The English Language: Meanings, Misconstructions, and Italics

As an aspiring writer I have to make use of many techniques and tools in order to get a point across to my audience. Dialogue is an especially trying part of my writing process, as it is very difficult to convey the exact intonation I envisage a character using when saying a specific word or line within the words and characters used in the phrase itself. Some words have a specific inflection placed upon them, making them the focal point of the sentence. While other words are specifically stressed by the character in order to evoke emotion from surrounding characters or the audience.

For most English authors the most popular solution to this problem is to simply highlight the word we wish to emphasize and put it in italics. This is because for some reason we equate the letters slanting to the side as having greater emphasis than if we use the underline or any other text editor. For non-native English speakers and readers the meanings that this effect produces on the words can be quite different from the author’s intended meaning. Even people who’ve been exposed to English and its labyrinthian cipher of grammar and spelling rules have trouble with deciphering the meaning an author intends when writing. For example; I can write the same sentence multiple times and have the meaning change from the use of italics on only single word within the phrase.

“I never said that.” vs. “I never said that.” or even “I never said that.”

Generally, the common assumption of the audience is that the speaker of the first sentence is relatively calm: having been given no context as to the emotion used when speaking that line. The speaker of the next sentence can be assumed to be agitated in some way, as the negative “never” is the word emphasized. And in the third sentence, the assumption can vary as to the emotion of the speaker because the word that is stressed refers to something  that has been said already, but that we do not know the details of. The speaker could be interpreted as angry, neutral and correcting another character, or frantic. And because of the lack of context the interpretation is right in all three cases.

Clearly, this is a problem in the world as these stressed words can drastically change the meaning of someone’s thoughts based on how they’re interpreted. But what is the best solution? Should people be better educated on how to interpret these stressed words when used in print? Should there be some sort of code alongside a piece of written work to clue the reader in on how to interpret the author’s writing? Or should the way authors write be completely restructured on every word processor out there and come with a guide on when to use what text effect?

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