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.

29 Sep 2009

¡PELIGRO!

Los seres humanos compartimos ideas, conceptos y experiencias, sin embargo comunicarlas es mucho más difícil de lo que podría parecer a simple vista. Al menos comunicarlas de forma comprensible e inequívoca.

En los Estados Unidos de América un grupo de expertos en antropología, lingüística, astronomía y otras ciencias han pasado años intentando en vano encontrar la forma de transmitir un concepto simple y universal: ‘peligro’. El gobierno de este país les asignó la tarea de encontrar la forma de señalizar una zona que alberga desechos nucleares, pero teniendo en cuenta que estos desechos permanecerán activos al menos durante 10.000 años y que estas señales deberían ser comprensibles para quienes se acerquen al lugar por ese entonces. Los expertos, divididos en dos grupos que han trabajado independientemente, no solo no han sido capaces de encontrar un símbolo con el que transmitir esta idea, sino que ni siquiera han coincidido en sus conclusiones. Mientras que unos proponen una serie de ‘señales’ o ‘inscripciones’ informativas, otros consideran que los símbolos empleados deber producir ‘horror’, de forma que disuadan a quien se acerque al lugar de excavar o tontear en la zona. Finalmente, han optado por recomendar que diversos paneles escritos en distintos idiomas transmitan la naturaleza del peligro, con la esperanza de que puedan ser así descifrados y entendidos claramente.

En cualquier caso, lo que parece claro es que, si bien una serie de conceptos elementales comunes se encuentran presentes en la mente de todo ser humano, la forma de expresarlos varía en función de las distintas culturas, sin que sea posible encontrar ningún símbolo cuyo significado trascienda el tiempo y el espacio.

27 Sep 2009

NEWSPEAK

These days I’m reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and I’ve found it interesting the author’s criticism of political manipulation of language. To do so, he admits the power of language to shape ideas and thought by creating a fictional situation where a totalitarian regime fosters lexical impoverishment. These are a couple of quotes from Chapter 5:


'It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn't only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take "good", for instance. If you have a word like "good", what need is there for a word like "bad"? "Ungood" will do just as well -- better, because it's an exact opposite, which the other is not.

'Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.



But the work of Orwellian lexicographers does not limit itself to reduction. New words still emerge as new concepts gain protagonism.

The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself -- anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offence. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called.


In fact Orwell had often shown his concern about the use of language. In his essay 'Politics and the English Language', he criticises inflated and rhetorical discourse as a kind of euphemism to conceal truth. He also contributed to broaden the English lexicon in an involuntary way: expressions such as “Big Brother”, “doublethink” or “Orwellian” itself are part of current usage.

22 Sep 2009

SEVEN DIDN'T ARRIVE TO THE SHORTLIST

The Booker Prize organizers published last week the shortlist for this year’s awards. You can find it in a previous post in this blog. In the way to this shortlist seven other books have fallen from the initial longlist where 13 books were initially chosen. Here you have the seven that never arrived to the shortlist:

Me Cheeta by James Lever
The ‘autobiography’ of the chimpanzee who co-starred with Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan films.

Heliopolis by James Scudamore
The book is told from the perspective of a 27-year-old who was born in a Sao Paolo shantytown but now lives on the other side of the city’s social divide.

The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey
It is the story of a man in his early 60s who is struggling with the onset of Alzheimers and trying to keep his memories and identity as the debilitating disease takes hold.

Love and Summer by William Trevor
This story is set in a small Irish town over the course of one long summer, when a stranger arrives on his bicycle and falls for a young married girl.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
A young Irish woman leaves 1950s Ireland for a life in Brooklyn.

Not Untrue & Not Unkind by Ed O’Loughlin
The book follows the story of journalist Owen Simmons who finds a dossier on the desk of his dead newspaper editor which leads him to Africa and a woman he once loved.

How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall
This book weaves together four stories spanning half a century, from an elderly Italian painter to the young blind girl he teaches.

20 Sep 2009

RECOMMENDING BOOKS

Today I participated in a first session of a book club in English. It's been a kind of introductory meeting where the participants have commented on one or more books that we've read and enjoyed sufficiently as to recommend them to others.

These are some of the titles mentioned in the evening:

Possession by A.S. Byatt.
Experience by Martin Amis.
Bleak House by Dickens.
The Queen of Whale Cay by Kate Summerscale.
Dreams and Shadows by Robin Wright.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.
A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry.
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry.
Deaf Sentence by David Lodge.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett.
Why Men Want Sex and Women Need Love by Allan Pease & Barbara Pease.
Some books by Laurie Graham.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami.
Wild Nights by Joyce Carol Oates.

12 Sep 2009

NO COMMENTS

9 Sep 2009

BOOKER PRIZE 2009 SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED

A S Byatt, J M Coetzee, Adam Foulds, Hilary Mantel, Simon Mawer and Sarah Waters have been announced as the shortlisted authors for the 2009 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.
The six books are: A S Byatt The Cildren's Book; J M Coetzee Summertime ; Adam Foulds The Quickening Maze ; Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall ; Simon Mawer The Glass Room and Sarah Waters The Little Stranger.
Having previously won in 1999 with Disgrace and 1983 with Life & Times of Michael K, South African writer J.M. Coetzee would be the first author to win the Man Booker Prize three times if successful this year. A.S. Byatt is in the running for a second win - her novel Possession won the Booker Prize in 1990. Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black was longlisted in 2005. Sarah Waters has been shortlisted twice for Fingersmith (2002) and The Night Watch (2006). The youngest on the list, at 34, is Adam Foulds and Simon Mawer is shortlisted for his eighth novel, The Glass Room.
The winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize for Fiction will be revealed on Tuesday 6 October 2009 at a dinner at London's Guildhall and will be broadcast on BBC News across television, radio and online. The winning author will receive £50,000 and can look forward to greatly increased sales and worldwide recognition.

7 Sep 2009

CRUZADAS ORTOGRÁFICAS

Stefan Gatward, un jubilado inglés de Tunbridge Wells, ha comenzado una campaña particular en contra de la ausencia de apóstrofos en los carteles de su localidad. Esta acción ha provocado tanto apoyo como rechazo. El Daily Mail lo califica de 'héroe de la puntuación' y el Telegraph de 'apostrofista', mientras algunos de sus vecinos lo consideran simplemente un vándalo.

Asimismo me entero a través de la entrada GUERRILLA ORTOGRÁFICA del blog Palabras Tendidas de la iniciativa de Pablo Zulaica, que consiste en añadir en carteles y rótulos públicos unas grandes tildes de papel en aquellas palabras en las que faltan. Pablo tiene además un blog, Acentos perdidos, en el que explica, desarrolla y anima a expandir esta campaña.

Inserto aquí también este vídeo de la televisión argentina que ilustra la actuación de Pablo: