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.

16 Dec 2010


Google reminds us today of Jane Austen's 235th birthday. A curious number to celebrate but nevertheless a good pretext to post this short entry.

"Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity, to what we would have others think of us."
Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 5

10 Dec 2010


Evolving English is an exhibition on the English language (history, accents, influences, evolution...) open from 12th November 2010 to 3rd April 2011 at the British Library in London. Its website includes pictures and descriptions of some exhibits, a blog with additional information, and a quiz that can be useful for recalling some issues studied in Historia de la lengua inglesa, for testing our intuition regarding English etymology, or just for fun.

10 Nov 2010


La Biblioteca Nacional ha creado un sitio web dedicado al Quijote en la que se puede hojear una versión virtual de la primera edición de esta obra. Aquí se puede encontrar más información sobre el proyecto y desde este otro enlace entrar directamente en la página.

Vídeo de presentación:

Pero esta no es la única iniciativa para acercar el Quijote a través de los recursos de la Red. La Real Academia de la Lengua anima a hacer grabaciones en vídeo de pequeños fragmentos para completar la lectura de la obra completa. Se puede acceder a la presentación, modo de participar y galería de vídeos desde este enlace.

19 Oct 2010


Last Sunday I heard about "Last Letter" for the first time. Browsing through the Internet for a while, I realise that the discovery of this unpublished poem by Ted Hughes has been a media event in the literary circles of the English speaking world, especially in the UK. The dramatic relationship of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath together with the charm of their two somehow dark and powerful personalities, some aspects of their lives and the quality of their works have the power to make a poem worth reading by many people who otherwise are not too fond of poetry.

13 Oct 2010


Howard Jacobson is the winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize for Fiction for The Finkler Question.
The Finkler Question
is a novel about love, loss and male friendship, and explores what it means to be Jewish today.
Said to have ‘some of the wittiest, most poignant and sharply intelligent comic prose in the English language', The Finkler Question has been described as ‘wonderful' and ‘richly satisfying' and as a novel of ‘full of wit, warmth, intelligence, human feeling and understanding'.
Sir Andrew Motion, Chair of the judges, made the announcement yesterday, 12th of October, from the awards dinner at London's Guildhall.
Andrew Motion comments "The Finkler Question is a marvellous book: very funny, of course, but also very clever, very sad and very subtle. It is all that it seems to be and much more than it seems to be. A completely worthy winner of this great prize.'
Howard Jacobson has been longlisted twice for the prize, in 2006 for Kalooki Nights and in 2002 for Who's Sorry Now, but has never before been shortlisted.

20 Sep 2010


Acclaimed British literary critic Sir Frank Kermode, the author of Shakespeare’s Language, died last august at the age of 90 in Cambridge.
Prominent in literary criticism since the 1950s, Kermode held "virtually every endowed chair worth having in the British Isles", according to his former colleague John Sutherland, from King Edward VII professor of English literature at Cambridge to Lord Northcliffe professor of modern English literature at University College London and professor of poetry at Harvard, along with honorary doctorates from universities around the world. He was knighted in 1991.
A renowned Shakespearean, publishing Shakespeare's Language in 2001, Kermode's books range from works on Spenser and Donne and the memoir Not Entitled to last year's Concerning EM Forster.
Another two of his books that will be probably well remembered are The Sense of An Ending, his collection of lectures on the relationship of fiction to concepts of apocalyptic chaos and crisis, first published in 1967, and Romantic Image, a study of the Romantic movement up until WB Yeats.
The range of Kermode's gaze is shown by his book Pleasing Myself, which pulls together his literary journalism, reviewing everything from Seamus Heaney's new translation of Beowulf to Philip Roth's "splendidly wicked" Sabbath's Theater.
He fundamentally changed the study of English literature in the 1960s by introducing French theory by post-structuralists such as Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault, and post-Freudians such as Jacques Lacan, into what Sutherland described as "the torpid bloodstream of British academic discourse".

14 Sep 2010


Australian author Peter Carey, who has won the Man Booker prize twice, has been shortlisted again for this year's award. If victorious, Carey will be the first author to win three Man Bookers.
He is joined in this shortlist by Andrea Levy, Emma Donoghue, Damon Galgut, Howard Jacobson and Tom McCarthy.
Carey is nominated for Parrot and Olivier in America.
He previously picked up the prestigious literary prize in 1998 for Oscar and Lucinda and again in 2001 for True History of the Kelly Gang.
Parrot and Olivier in America is set during the 19th century - Olivier is a French aristocrat sent to the New World, ostensibly to study its prisons, but in reality to save his neck in a future revolution.Parrot is the son of an itinerant English printer, who must spy on and protect him.
The other titles to make the shortlist are Levy's The Long Song, Donoghue's Room, Galgut's In a Strange Room, Jacobson's The Finkler Question and McCarthy's C.

31 Aug 2010

Insulting in English

David Crystal writes about insults in English in his blog post On Insulting Brits. In it he mentions flyting, a type of contest based on insult exchange, and Shakespeare's work as sources of inspiration for unimaginative angry heated people. The Web facilitates this second task by providing lists of Shakespeare's expressions. These are some examples:

Shakespeare's insults sorted out by plays.

A Shakespearean Insulter presenting one sentence at a time.

Shakespearean Insults Generator produces new insults by combining Shakespeare's words and expressions at random.

28 Jul 2010


In London it is not difficult to come across some reference to writers studied in the literature subjects of English Philology through nameplates indicating the relationship of a particular writer with a building, exhibits in museums and libraries, statues, etc. In my last visit to this city the “familiar encounter” took the shape of a sculptured John Betjeman looking up at St Pancras Station roof. The reason for this honour is the fact that Betjeman fought against the plans for the demolition of St Pancras Station in the 1960's.

29 Jun 2010


El libro total ofrece acceso a textos clásicos, principalmente de la literatura española e hispanoamericana, en un formato interactivo (permite pasar hojas, escuchar audiciones, comparar algunas traducciones...) con apariencia de libro antiguo. En cuanto a literatura inglesa incluye las obras de Shakespeare y alguna de Carrol.

21 Jun 2010


Yesterday I attended a book club session on The Art of Fiction, by David Lodge. Apart from commenting on several novel excerpts and literary devices, we discussed the convenience, usefulness or even influence of previous study on the act of reading. To what extent does acquaintance with literary criticism and text analysis help us enjoy a book?

Probably understanding and therefore appreciating some kinds of works requires prior or subsequent access to guides and essays but most readings can be better 'digested' if we allow ourselves discovery and personal interpretation without feeling prejudiced in some way by brainy pieces of literary criticism.

Related to this issue, I found amusing a short essay by Juan Marsé in which he mocks the triviality of some studies by imagining titles of theses.

“ Por un breve instante, horribles fantasmas de posibles tesinas pasadas y futuras desfilan por mi mente con extravagantes títulos: El significado de los toros y de la humilde patata en la poesía de Miguel Hernández - Estructura, calor y sabor de las magdalenas en la obra de Proust - El Pijoaparte hijo natural semiótico de Henry James, con permiso de Félix de Azúa - Los silencios de Moby Dick y su relación metalingüística con la pata de palo de John Silver y con el mezcal y los barrancos de la prosa de Malcolm Lowry - Madame Flaubert soy yo, dijo Federico García Lorca”.

9 May 2010


The Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies (Southampton University) includes in its website different kinds of resources, among them a list of 700 reasons for studying languages, all of them quoted from diverse sources such as linguists' works, surveys done to sixth form students, EU documents, and many more. After a bit of browsing, I have chosen this reason in order to provide an example:

"Languages give us access to other "countries of the mind", and help us to look back at our own country and culture from a different and more healthily critical perspective"
Footitt, H. (2001) 'Lost for words' in the Guardian, Tuesday October 23 2001

Another section of this website contains the Power Point presentation Why Study Linguistics?, an informative and entertaining slide show aimed at encouraging people to study linguistics.

I've stopped at the following slide:
"What makes a word beautiful?" When reading it I have recalled an evening among friends when someone proposed us to say our favourite words. I found it curious the possible reasons that could make us select words. I'm not saying them here before inviting readers -anyone around here?- to share their favourite word in any language.

30 Apr 2010


This blog does not update too often these days -too much work? other interests? lack of ideas to share? - it does not matter but ... not a single post in April? I still have some minutes left before May starts and, not finding anything more informative or serious, I will allow a bit of nonsense to fill this entry.

Last week I saw Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and enjoyed it. The story was not Carroll's and this time the script contained allusions to a 'real world' which somehow explains and is influenced by the actions underground as well as a conventional plot of struggle between good and evil with a heroine. Anyway it still keeps part of the nonsensical and dreamlike atmosphere of the original.

Alice's stories contain plenty of nonsensical images or dialogues to choose from, among them the poem Jabberwocky.

Here I leave a link to some translations of the poem.

29 Mar 2010


Just a joke for the holidays!

2 Mar 2010


During this month of March, Elmore Leonard, the well known crime writer, is publishing a new book, "10 Rules of Writing". The following is a brief summary of his advice that I have taken from The Guardian.

1. Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a charac­ter's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2. Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday, but it's OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks."

3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" . . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs".

5. Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", what do the "Ameri­can and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story.

9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things, unless you're ­Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

17 Feb 2010


The Globe theatre is to stage the first play in its history by a female playwright. It will be the premiere of a new work by Nell Leyshon.

The original Globe where many of Shakespeare's works were first performed - by all-male companies - has no records of plays by women and, until now, none has been programmed in the modern reconstruction in the 13 years since it opened.

Leyshon is working on Bedlam, a "funny and bawdy" story of a beautiful woman inmate in the London hospital for the insane in the 18th century.

When interviewed by the media, she said she was excited but it did seem "shocking" to be making such a gender breakthrough as late as 2010. "It made me really think about all the women who are in graveyards with their talent for writing unfulfilled. But it's luck for me. I was the first person to come along with an idea that was right for the Globe."

Leyshon, 48 years old and a mother of two, originally made television commercials before turning to writing. She won the Evening Standard award for Comfort Me With Apples only five years ago.

Her work is part of a season that includes a new Howard Brenton play on Anne Boleyn, Dominic Rowan playing Henry VIII and Lucy Bailey directing Macbeth in collaboration with Venezuelan choreographer Javier de Frutos. Bedlam will run from 5 September to 1 October as part of the Globe season from 23 April to 3 October. It is a “must” if you visit London during those months.

15 Feb 2010


Yesterday I read a mention about Lost Consonants cartoons in Language Play by David Crystal. Their author, Graham Rawle, bases the wit of his pictures and captions on the simple fact of altering the meaning of one word by leaving out one of its letters. Crystal tells in his book about the need to know the norm, the correct form of any linguistic form, when they are purposely modified in order to produce a humorous effect in the reader or listener. This can be a good exercise to test our lexical knowledge: to try and identify the original word and compare sentence meanings.

2 Feb 2010


En estos días previos a los exámenes de la UNED, una amiga me pasa la referencia de este vídeo:

No sé qué efecto tuvieron, pero seguro que endulzaron el trago de "reconcentrarse" delante del papel en blanco.

¡Suerte a cualquiera que pase por este blog y tenga exámenes a la vista!

2 Jan 2010


Once again a post from David Crystal's blog leads me to an interesting Internet resource. This time I will comment on International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA), an online archive of dialect and accent recordings for the performing arts created by Paul Meier, author of Accents and Dialects for Stage and Screen.

This website contains a well structured bank of recordings by speakers of English from around the world. Each of them reads out a short passage provided by the organisers and, after that, the participants add some free speech, usually talking about their experience as English learners and their countries, which is transcripted.

1 Jan 2010


I've just read an interesting entry in David Crystal's blog about the way that speakers of English will opt for to call the years from 2010, On tens, teens, or whatever.

I thought that the option of naming the years after 1999 in units, e.g. "two thousand and nine", was something fixed but I see that usage spread will definitely determine the standard form.

In the thread of comments following the post, Crystal adds that "rhythm is an important factor (...) The more that expressions conform to an iambic pattern, the more people like it".