The aim of this blog is to serve as a meeting point to those who study or have studied English philology and, more broadly, to all those who love literature and language.

31 Dec 2008

HAPPY NEW YEAR

These are just some poems to celebrate the beginning of a new year and wish Poe readers and anyone who may drop by this blog a HAPPY 2009.

New Year on Dartmoor by Sylvia Plath

This is newness: every little tawdry
Obstacle glass-wrapped and peculiar,
Glinting and clinking in a saint's falsetto. Only you
Don't know what to make of the sudden slippiness,
The blind, white, awful, inaccessible slant.
There's no getting up it by the words you know.
No getting up by elephant or wheel or shoe.
We have only come to look. You are too new
To want the world in a glass hat.

Año Nuevo en Dartmoor

En esto consiste la novedad: en cada pequeño y chabacano
obstáculo recubierto de cristal, cada uno con su peculiaridad,
centelleando y tintinando con falsete de santo. Tan sólo tú
no sabes qué hacer con este repentino terreno resbaladizo,
con este ciego, blanco, espantoso, inaccesible declive.
no hay manera de aprehenderlo con las palabras que conoces.
No hay manera de llegar a él, ni en elefante, ni sobre ruedas, ni a pie.
Nosotros hemos venido aquí tan solo a mirar, y tú eres demasiado nueva
como para querer el mundo en un sombrero de cristal.

Spanish version: Poesía Completa, Bartleby Editores, 2008

Ring Out, Wild Bells by Alfred Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.


And these are two recordings of Auld Land Syne, the popular poem by Robert Burns. The second one is a Japanese version called 蛍の光 and read as "Hotaru no Hikari" (lights of fireflies). Source: Wikipedia.

27 Dec 2008

HAROLD PINTER


Harold Pinter died last Wednesday at the age of 78. His work was part of the syllabus of Literatura Inglesa III together with that of other playwrights which renewed the British stage in the 60’s and 70’s by introducing working class characters and plots as well as avant-garde elements influenced by other European authors.

Among other things, we learnt about his use of speech and silences to expose the nature of his characters: “Pinter’s dialogue – or lack of it – echoes Becket’s strategic use of repetition and pauses () However, while Becket’s silences suggest the alienation of his characters who are victims of the tedium and meaningless of modern life, Pinter’s are ominous and threatening”. This use of language found a place in the English lexicon with the coinage of the adjective ‘pinteresque’ to refer to apparently trivial utterances and silences that disguise a menacing situation.

We were requested to read The Dumb Waiter, a play which provides clear examples of power exertion reflected in language. The story presents two contract killers, Ben and Gus, waiting in a room for instructions. An absent character, Wilson, apparently communicates through a dumbwaiter. Ben continuously manifests his power over Gus by delaying or not giving an answer to Gus’ questions, by changing the conversation topic or by shouting at his mate over unimportant issues.

This an extract from the play:

BEN. Go and light it.
GUS. Light what?
BEN. The kettle.
GUS. You mean the gas.
BEN. Who does?
GUS. You do.
BEN (his eyes narrowing). What do you mean, I mean the gas?
GUS. Well, that's what you mean, don't you? The gas.
BEN (powerfully). If I say go and light the kettle I mean go and light the kettle.
GUS. How can you light the kettle?
BEN. It's a figure of speech! Light the kettle. It's a figure of speech!
GUS. I've never heard it.
BEN. Light the kettle! It's common usage!
GUS. I think you've got it wrong.
BEN (menacing). What do you mean?
GUS.They say put on the kettle.
BEN (taut). Who says?

They stare at each other, breathing hard.

(Deliberately.) I have never in all my life heard anyone say put on the kettle.
GUS. I bet my mother used to say it.
BEN. Your mother? When did you last see your mother?
GUS. I don't know, about--
BEN. Well, what are you talking about your mother for?
They stare.
GUS, I'm not trying to be unreasonable. I'm just trying to point out something to you.
GUS. Yes, but--
BEN. Who's the senior partner here, me or you?
GUS. You.
BEN. I'm only looking after your interests, Gus. You've got to learn, mate.
GUS. Yes, but I've never heard--
BEN (vehemently). Nobody says light the gas! What does the gas light?.
GUS. What does the gas--?
BEN (grabbing him with two hands by the throat, at arm's length). THE KETTLE, YOU FOOL!
GUS takes the hands from his throat.

GUS. All right, all right.
Pause.

BEN. Well, what are you waiting for?
GUS. I want to see if they light.
BEN. What?
GUS. The matches.

26 Dec 2008

THAT'S POLITICAL ORATORY !

Today I want to bring a video with the Obama`s acceptance speech, not for political reasons, but for its rhetorical value. I think this speech is a true masterpiece of political oratory and it is worth to listen it once and again. And not only the speech in itself is remarkable; the speaker knows well his job, also. Take note that he doesn´t read or hesitate in any moment. He addresses right to the audience with confidence and certainty. This is one of those rare occasions in which we can hear a politician using the language for something else than babbling just a bunch of worn topics. Enjoy it!
http://en.yappr.com/welcome/Video.action?videoGuid=836FFF87-1CF2-4C1B-92B8-4DDEBBFAE4E1

23 Dec 2008

CHRISTMAS AND LITERATURE

Looking for something related to literary works and Christmas, I’ve come across Christmas Spirit in Literature, an article published in The New York Times, signed by Holbrook Jackson and dated December 1, 1912, Sunday.

It starts commenting the all-time feeling that past times are better than the present.

'There is no surer indication of the permanence of an idea than popular belief in its impermanence. Elderly people, for instance, are never tired of telling us how different things were in their youth. (They were generally better.) …… Christmas has fallen an easy prey to the sort of pessimism I mean. The statement that Christmas is not so jolly as it used to be, like the equally determined conviction that Christmas weather is almost extinct, has become what Gelett Burgess would call “a Bromidiom”'

Then, the journalist tells us about the enduring force of Christmas which overcomes that kind of negativism:

'Christmas will come again with its wonted merriness, good fellowship, and sentimentality, brushing dissenters aside or sweeping them into the hilarity of ceremonies, as it did long before it became Christmas. Charles Dickens was more certain of that than any other modern when he drew for us the immortal parable of Marley’s Ghost. He knew that the permanence of Christmas depended upon the conversion of Scrooge'.

Next, the writer highlights the idea that the English literature lacks a relevant body of works related to Christmas due to reasons such as the identification of this festivity with sentimentality, a literary mode not fashionable at the time:

'We are becoming more sophisticated even in our popular reading, and find enthusiasm for few books that do not in some way appeal to the sense of fact rather than to the sense of sentiment'.

He defends the idea of different approaches:

'There is no reason why we should not have a Christmas literature of fact, for the idea behind Christmas is one of the most uncompromising facts in the world. I would not mind even if such a literature were quite Zolaesque, for the true spirit of Christmas is in danger of being swamped in a mercenary orgy of present giving for commercial purposes, which only a novelist trained in the French school might be able to describe. Even the sentimentality of Christmas at its best is deep rooted in the fact of fellowship and the need of emotional unity, and, looked at sanely, the convivial traditions of humanity are just as much facts as London Bridge or the Statue of Liberty'.

And he acknowledges Dickens as a writer who managed to express the feeling of the common man towards Christmas.

'He approached Christmas as the common man had always approached it, but, unlike the common man, he had the power of literary expression, and he used that power not to refine upon a refinement after the manner of the cultured but to voice an essentially spiritual mood in the terms of average sentiment'.

Throughout the article the journalist mentions other authors and works such as the Christmas essays by Washington Irving, Milton’s Ode “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”, Ben Jonson’s Christmas, His Masque or 'The Truce of Christmas' by G.K. Chesterton (but this poem, was it not written after the war truce in WWI, in 1914? Quoted in a 1912 paper?)

He ends his article with a call for spirituality, admitting that “Christmas spirit has been departamentalized and divorced from the average spirit of the average day” and longing for the “cosmic quality which binds more than separates” reflected in hymns and folk carols.



Picture: www.flickr.com/photos/12836528@N00/2101495790

22 Dec 2008

YES, I´M A LINGUAPHILE!

Are you a linguaphile, too? Maybe you are and you didn´t even know it! Check it out as soon as possible here http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=linguaphile , or here http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=linguaphile , or here! http://www.bartleby.com/61/59/L0185925.html

18 Dec 2008

TRADUTTORE, TRADITORE

A friend sends me the link to this article, Perdidos en la traducción, published in Público.es. In it, the writer deals with the issue of inaccurate translations in film dialogues and titles. The reasons and effects are different depending on the difficulty to find parallel expressions to mantain the humour of puns, the fact that more than one person in the translation of a script were employed, or even censure.

These are a couple of bizarre examples collected in this article:
- ‘The eternal sunshine on the spotless mind’ (quoting Alexander Pope) was translated as ‘¡Olvídate de mí!’
- "Are there good white basketball players?" became "¿El perro de San Roque tiene rabo?" in the Spanish version.

Cinema and language. Scene 8.
Original and Spanish versions of the scene mentioned at the beginning of the article (from the film Horse Feathers)

Where's the seal?

¡Aquí falta un testigo!

17 Dec 2008

LITOTES AND IRONY

The other day I discovered that litotes and irony are opposed figures of speech. Maybe all of you already knew it, but to me it was a surprise and for about five minutes I felt very proud of myself. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics, a litotes is a figure of speech by which an affirmation is made indirectly by denying its opposite, as in He´s not a bad singer. On the other hand, according to the same source, an irony is a figure of speech in which one thing is said but the opposite is meant, e.g. the statement What a nice weather you have here!, said when you are visiting that friend of you who lives in the City of London.
So, the two figures of speech are opposed to one another. Interesting, but when things get really interesting is when we realize that these figures of speech can appear mixed up in the same statement, as it happens in this example:
- And now, all I need to launch my new business is just one million €.
- One million €, you said? Well, it won´t be difficult for you to get it.
Here the statement it won´t be difficult for you to get it is a litotes because affirms something denying its opposite and at the same time is an irony because what the second speaker means (that is the deep structure) opposes to what he actually says (the surface structure).
Now an open question to which I couldn´t find an answer: Is the term ‘unusual’ a litotes in itself? And if so, can the statement ‘is not unusual’ (as in the lyrics of the famous Tom Jones´ song) be considered a double litotes?
In case you are interested in study the original source of the example, here it is. By the way, did you ever notice how difficult it is to think in any linguistic problem while you are listening to Tom Jones singing?
video

15 Dec 2008

TALKING ABOUT FAVOURITE BOOKS

Blogs allow written comments but also oral ones. This post is just an invitation to record and share a comment on a book (in English or Spanish) that you've read and liked. All you have to say is the title and why you recommend it.

In these days of present buying and holidays to read, we could get some ideas in this way.

The following widget works like this:
- Enter your name or alias.
- Allow access to your computer mike.
- Press on the red button and record your text.
- Stop it and save it by clicking on the green tick.
- Once we've got five recordings we will place them in a post.

14 Dec 2008

MILTON

I learn from this note, mentioned in Vanity Fea, about the one hundreth anniversary of John Milton's birth, a good opportunity to include in this blog one of his poems.

On Shakespeare
What needs my Shakespeare for his honored bones
To labor of an age in piled stones,
Or that his hallowed relics should be hid
Under a star-ypointing pyramid?
Dear son of memory, great heir of fame,
What need'st thou such weak witness of thy name?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thyself a livelong monument.
For, whilst, to the shame of slow-endeavouring art,
Thy easy numbers flow, and that each heart
Hath from the leaves of thy unvalued book
Those Delphic lines with deep impression took,
Then thou our fancy of itself bereaving,
Dost make us marble with too much conceiving,
And so sepúlchred in such pomp dost lie
That kings for such a tomb would wish to die


Further resources:
- A reading of 'On Shakespeare'
- A translation of the poem into Spanish.
- Audio recordings of Milton's poems (Real Player required), a section of the Milton Home Page
- 'To Milton' by Oscar Wilde

10 Dec 2008

BORGES

Acabo de leer El libro de arena de J.L.Borges. En varias de las historias que componen esta obra se encuentran referencias a autores, obras y otros elementos relacionados con temas de estudio de la filología inglesa.

En 'El soborno', por ejemplo, las alusiones son continuas. He aquí algunas citas de este relato que, por otra parte, nos habla de imparcialidad y vanidad:

HISTORIA DE LA LENGUA INGLESA:
“Era profesor de inglés antiguo (no aprobaba el empleo de la palabra anglosajón, que sugiere un artefacto hecho de dos piezas)”

UNIVERSIDAD Y DIDÁCTICA:
“Me dijeron que en los exámenes prefería no formular una sola pregunta; invitaba al alumno a discurrir sobre tal o cual tema, dejando a su elección el punto preciso”.

“El artículo, redactado en un correcto inglés de extranjero, no se permitía la menor incivilidad, pero encerraba cierta violencia. Argüía que iniciar aquel estudio por la Gesta de Beowulf, obra de fecha arcaica pero de estilo pseudo virgiliano y retórico, era no menos arbitrario que iniciar el estudio del inglés por los intrincados versos de Milton. Aconsejaba una inversión del orden cronológico: empezar por la Sepultura del siglo once que deja traslucir el idioma actual, y luego retroceder hasta los orígenes”.

ESTILÍSTICA:
“Más claro es mi recuerdo de su colega Herbert Locke, que me dio un ejemplar de su libro Toward a History of the Kenning, donde se lee que los sajones no tardaron en prescindir de esas metáforas un tanto mecánicas (camino de la ballena por mar, halcón de la batalla por águila), en tanto que los poetas escandinavos las fueron combinando y entrelazando hasta lo inextricable”.

SOCIOLINGÚÍSTICA:

“Opinaba que el uso del slang forzosamente erróneo, hace del extranjero un intruso y no condescendió nunca al O.K”. “Su primer trabajo fue una monografía sobre los cuatro artículos que dedicó De Quincey al influjo que ha dejado el danés en la región lacustre de Westmoreland. La siguió una segunda sobre el dialecto de los campesinos de Yorkshire.

LITERATURA ANGLOSAJONA:
"En 1970 publicó en Yale una copiosa edición crítica de la balada de Maldon. El scholarship de las notas era innegable, pero ciertas hipótesis del prefacio suscitaron alguna discusión en los casi secretos círculos académicos. Einarsson afirmaba, por ejemplo, que el estilo de la balada es afín, siquiera de un modo lejano, al fragmento heroico de Finnsburh, no a la retórica pausada de Beowulf, y que su manejo de conmovedores rasgos circunstanciales prefigura curiosamente los métodos que no sin justicia admiramos en las sagas de Islandia".

FONÉTICA
“Trataré de no defraudarlo. Soy un buen germanista; la lengua de mi infancia es la de las sagas y pronuncio el anglosajón mejor que mis colegas británicos. Mis estudiantes dicen cyning, no cunning”.


El relato contiene muchas más cosas. Borges es capaz de encerrar varias cuestiones que invitan a la reflexión en una simple frase:

"Winthrop lo miró con sorpresa. Era inteligente, pero propendía a tomar en serio las cosas, incluso los congresos y el universo, que bien puede ser una broma cósmica".

7 Dec 2008

WIDENING AND TESTING VOCABULARY

The Merriam Webster Visual Dictionary Online contains around 6,000 labelled pictures organised in topics such as 'Earth', 'Human Being', Clothing', etc. and more thoroughly classified in subcategories within each field. It also provides games for testing word knowledge and sound to check pronunciation.

We can test our knowlegde through a series of 'drag-the-label-to-the-right-blank' games.

wind instruments [3] - Visual Dictionary Online

3 Dec 2008

¡ES (UNA OBRA MAESTRA/UNA AUTÉNTICA PORQUERÍA)!

Aprovecho la entrada de Maite sobre la saga Harry Potter y el posterior comentario de José Ángel para exponer aquí, ante el mundo mundial y de una vez por todas, el Auténtico y Certificado Método de Juan F Para Determinar Cuando una Obra Literaria Es Buena. Sí, porque en cinco años de estudios lingüísticos y literarios ninguna profesora, ni profesor, me proporcionó de forma explícita e inequívoca lo que tanto había venido buscando: una fórmula, sistema o conjuro que me permitiese separar el grano de la paja, literariamente hablando.
Razón ésta que me llevó muy a mi pesar y siguiendo el dicho popular, a confeccionar yo mismo dicha fórmula.
No ha sido tarea fácil y omitiré el farragoso proceso deductivo que me condujo a la conclusión final. Diré tan solo que me ha guiado el principio científico según el cual un objeto, sistema o artefacto es bueno si cumple la función para la que fue construido o diseñado. Esta norma es válida, por supuesto, para cualquier producto del ingenio humano, pero siendo la literatura el objeto de mis desvelos es ahí donde he decidido aplicarla y para mi entera satisfacción, además. Por ello, consideraré desde ahora como ‘mala’, ‘mediocre’ o ‘excelente’ a toda obra literaria, en la medida en que cumpla el propósito para el cual fue escrita, o cuando éste no pueda ser conocido, el propósito que cada lector en particular le asigne.
Así pues, para llevar a cabo dicha clasificación, nos es preciso conocer las intenciones del escritor al respecto de su obra. Esto no supone un obstáculo en la mayoría de los casos, pues, o bien el autor lo especifica con claridad, como ocurre con Poe en el caso de su poema ‘The Raven’, o es fácil deducirlo, como sucede con Tom Clancy o Stephen King, por ejemplo.
De esta manera, determinar la excelencia de una obra (novela, poema, film) se vuelve algo muy simple: basta responder primero a la pregunta ¿cuál es el propósito de dicha obra? Y posteriormente a esta otra: ¿lo consigue? Este propósito puede ser provocar en nosotros alguna emoción determinada, como melancolía, terror, nostalgia, movernos a la risa o excitar nuestro sentido del humor.
Quiero llamar la atención sobre la posibilidad de que el autor tenga un objetivo meramente crematístico y su fin último sea vender un elevado número de ejemplares, objetivo respetable y, en contra de lo que algunos parecen pensar, nada sencillo de conseguir. En ocasiones, también, puede darse el caso de una cierta confusión de objetivos. El poeta que presenta una obra a concurso, ¿quiere antes de nada provocar cierta emoción en el lector o ganar el concurso? Las dos cosas no tienen por qué ir unidas y sería preciso conocer cuál era la prioridad del autor en este caso. ¿Cuál era la prioridad de Agatha Christie, vender muchos libros o envolver a los lectores en los misterios que estos plantean? Fuese cual fuese, está claro que consiguió sobradamente ambos, por lo que no nos queda sino considerar su producción literaria como de la máxima calidad.
Se puede dar la circunstancia, también, de que la intención del autor sea completamente desconocida y en estos casos pasa a ser sustituida por la intención del lector. Pondré una analogía: al salir de casa encontramos una pequeña pieza de plástico, que por su forma y apariencia nos resulta extraña. No sabemos cuál era su función original ni el motivo por el que fue fabricada, pero ocurre que a nosotros nos viene de maravilla para ajustar la pata de una mesa que, por imperfección suya o del suelo sobre el que se asienta, cojea. Esa pieza de plástico pasa a ser excelente para nosotros, pues cumple a la perfección la función a que la destinamos a partir de ese día. Igual ocurre con una obra literaria, cuando se ajusta a nuestras expectativas. ¿Buscamos emoción, entretenimiento, reflexión? Muy bien, ¿la obra nos lo proporciona? Si lo hace, es buena; en caso contrario, no lo es. Así de simple.
Y en esto consiste mi sistema para determinar la bondad de una obra literaria, que a falta de otro mejor y hasta el momento, cumple su función.
Aplicado este sistema a la saga de Harry Potter y dando por seguro que la finalidad de la escritora es batir records de ventas, podemos decir que se trata de una obra maestra. No lo sería si pretendiese crear unas tramas originales, con un lenguaje fresco e innovador y además experimentar con las estructuras narrativas, pero sospecho que no es ese su propósito. Por otro lado, si añadimos además que satisface las expectativas de millones de lectores, lo que muy probablemente sea el objetivo secundario de su autora, nos encontramos con una obra que bien puede rivalizar con cualquiera de las que se estudian durante los cinco años que dura la carrera.
Claro que esto no va a satisfacer a los críticos literarios más exigentes. Ni siquiera a los que sean un poco exigentes. ¡Qué demonios, no va a satisfacer a ningún crítico digno de ese nombre! Pero desafío a que alguien exponga otra fórmula, igualmente objetiva y que reconozca tanto el mérito de los grandes éxitos de ventas como de aquellas obras que buscan únicamente el aprecio de los conocedores literarios.
Un saludo.

INTERVIEWS

Browsing through some of the websites devoted to the departments of English Philology or English Studies in various Spanish universities, I’ve come across FILINA, the one corresponding to the Universidad de la Laguna. In comparison to some other webpages that seem to be incomplete or not often updated, I’ve found this one quite clear regarding the way information is organised and displayed. Furthermore, it includes a series of interviews to teachers and students.