Friday, 25 May 2007

Fathoming Dickens, and more

Via the collective weblog MetaFilter: I just ran into Charles Dickens: The Life of the Author, an extremely readable six-part seminar by Kenneth Benson of the New York Public Library. This is part of Fathom, a large archive of free content developed by various US and UK libraries and musuems; although the aim is educational, it's not in the least dumbed down or didactic.
      Just skimming the start of the list, I found the following. American Film Institute: Modern Film Adaptations of Shakespeare and Movie scientists: before their time. The British Library: Patricia Lovett on Calligraphy, Heraldry and Illumination; Michael Twyman on The Encyclopedia of Ephemera; and the rise to fame and downfall of Oscar Wilde. Or the British Museum: Agath Christie and archaeology; and Early Collectors. Cambridge University Press: Shakespeare, Films and the Marketplace; How to read Joyce; and Committing Shakespeare to print.
      You could spend hours reading this; I haven't even got started on the Victoria & Albert, Natural History and Science Museum lists. - Ray

Friday, 4 May 2007

Ansible ... and Anglish

Science fiction readers won't need an introduction, but this may also be of interest to a general fiction readership: Ansible, the archive site for Dave Langford's long-running SF newsletter. One of its general-interest topics is "As Others See Us", its coverage of the antagonism from the literary circuit, where authors and reviewers will bend over backwards to portray literary works set in, say, imaginary futures, as something other than SF. For instance, Margaret Atwood, author of two post-apocalyptic novels, The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake, doesn't write SF, which she characterises as "talking squid in outer space". Other amusements include Thog's Masterclass, examples of bizarre or illogical writing (e.g. Neat Tricks Dept. "The animal ... opened two enormous lidless eyes") and Hazel's Language Lessons, interesting linguistic trivia.

The latter introduced me to the Dorset poet William Barnes who, apart from dialect poetry, conceived of a 'Pure English' expunged of Latin and French influences. Some of his coinages are very nice: Sunprint (photograph), bendsome (flexible), folkwain (omnibus), wortlore (botany), hairbane (depilatory), nipperlings (forceps) and welkinfire (meteor). There is a book with a glossary: The Rebirth of England and English, The Vision of William Barnes by Father Andrew Phillips.
      Barnes wasn't alone in advocating this Saxonism: another enthusiast was the composer Percy Grainger, who used in his letters and musical scores a similar 'Blue-Eyed English', in this case springing from a fairly eccentric racial stereotyping. Although Grainger's coinages were often as pleasant as those of Barnes - for instance, traingarth (railway station) and tonewright (composer) - those for more abstract concepts were seriously cumbersome. See, for example, Grainger's Top Ten - PDF - which mentions his terms such as puzzle-them gift-fulness (complexity) and tween-realm-some skill-hoard-fulness (international tradition).
      The author Poul Anderson and humorist Paul Jennings also played with the idea. The former wrote an 'Ander-Saxon' essay in atomic theory, Uncleftish Beholding in entirely Saxon-derived words. An atom is an uncleft, the word corresponding to its Latin root a-tomos, that which can't be divided. The latter wrote a series of articles in Punch in 1966, in a postulated 'Anglish' that might have developed if the Normans had lost the Battle of Hastings. - Ray

"In a foregoing piece (a week ago in this same mirthboke) I wrote anent the ninehundredth yearday of the Clash of Hastings; of how in that mightytussle, which othered our lore for coming hundredyears, indeed for all the following aftertide till Doomsday, the would-be imaginers from France were smitten hip and thigh; and of how not least our tongue remained selfthrough and strong, unbecluttered and unbedizened with outlandish Latin-born words of French offshoot. Our Anglish tongue, grown from many birth-ages of yeomen, working in field or threshing-floor, ringing-loft or shearing house, mead and thicket and ditch, under the thousand hues and scudding clouds of our ever-othering weather, has been emulched over the hundredyears with many sayings born from everyday life. It has an unbettered muchness of samenoiselike and again-clanger wordgroups, such as wind and water, horse and hound, block and tackle, sweet seventeen. The craft and insight of our Anglish tongue for the more cunning switchmeangroups, for unthingsome and overthingsome withtakings, gives a matchless tool to bards, deepthinkers and trypiecemen. If Angland had gone the way of the Betweensea Eyots there is every likelihood that our lot would have fallen forever in the Middlesea ringpath".