maintain objectivity and detachment.
On the other hand, I would suggest that you avoid using direct quotations when the speaker's specific words are not especially noteworthy. For example, it would be absurd to present this exchange as direct quotations: "Bill asked, 'Could you possibly take me to the party tonight?' Fred answered, 'Sure. I'd be glad too. I'll pick you up around seven-thirty if that's okay with you.'" The actual words that Bill and Fred used are so predictable and ordinary that there is no reason to quote them directly. It would make more sense to present just the content of their conversation using indirect quotation: "In answer to Bill's request, Fred agreed to pick him up at seven-thirty to take him to the party."
In other words, I suggest that you use direct quotations only if you are vitally concerned with the literal accuracy of a statement, or if there is something especially interesting or revealing about the actual language that was used, or if you're struggling to maintain narrative detachment from the speaker. Otherwise, indirect quotations are more economical and generally more comprehensible to the reader.
I mentioned above that in presenting another person's statement, a writer should also endeavor to capture something of the tone and social context of the statement. The key here is in carefully selecting the verb you use to present a quotation, whether direct or indirect. In fact English is very
rich in words used to present quotations, and the careful, discriminating use of those words allows a writer to convey a great deal of the tone and context of a statement. Consider this simple direct quotation: "John said, 'When are we going to eat?'" Now watch the way we can alter the tone and context of John's statement by changing the words we use to present it:
a) John whined, 'When are we going to eat?'
b) 'When are we going to eat?' thundered John.
c) John inquired about the time of our next meal.
d) John demanded to know when we were going to eat.
As these examples show, whether we present a statement as a direct quotation (as in a and b) or an indirect quotation (as in c and d), the words we select to present the statement can completely alter the sense of tone and context that is conveyed to the reader. Thus the words they use to present quotations give writers enormous power. The trick is to use this power effectively and fairly.
Obviously, the most important thing is to master the meanings of quotation-presenting words. Study the meanings of such words very carefully in a good English-English dictionary before using them. Since most such words convey nuances of approval and disapproval, you should never rely on an English-Korean dictionary. Please avoid using quotation-presenting words unless you really understand their meanings and nuances. It is much better to use a simple, neutral word like 'said', 'asked', 'told' than to attempt to use a more specific word whose meaning you don't fully understand.
But aside from the meanings of quotation-presenting words, their grammar also causes many problems for Koreans writing in English. Here are two examples, both taken from English-language newspapers published in Korea:
1) xxx- The politician denounced that television stations broadcast too many violent programs.
2) xxx- They criticized that the two opposition leaders failed to unite against the DJP candidate.
These examples are very typical; they represent an extremely common problem in Korean English. I think that the two words, 'denounce' and
'criticize' are reasonably appropriate in these two sentences. Sentence #1 does seem to be describing a denunciation, and #2 does concern a criticism. But while the meanings are correct, the grammar is flawed. The problem is transitivity: both 'denounce' and 'criticize' are transitive verbs. They must be followed by direct objects, not by 'that...' clauses. In other
words, we must denounce or criticize something or someone and this object of the denunciation or criticism must be explicitly expressed in a sentence as a noun, not a 'that...' clause. We can denounce or criticize an action, a policy, an event, a situation, or a person, but the words, 'denounce' and 'criticize' must have direct objects.
It isn't hard to rewrite #1 to express the same idea using a direct object for the verb, 'denounce':
1a ok- The politician denounced the television stations for broadcasting too many violent programs.
1b ok- The politician denounced the tendency of television stations to broadcast too many violent programs.
1c ok- The politician denounced the violence of many of the programs broadcast by the television stations.
1d ok- The politician denounced the violent content of....
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to supply a direct object for the verb, 'denounce'. If you understand the principle, you should be able to write your own corrected version of #2:
Here are two versions that come to my mind:
2b ok- They criticized the two opposition leaders for failing to unite against the DJP candidate.
2c ok- They criticized the failure of the two opposition leaders to unite against the DJP candidate.
Look again at corrected sentences la and 2b). They both use the pattern;
[Subject] criticizes/denounces [some agent] for [verb]ing.
This is an extremely common and useful structure, and is used with many verbs besides 'criticize' or 'denounce': 'admire', 'praise', 'respect', 'scold', 'berate', etc. are all commonly used in this structure.
Here are two more examples of quotation-presenting words that are incor-rectly used with 'that...' clauses. Again, they are examples of extremely common errors, and again they come from English-language newspapers in Korea.
3) xxx- Kim analyzed that demand for Korean products would increase follow-ing the Olympics.
4) xxx- The spokesman viewed that the value of the won would continue to rise in the immediate future.
These two problems are essentially similar to the previous examples. Like 'criticize', and 'denounce', the verbs, 'analyze' and 'view' are transitive; they require direct objects and cannot be used before 'that...' clauses.
But the problem is more than simply grammatical. In fact, 'analyze' and
'view' are not really quotation-presenting words in English. Analyzing and viewing are actually private mental acts; it is possible to analyze or view a situation without sharing your analysis or view with other people. There-fore, we do not generally use 'view' or 'analyze' to present a quotation. We speak of a person 'presenting' or 'sharing' or 'offering' or 'giving' his analysis or his view of a situation. Thus, in sentence 3, Kim is presenting his analysis of the post-Olympic demand for Korean products, and in sentence 4, the spokesman is giving his view of future trends in foreign exchange rates. Corrected versions using these noun structures include:
3a ok- According to Kim's analysis, the demand for Korean products will increase following the Olympics.
3b ok- Kim presented an analysis of post-Olympic trade according to which the demand for Korean products will increase.
4a ok- In the spokesman's view, the value of the won will continue to rise in the immediate future.
So, people can analyze or view situations, prospects, trends, etc., but those transitive verbs must have direct objects. It is incorrect to write, xxx- he viewed that or xxx- He analyzed that
But beyond that simple problem of transitivity, it is basically incorrect to use 'analyze' or 'view' to present a quotation. We do use the noun forms in phrases such as: "According to his analysis...", and "In his view..."
You are probably wondering if there is any word which can be used with a 'that...' clause to present a quotation in which a person's opinion is offered. In fact there are many such words in English. Feel free to use 'said that...', 'claimed that...', 'noted that...'asserted that...',
'observed that...', 'remarked that...', 'predicted that...', 'opined that', etc.
The next quotation-presenting problem is purely grammatical, but is, again, very common in Korean English. Once more, the example is taken from a newspaper:
5) xxx- The Japanese authorities informed the terrorists' travel plans to several foreign intelligence agencies.
The problem is one of transitivity, but of a subtle kind. Of course the verb, 'inform', means to give information to someone. Although the verb, 'inform' is generally transitive, it takes, as its direct object, not the information that is given, but rather the person (or institution) to whom the information is given. Here are some examples of the correct use of this quotation-presenting verb:
e) He informed his teacher that he would be absent the following week.
f) I will inform you of my new telephone number as soon as our phone is installed.
g) A doctor should inform his patients about the possible side-effects of the medicines he prescribes.
As these examples show, the object of the verb, 'to inform' is the person (or institution) to whom the information is given. The information itself is presented in a clause or phrase introduced by 'about', 'of', or 'that'. You should now be able to correct sentence #5 by yourself:
Here's my version:
5a ok- The Japanese authorities informed several foreign intelligence agencies of [about] the terrorists' travel plans.
Here is a problem which is the mirror image of the transitivity problem with 'inform'. This problem is very, very common; the example I've chosen comes from the written work of one of my advanced-level students:
6) xxx- The procedure involves four different steps. I'll explain you all of them.
The verb, 'explain', is transitive, but unlike 'inform', it takes for its direct object the information being explained, and not the person to whom it is explained. The person who is the recipient of the information is presented in a phrase following the word, 'to': "I explained my theory to my sister." This is all you need to know in order to correct sentence #6. Try it:
My version goes like this:
6a ok- The procedure involves four different steps. I'll explain them all to you.
But please bear in mind that it is not always necessary to indicate the )erson to whom an explanation is given. For example, in #6, I think it would ie better to write simply: "I'll explain them all," since it is already Obvious to whom he will give the explanation.
Here are two more common problems which occur when Koreans write in English about statements and conversations made by others. Both are taken from the work of graduate students:
7) xxx- The members of the panel discussed about the origins of the Middle East conflict.
8) xxx- In his account of the negotiations he mentions about the difficulty Df working through interpreters.
Both 'discuss' and 'mention' are transitive verbs. They must be followed Dy direct objects, not by the preposition, 'about'. In these two examples, the corrections can be made simply be deleting 'about':
7a ok- The members of the panel discussed the origins of the Middle East conflict.
8a ok- In his account of the negotiations he mentions the difficulty of Working through interpreters.
Incidentally, with 'mention' it is possible to use a 'that...' clause: "When I talked with your brother last week he mentioned that he wanted to find a new job." While we cannot us a 'that...' clause with 'discuss', it is usually possible to find some suitable noun structure to serve as a direct object: "When I saw your brother last week, we discussed his intention to find a new job."
It is possible to use an 'about...' clause with 'mention' if we supply some word to fill the direct object position in the sentence. We commonly use words like 'anything', 'something', and 'things' for this purpose: "When you
spoke with the director did he mention anything about the new project?" "It wasn't a very informative lecture, but the speaker did mention a few things about the new tax laws." "In the introduction to his latest novel, Philip Roth mentions something about his early childhood."
Finally, consider this sentence, again from an English-language newspaper published in Korea:
9) xxx- The head of the labor union and the company owner will talk each other again at a meeting next Thursday.
I'm sure you can immediately spot the obvious (though, unfortunately, very common) grammatical error: there is a missing preposition. We can never say xxx- talk each other. We could make a grammatically correct phrase by adding the preposition 'with' or 'to': 'talk with each other', 'talk to each other'. However, it is more elegant and economical to use the expression, 'talk together':
9a ok- The head of the labor union and the company owner will talk together again at a meeting next Thursday.
But even the phrase, 'talk together', is really unnecessary. In English, if we name two people as subjects of a sentence and the verb is 'talk', it is generally assumed that they are talking 'with each other' or 'together'. It is simply not necessary to add that information. So, 'Let's talk about it at dinner,' is all you need to say, not xxx- Let's talk together about it at dinner,' or xxx- Let's talk about it with each other at dinner.' So, the best version of #9 is also the simplest
9b ok- The head of the labor union and the company owner will talk again at a meeting next Thursday.
Incidentally, if you wish to make explicit the idea of 'together' or 'with each other', you can use the verb, 'to confer'. "The managers of the three departments will confer on Friday."