alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
So, I have reached the infamous “Lucia Joyce” chapter of Alan Moore’s new novel, Jerusalem. It’s written as a pastiche of James Joyce’s Finnegan‘s Wake, with nearly every word misspelled punally, or mangled in some crossword way. Moore says that writing this chapter broke his brain, and he had to take 18 months off from writing the novel to recover. Even just reading it is doing odd things to my use and perception of language.

It’s a difficult read, but not without its rewards. I have laughed out loud more often during this chapter than any other; not merely because of funny events (though there certainly are some), but a rare sort of revelatory laughter, as I realize another layer of meaning snaking around the surface level of the plot.

But I really started writing this post to express my joy and amazement at one particular scene in this chapter. Reading and Alan Moore novel, one expects a great deal of intertextuality, and guest appearances by all manner of obscurely famous people. What I did NOT see coming, was an extended conversation between Lucia Joyce and Herbie Popnecker, a.k.a. The Fat Fury! Okay, TECHNICALLY, it was artist Ogden Whitney, but as portrayed by Moore, that’s a distinction without a difference.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I have been reading (in bits and pieces, because the richness of ideas takes time to digest) Douglas Hofstadter's _Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language_". The general topic of this book is how one translates verse from one language to another. This being Hofstadter, it spirals out into all sorts of related topics. It is, incidentally, highly recommended, as even partway through it, it has already given my brain lots to think about.

In recently-read chapters, he's been discussing the notion of whether it is actually possible to "translate" at all, verse or not. There are certainly arguments to be made that no translation can be perfect. One of the convincing ones is that no two languages share the exact same associational halos of meaning for any pair of words.

Naturally, Hofstadter spots the obvious reductio ad absurdum of that argument. Even within a single language, a given word does not call up identical associations with any two different *readers* of that language. So this argument would seem to imply that, not just translation, but *communication* is impossible!

The crux of the matter, of course, is "perfection". Communication and translation are akin to The Halting problem in computing. One can easily demonstrate that these things cannot possibly be perfect, in theory. In actual practice, however, one can *approach* perfection arbitrarily close. With care, you can usually get "close enough".

My insight today, is that this lack of perfection is why the concept of telepathy (as typically portrayed in SF) is so attractive. Telepathy allows *perfect* communication, unlike the clumsy tool of language. The Universal Translator is similarly appealing. Sadly, like FTL, neither of them actually hold up to logical scrutiny.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
"He was a man of catholic tastes. That is to say, he thought of them as wide-ranging and universal, but there were vast territories which they never even approached."
alexxkay: (Default)
Over the last few months, I have been seeing a decided increase, in both written and verbal communications, of the usage of the word "Really?" with a specific connotation. Approximately: "It's not that I actually don't believe you, but you have just uttered something so incredibly lame that I must give you the chance to take it back." Extra irony optional. Often used multiple times in a paragraph, not necessarily contiguously.

Now, that's always been a reasonable usage of the word, but I'm seeing it a lot more recently, and I'm wondering if it's just random language drift, or if there's some specific source that popularized this usage. Anyone got insight?
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
(I wrote this up in an email to a list of folks who've just started working on a _Henry V_ production. It occurred to me that some people who read this LJ might have useful/interesting input as well.)

I noticed at the read-through that lots of us have lines in French, but
are unclear on how to pronounce them. Certain other cast members offered
helpful corrections, but the more I think about it, the less convinced I
am that those corrections were, necessarily, correct.

There are at least three different 'French accents' we could consider:
A) How a modern Frenchman pronounces French
B) How a Frenchman in Shakespeare's time pronounced French
C) How a typical Englishman of Shakespeare's time pronounced French

I'm quite sure that A and C are very different, and I suspect that A and B
are pretty disjoint as well. I'm no expert on French in any period, but
I've read lots of period primary sources which mention French city names,
and they are clearly quite different from modern French pronunciation;
"Calais", which is now pronounced Call-ay, shows up in period English
books as "Callis" or "Callice".

In the scene with Pistol and the French Soldier, Pistol mistakes "moi" for
"moy" and "bras" for "brass". These mistakes are not very plausible if
the FS's pronunciation is in accent A.

I don't currently have a facsimile of Henry V handy, but I'm really
curious how Shakespeare spells the French dialogue therein. How much is
phonetically spelled (as he does with the funny-accent English), and how
much is 'correct'? Have 20th century editors 'corrected' his French to be
consistent with modern spelling?

Finally, of course, there's the question of what *we* are going to do
about French pronunciation in our production. Would researching and using
period pronunciations of French be worth the effort? Would it alienate
the audience, or be a cool educational element?
alexxkay: (Default)
(I wrote this up in an email to a list of folks who've just started working on a _Henry V_ production. It occurred to me that some people who read this LJ might have useful/interesting input as well.)

I noticed at the read-through that lots of us have lines in French, but
are unclear on how to pronounce them. Certain other cast members offered
helpful corrections, but the more I think about it, the less convinced I
am that those corrections were, necessarily, correct.

There are at least three different 'French accents' we could consider:
A) How a modern Frenchman pronounces French
B) How a Frenchman in Shakespeare's time pronounced French
C) How a typical Englishman of Shakespeare's time pronounced French

I'm quite sure that A and C are very different, and I suspect that A and B
are pretty disjoint as well. I'm no expert on French in any period, but
I've read lots of period primary sources which mention French city names,
and they are clearly quite different from modern French pronunciation;
"Calais", which is now pronounced Call-ay, shows up in period English
books as "Callis" or "Callice".

In the scene with Pistol and the French Soldier, Pistol mistakes "moi" for
"moy" and "bras" for "brass". These mistakes are not very plausible if
the FS's pronunciation is in accent A.

I don't currently have a facsimile of Henry V handy, but I'm really
curious how Shakespeare spells the French dialogue therein. How much is
phonetically spelled (as he does with the funny-accent English), and how
much is 'correct'? Have 20th century editors 'corrected' his French to be
consistent with modern spelling?

Finally, of course, there's the question of what *we* are going to do
about French pronunciation in our production. Would researching and using
period pronunciations of French be worth the effort? Would it alienate
the audience, or be a cool educational element?
alexxkay: (Default)
You are invited to participate in an interesting and entertaining survey about language. Essentially, we're asking about the spread of Yiddish (and some Hebrew) among English speakers in North America. We're turning to both Jews and non-Jews to answer questions like these: Who uses Yiddish words like "shmooze" and "daven" and phrases like "Money, shmoney"? Why do some people say "temple" while others say "shul"? Who prefers biblical names for their babies? Your responses will help us answer these and other questions, and you might learn something about yourself in the process. Please set aside 15-20 minutes, and click on this link to participate:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=9eQwWyblG_2b8ixLqbt6QFhg_3d_3d

Please forward this request to your friends and family. We are hoping to get thousands of responses from people of all religions, ages, and regions of the United States and Canada. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail Prof. Sarah Bunin Benor <sbenor@huc.edu> or Prof. Steven M. Cohen <steve34nyc@aol.com>.


(Link courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] nancylebov.)
alexxkay: (Default)
You are invited to participate in an interesting and entertaining survey about language. Essentially, we're asking about the spread of Yiddish (and some Hebrew) among English speakers in North America. We're turning to both Jews and non-Jews to answer questions like these: Who uses Yiddish words like "shmooze" and "daven" and phrases like "Money, shmoney"? Why do some people say "temple" while others say "shul"? Who prefers biblical names for their babies? Your responses will help us answer these and other questions, and you might learn something about yourself in the process. Please set aside 15-20 minutes, and click on this link to participate:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=9eQwWyblG_2b8ixLqbt6QFhg_3d_3d

Please forward this request to your friends and family. We are hoping to get thousands of responses from people of all religions, ages, and regions of the United States and Canada. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail Prof. Sarah Bunin Benor <sbenor@huc.edu> or Prof. Steven M. Cohen <steve34nyc@aol.com>.


(Link courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] nancylebov.)

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