For the NYRB, Tim Parks meditates on writing in English through investigating various authors who made switches from native tongues to the more economically viable lingua franca, like Nabokov and Conrad—or who did the exact opposite, like Jhumpa Lahiri—all in effort to answer the question: Why write in English?...more
Posts Tagged: language
The New Yorker profiles Ocean Vuong, who muses on the English language, growing up around women, Frank O’Hara, and the vestigial nature of clichés. And with his first book of poetry published just last week, he addresses the feelings of strangeness that accompany the act of making poetry and writing into a career:
When the poet-novelist Ben Lerner joined the faculty, he introduced Vuong to the notion that a life of writing might be possible.
At JSTOR Daily, linguist Chi Luu looks at language loss in victims of trauma, specifically trauma in wartime. Luu’s case studies range from a monolingual teenaged prisoner isolated in Guantanamo Bay to POWs in Russia isolated from their native cultures and first languages for decades at a time....more
Interpreting someone’s utterance often requires attending not just to its content, but also to the surrounding context. What does a speaker know or not know? What did she intend to convey? Children in multilingual environments have social experiences that provide routine practice in considering the perspectives of others.
For Guernica, Elisa Gabbert explores the incorporation of emoji into language and fiction. Gabbert also addresses the idea of diachronic translations, i.e. translating fiction from one historical era to another, and what place hyper-specific contemporary technology like emoji have in fiction....more
Nothing connects you with a text or an author like being a translator.
Book Riot contributor Rachel Cordasco reached out to twelve literary translators and asked them what inspired them to pursue a career in translation. Their answers will inspire you, too....more
We need to know that the dictionary, as an institution, has a cultural power beyond the sum of its parts…And that does carry with it a responsibility to realize that we exist within that tension, and to not always hide behind the idea of descriptivist lexicography
Over at the New Yorker, Nora Caplan-Bricker compiles stories of problematic dictionary definitions and ultimately calls for dictionaries to reexamine their construction and eliminate sexist definitions....more
But the truth is, it might not be travel so much as languages that inform and inspire me. It’s the defamiliarization that foreign languages provide that makes me want to work harder to appreciate and fully inhabit my own.
Over at Graywolf Press, poet Jennifer Grotz blogs about the unfamiliarity of foreign languages and literary translation....more
Chi Luu writes for JSTOR Daily on the popularity of invented languages, ranging from the mystical language created by a 12th century abbess to contemporary constructed languages such as Esperanto and Klingon.
Invented languages found in literature are really examples of linguistic artistry, language for art’s sake, not necessarily for real world utility or universality….
At the Atlantic, Adrienne LaFrance defends teenagers’ ever-maligned contributions to the lexicon, citing a recent student that examines the extent to which teens influence linguistic change:
And the thing about linguistic changes is they can’t exactly be stopped in any sort of deliberate way…Even old-school grammar geeks are warming up to “they” as an acceptable gender-neutral pronoun, understanding that culture doesn’t just trump language rules, it creates them—then destroys them, then creates new ones again.
In the American imagination the black woman, whether light skinned or dark, is already a sexualized entity, a character upon which so many stereotypes are projected. But as a black woman writing these characters, I need to write beyond the stereotypes, expose their idiocy one page at a time.
The Oxford English Dictionary, the first comprehensive catalog of the English language, took seventy years to compile. Volunteers aided the project, and one of the biggest contributors happened to be a murderer who lived in an insane asylum:
Through the years, the OED’s editor had enlisted hundreds of volunteers around the English-speaking world, and probably took for granted that a mysterious stranger was happy to cite word usage for him all day, because he was editing the most ambitious lexicographical project in the English language to date.
Based on the available evidence, if you want to write one of the fifty most important novels in the next half-century, then by all means avoid sentimental language. But if you want to get published, sell books, be reviewed, win a prize or simply make someone happy, then emote away and just write a good novel.
Writing for Aeon, Elijah Millgram uses 1984 and George Orwell’s Newspeak/doublethink idea of language to examine why imperfect language, and expression that is sometimes inexact, contradictory, or misleading, can be better for developing the scope of human reasoning....more
As it’s most commonly used, badass implies both toughness and disaffectedness. It’s rare to look at someone whose chief qualities are measured thoughtfulness and open emotionality and declare her a total badass.
At The Awl, Annie Abrams gives the history of a 19th-century newspaper, Di Anglo-Sacsun, and its editors’ attempts to make literacy more available to the public, by developing their own phonetic alphabet that the newspaper was written in. Abrams also dives into the controversy surrounding the name of the paper:
Andrews and Boyle pointedly explained that they did not choose the title “in a partisan or national spirit, or with a view to render prominent the dysfunction between the different branches of the human brotherhood,” but instead “because it seems to us to contain a proper allusion to the language which it is our primary object to reform.”
At Aeon, John McWhorter explores the twists and turns through English’s linguistic history that brought us the “deeply peculiar” language structure used today....more
Punning surprises us by flouting the law of nature which pretends that two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time.
Where does the pun come from? And why does it prompt ubiquitous eye-rolls? Dive into the history of the “comical frolic” over at JSTOR....more