Mind Your Language(s)! The Joys of the Written Word….

Good evening, Bookworms,

Fresh from having enjoyed the fourth part of the fantastic series Fry’s Planet Word on BBC2, your intrepid bookworm is back online again, with a view to blogging about words themselves. About time I blogged about words. After all, I couldn’t have done 32 previous blog entries without them, could I?! I also have the book Planet Word by J P Davidson to accompany the series presented by Stephen Fry, so at least I shall have some permanent reminder, even though next Sunday’s programme will be the final part of the series. Like when you come to the end of a truly great book, it’s sad to come to the end of an exceptional series on tv. Especially if, like myself, you tend to think that most of the stuff on television these days is an absolute pile of shite! I think I have bemoaned the amount of utter drivel on tv these days on several occasions in these blogs, particularly when something has happened to cause me to reminisce about the 1980s! We may have had far fewer channels in those days, with Channel Four only starting on 2nd November 1982, by which time I was nine and a half, but not only were the programmes far better in those days, even the adverts were better! Yes, even the Shake ‘N’ Vac advert! It may have been seriously naff, but it still pisses on those Crazy Frog ringtone commercials from a great height! Jamster have got A LOT to answer for and I hope they are amongst the first against the wall if that revolution ever comes…

Had my book club meeting on Tuesday and we are now reading The Book Of Dave by Will Self. Basically, a deranged London cabbie called Dave Rudman writes this book, a huge rant about not getting custody of his son, and the book is actually written on metal and buried in Hampstead Heath. Years later, with much of London underwater, indeed much of the country underwater, only islands remain of what is now known as Ing, the survivors have found the book and have turned it into a religion and basically have their own language, Mokni. A link to the Wikipedia entry for The Book Of Dave can be found at the end of this blog entry for anyone who wishes to read more about it.

Whilst this is very clever of Self, and shows what can be done with the written word, a glossary has had to be provided at the back of the novel and I have had to refer to it a fair few times while reading the first chapter. Some of the invented language is easy to work out, much of it based on Cockney rhyming slang anyway like barnet for hair, but the unfamiliar can cause me to wade rather slowly through a book, an experience I find very frustrating because I can usually read very fast! One of my biggest frustrations came when I was at college doing my A Levels and studying literature in French. That was a really challenging and frustrating experience. Worse still was trying to get my teenage head around the concept of Existentialism, something I still do not see the point of today!

While we’re on the subject of A Level French, and things I do not see the point of… the Historic Tense. Oh, for crying out loud, how many past tenses does a language actually need?! Is it REALLY necessary to have a past tense that is only ever used in literature? Why do you need to use that in books when you can get by perfectly well with the other past tenses that your language has?! You do NOT need an extra version of ANY tense just for books! Past perfect, past imperfect and past conditional are surely more than enough versions of the past tense for anyone learning a language to get their heads around! Now, I can work out when past conditional would be used, in such phrases as “I would have gone to the shops if it hadn’t been peeing down with rain” or the French equivalent thereof, but I and others have had enough problems distinguishing between when to use perfect or imperfect tense, so I didn’t exactly welcome the news that there was yet another past tense in French, used only in literature. Yeah, just to make you plod even more slowly through a book! Thanks a bunch… NOT!

I have studied French, German and Spanish for academic qualifications, French to A Level, as I mentioned above, and both German and Spanish to GCSE level. Essentially, I can understand signs in those languages and can get the gist of most newspaper or magazine articles. I can also understand SOME books. However, not being in my first language means I may have to have a dictionary handy and look up the occasional word and if I AM going to read any books in foreign languages, it is going to take me rather longer than it would do to read them in English, so it would have to be a matter of doing it out of my own choice and not to meet some specific deadline or I may end up stressed as well as frustrated, just as I did during my French A Level classes. Also, but not quite to the same extent, the same goes for books which have their own constructed languages.

Strangely, though, I once read Nineteen Eighty Four out of choice, when I was at college, and I don’t recall having been slowed down too much by Orwell’s invented language, Newspeak. Perhaps I just took words such as  plusgood and doubleplusungood in my stride and felt it was fairly logical anyway, it didn’t need an awful lot of working out! With the use of Mokni in The Book of Dave, I think it’s the plant names I’m having most trouble with getting my head around. About the only one I can make the most sense of is chrissyleaf for holly, ’cause it’s obviously a reference to holly being associated with Christmas. And, of course, we’re fast approaching that time of year again, anyway!

Like The Book Of Dave and Nineteen Eighty Four, there are other books written ostensibly in English, but in parts, at least, not English as we know it, but an invented language for the purposes of the novel, and another book I can think of where this is also the case is the Anthony Burgess novel, A Clockwork Orange, which has a language called Nadsat. I have not read A Clockwork Orange, though, so can’t say yet whether Nadsat might slow down my reading of the book or not. As I read Nineteen Eighty Four in either just one or two sittings, Newspeak certainly didn’t hold me back from my Usain Bolt-esque reading speed! Reading the Wikipedia entry for Nadsat, it says Burgess was a polyglot who loved playing around with languages. Nadsat originates from Russian, as the suffix at the end of numbers 11-19 so it ostensibly translates as “teen”, and is used as slang by the teenage character, Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

Actually, as I’m blogging about the task of making onself understood in writing, I was out for a meal last night and was talking with my friend Shau, and she mentioned my blog, which she had seen via my links on Facebook. I explained that I like to blog loosely on several books in one entry while some like to blog about one book at a time and really go into depth. It is true I can certainly do that for many books and I have read a large percentage of the books I mention on here. However, there are books I mention which I haven’t read and books which I have partially read or which I had to skim through quickly when I was at university! I blog about a mixture of the read, the partially-read and the unread! I hope people enjoy my blog entries and that these entries give people ideas for what to read next! I hope I’m blogging about books in an approachable way, proving you don’t have to be posh to love books or blog about them! All of the places of education I attended in my younger days were pretty ordinary, none of them were remotely posh or private. What I did have, though, were parents who both enjoyed reading and who encouraged a love of books in both myself and my sister. That’s what you need, I think. That is the ideal start in life. It doesn’t even require an awful lot of money, but in itself, it is more precious than any cash. It is, in fact, as the Mastercard commercials would put it… Priceless!

Well, on that note, that’s about all we have time for this evening (sorry, gone into tv continuity announcer mode again!) Hope you will join me again soon for another book blog! Until next time, take care and Happy Reading! The promised link for the Wikipedia entry re The Book of Dave is below. Enjoy!


Books mentioned in this blog entry:

  • Planet Word – J.P. Davidson
  • The Book Of Dave – Will Self
  • Nineteen Eighty Four- George Orwell
  • A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

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