The Preface and the Intro are here as tasters for the full monty
Extracts from Chapter 1
Chapter 1 is intended to remind us of the wonderland and playing field that language was for us when we were babies and we had the whole of our future & potential ahead of us. Babies do a very special thing at a very early age, which we/they have serious difficulty doing when we/they/ grow older: learn a language, from scratch to perfection in (comparatively) a fraction of the time it takes a Ferrari to go from 0-60 mph. All by ourselves/themselves! Yes, we each performed miracles when we were younger, and babies are still doing it without fail, generation after generation. You can't stop them and they probably don't even realise they're doing it. You did it, I did it, we all screamed for ice-cream. You probably don't remember yourself doing it; I wasn't there, but I can assure you that you really did it.
This section talks about something you might find complicated, but that's only because you're handicapped by being an adult; this was as easy and pleasurable as playing with Lego before you learnt to walk. It is about how and why languages settle upon which particular tools of the many available to create their plurals may seem complicated. However, it describes a reality that you went through, I went through and everyone you know went through when we/they were babies. You may even have a baby who's having fun doing this right now. Babies don't need Playstations. They've got umpteen levels of language to toy with!
This next section is about my youngest niece Bethany, and relates to what I said in the paragraphs above
This section was intended to show the language we use in a wider context, seeing it as part of a larger and living organism. I had fun writing it, which probably means it's self-indulgent and rubbish to read (Ha Ha! I got in and said it before you!). However, I do like the speculation about different artists, speakers of different languages being brought together in a pub, with MAs & PhDs up for grabs
This was an aside in the book, something that happened to Brazilian friend who was living in Bilbao, Spain
The next extract I want to offer you is quite long, probably tangled and maybe too convoluted. But it does get to the point eventually, and it does include a real problem I had in Spanish and tried to sort out with a Spanish student and friend. Trying to categorise real-world concrete realities and hypothetical concepts into unreal, grammatical categories such as masculine and feminine.
I used the episode of Tony
Blair blagging the House of Commons into dragging the UK into Bush's war in
Iraq, the Hutton Inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly, the government
dossier from September 2002 which introduced us to Tony Blair's 45 minutes
warning & Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction as examples of
why we should care about language and be
critical of the official language politicians use for their own purposes.
People in power recognise language as being so important that its manipulation is high on their agendas. So should we.
This section has me looking at
the tools languages can use to
refer to the past.
Again, it touches on problems everyone has had when trying to get to grips with
languages, but focuses on English.
I think if you can examine your own language dispassionately, as a foreign language, you will see the complicatedness in the way it is structured and is put together by our brains during communication, and may come away with some respect for our faculty of language.
It features a conversation between 2 idiots, the double act of the left-hand side and right-hand side of my brain. They look at English from the standpoint of aliens trying to understand inconsistencies in English's pasts.
The next section goes a stage further, with both sides of my brain behaving as language students, trying to make sense of notes of mine about Italian plurals. It's a full-blown sketch, and will be a script for a short film when I can get round to it.
Extracts from Chapter 3
The Chapter 1 section above
about Blair & WMDs contains a footnote about a supposed complicatedness of a language that
everyone has heard about and believes unreservedly -the Eskimo words for 'snow'-
compared to a lesser known complicatedness -English words to refer to 'mud'. This
is relevant to the WMD section, in that it stresses the importance of not having blind
faith in the information you are presented with. Do your own investigation, look
for more sources.
Then in chapter 3 I used what I considered to be an interesting article I found online, about the many Inuit words for various stages in the development of various kinds of pack ice.
Brainese - language as it exists our brains. How & where. And why. How my brain might be similar to or different from my ancestors who spoke other languages. And the same goes for you & your ancestors. Is your language already inside your brain from birth?
Socialese - your language isn't just what you're born with. It's what you've made of it since you were a baby. And your language is unique - however it exists in your brain, nobody else has ever had your language. You might never have thought so, nor realised it and probably nobody has ever told you that. But what you have in your head is unique, and it won't survive you, it won't be passed on to your kids. Your kids will forge their own uniqueness. Every language-speaking human has done the same. Even me.
Culture Counters. Things that make us us. Those essentials of our human knowledge which are crafted using the tool of language. These make the language we use unique to us. They are only known to us, the language's speakers. Knowledge of our predecessors' languages is useless for predicting these, and our descendants won't know them if they aren't communicated to them via language
Jokes - Check out the one about the Phoenician, the Assyrian & the Babylonian
Gossip - David Attenborough telling us about bees from different hives bitching about one another & sneaking into each other's hives to send their rivals away from a nectar source. If you'd like to hear about saucy gossipy bees, this section is for you
Nursery Rhymes - Lolly ices & lolly pops or ice lollies & pop lollies? While you mull over that question, your heart will go out to the poor spider who gets drenched in an English nursery rhyme, only to then watch in despair as a bunch of elefante dudes from a Spanish nursery rhyme swing on her cobweb
Slang & Jargon - Bound up with your socialese, the various slangs & jargons you have picked up over the years help make your knowledge unique
Extracts from Chapter 4
The Rosetta Stone was something I'd vaguely heard about on TV documentaries. But I knew enough about it to know that it was
(ii) connected with languages
In other words, a linguistic icon. Or the nearest thing to an icon that linguistics has. Like Eskimo 'snow'. Linguistics is always a minority interest, I reasoned, so if I can fit it into my book, I might make it even more famous and lift linguistics' profile. Ahem. So after reading about it, I here offer as a modern example the back of a can of shaving foam, with its instructions of all kinds of crazy languages. But be warned - the left-hand side of my brain manages to twist it into a Shavingfoamgate conspiracy theory
This is A Bit Extreme, a short section that was real fun to write. I was speculating about speakers of crap languages and bumping into speakers of Old Norse in a pub I called the Sassenachs' Heads.
Extracts from Chapter 6
At certain points during the writing of the book, my doubts and uncertainties about what I was doing and why would overcome my confidence. Fortunately never enough to stop me writing. This section shows the left-hand side of my brain rallying the people I most admire around to give me a much needed pep talk, helping me get back on track. (My heroes in this dramatised interlude end up going off to the Sassenachs' Heads). There are echoes of the MA/PhD extract above.
Extracts from Chapter 8
In my conclusion, here's more speculating in the Sassenachs' Heads about Old Norse, *Proto-Indo-European & even *Pidgin Indo-Norse. All of these Sassenachs' Heads/MA/PhD extracts I refer to here have aspects in common
Copyright © 2005/6/7/8/9 by Denis Murphy. All rights reserved. Revised: 04 Oct 2012 03:56 .