Skip to main content

More on language

I had a stroll down memory lane this weekend and bought a used CD of Depeche Mode's "Music for the Masses." This was an album (cassette) I shared with my high school boyfriend--(TMI alert!) I suppose it was the closest thing to a "make-out" tape we had. Which is kind of creepy when you think about the songs--"Never Let Me Down Again," "Strangelove," "Behind the Wheel," "I Want you Now." We were actually pretty normal. I also bought the new (newish) Cure CD. I bought it specifically for one song, though I like others. The song is called, "The End of the World." It got a little air play around the beginning of last year. In it Robert Smith sings, "I couldn't ever love you more," and within the song the phrase means both there was a limit to his love (he couldn't bring himself to love someone more), and that there was no limit to his love (it wasn't possible to love someone more). It's just amazing how the words can mean both things--tragic within the song, of course--but fascinating in terms of English and how it works.

I don't know enough of any other language to know if these paradoxes exist there as well. I know English is touted as an especially tricky language in terms of nuance. Comedian/writer Stephen Fry did a very funny sketch a very long time ago with Hugh Laurie (he of the show "House", though true fans know him better as Prince George) about whether the inherent irony in English prevented it from being used effectively as propaganda i.e. Germany and the German language.

I know that English has more descriptive words than most languages, probably because it's made up of all the other languages, and yet, there are still things that seem untranslatable--gemuchlichite (sp.) for instance, genki. Close but not quite. My husband likes Japanese writers and said once that he would like to learn Japanese because the translations seem so dry. I said that from the little I learned, the language IS very spare. It has one word for blue and green! The depth is all in the understanding of the references. There's a great Star Trek:The Next Gen. story called Darmok about a race that speaks almost entirely in cultural reference. Darmok on Gilad, for instance is understood to be an important test. Shaka, when the walls fell--a failure. As the world becomes so large that cultural reference is lost, will we still be able to talk to one another?

What We Know

I scrawled epics
When first I began to write,
Gorged blank pages
With things I had never seen:
The sea, the city, and sex,

Hearsay I had culled
Of the sea, cities, and sex
From other people.
And so my words were shadows,
Translations of translations.


(The concept and phrase, "... translations of translations..." borrowed from James Baldwin

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Driving in Boston

Inching along in a log jam of traffic yesterday on the Mass Pike I watched an Audi a few cars in front of me weave in and out of traffic determined to find the lane that was "moving" and yet for the whole half an hour that we sat there he ended up still only a few cars ahead of me. Sure there were times his lane pulled ahead, but then mine would catch up and he would switch back. The only thing he accomplished was to make the line that much slower. There was a great article that a friend sent me years ago on the physics of traffic and it has been determined that weaving in and out of tight traffic will really gain you nothing and in fact cause the very blockages that you believe you are defying. (Sidenote--an unfortunately side effect of so much of interest on the internet is that it is impossible to store all of the articles that interest you over the years in the vague belief that you will someday want to reference them to others) The article also pointed out that if all d…

Adapting a book--The Prestige

I was completely blown away by the movie of The Prestige, and I thought then about reading the novel, but it seemed too soon. So I carried the author's name around with me for over a year (Christopher Priest) and then, finally remembered to buy it through an odd sequence of events. We watched The Painted Veil based on the novel by Maugham starring Edward Norton, and while I decided I didn't want to read The Painted Veil because of it's differences from the film (which was more romantic and tragic) it reminded me that I had wanted to read Fight Club (the movie version of which starred Edward Norton) and that reminded me that I had wanted to read The Prestige (which did not star Edward Norton, but was up against The Illusionist which did). Whew...so it's all Edward Norton's fault.

The Prestige is a very good novel, and yet, the movie differs from it considerably. And I am still trying to figure out what exactly that means. The central premise is the same, AND HER…

The end of Cloud Atlas

Feel I must write this--promised it to myself, can I finish before midnight (when I said I would go to bed at 11)?

Where was I?

Oh, yes, section 5, where it gets interesting--because it's the future, at least 25 years, hopefully more. I say hopefully, because I don't want to be living in this future. The section is called "An Orison of Sonmi-451." An Orison (I had to look it up, proving I don't remember my Shakespeare) is a prayer, but in this future world where language has taken as many turns as in Orwell's 1984, it is more a confession or final statement. Sonmi-451 is a clone (as the name might suggest). The section is not entirely original. It owes much to Brave New World and Phillip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (made into the film Bladerunner). I find it interesting that 40 or so years ago--when Dick wrote his book he believed that future slaves would be Androids, replicants. Now we are much more likely to presume they will be clones,…