Search Results for: Nadsat

A Policy.

It is rare to see a sequence of letters to the editor used by a journal to such good effect as here in the LRB (10 May 2018); the final note from The Editors made me laugh out loud:

Do we have a policy?

Quite often the London Review publishes articles containing quotations in foreign languages with no translation, as for example in T.J. Clark’s piece on Cézanne’s portraits (LRB, 25 January). My last year at comprehensive school was 2010 and, like more than 90 per cent of my classmates, I do not speak any foreign language fluently. I doubt that the majority of your readers are fluent in French. What’s more, I would be surprised if, in an article about a Vietnamese artist, you would publish an untranslated quotation in Vietnamese. Or in Polish or Arabic (which must be more commonly spoken in London than French).

Does the LRB have a well-defined policy on this? In the 8 March issue Marina Warner’s article appears with French quotations usefully translated, and there is a poem by Galen Strawson entirely in French, which I found evocative in the same way I find, say, Nadsat in A Clockwork Orange to be evocative, though one of the feelings evoked is alienation since none of these languages is intelligible to me.

I concede that there is something alluring about the old attitude of expecting everyone to know French, and I do wish it was still reasonable. When I first started to read the LRB, the occasional untranslated quotation contributed to the impression of intellectualism (along with the austere layout, which should last for ever). It is part of the tradition of literariness in Britain. But it seems more and more to me a pointless tradition. The LRB should be progressive and inclusive, not disdainful of its readers. It should be challenging because it deals with complex concepts and is written to the limits of the language. In Amia Srinivasan’s piece on the ‘right to sex’, the word ‘unfuckability’ is used without scare quotes (LRB, 22 March). It is ‘unfuckability’ that is dangerous, highbrow and literary; untranslated French is just atavism.

                    Conrad Teixeira

A number of people have expressed puzzlement about the title of my poem ‘After Flaubert’ (LRB, 8 March). I shouldn’t have omitted the epigraph, a deeply characteristic comment from Flaubert’s letters (which are, arguably, his greatest achievement): ‘De quelque côté qu’on pose les pieds on marche sur la merde’ (to Louise Colet, Saturday, midnight, Croisset, 29-30 January 1853).

                    Galen Strawson
                    University of Texas at Austin

Which, translated, means: ‘However carefully you tread, you end up with shit on your shoes.’

                    The Editors

While I have no problem reading French, I agree with Teixeira that it should be translated for the Frenchless reader. (Also, if you follow my first link to the letters section, the initial exchange between an indignant Emily Wilson complaining about the review of her Odyssey translation [see this LH post] and her imperturbable reviewer Colin Burrow is both entertaining and thought-provoking.)


A three-minute video describes (and illustrates) a made-up language that turned out useful for a film; in their summary:

Klingon, Elvish, Dothraki, and Nadsat: there are plenty of invented languages used in movies. But one of them, Interslavic, has the potential to be useful to hundreds of millions of people. The language just made its movie debut in a wartime drama, The Painted Bird, and its creator says it could be used by Slavic speakers from Siberia to Slovenia.

Via Trevor Joyce, who also sent this short and hilarious video, “When Irish People Cant Speak Irish,” which shows that it doesn’t pay to exaggerate your linguistic attainments. Thanks, Trevor!

Burgess’s Slang.

This Guardian piece by Dalya Alberge is almost a year old, but I don’t seem to have mentioned it before:

The writer Anthony Burgess invented futuristic slang for his cult novel A Clockwork Orange and was so fascinated by the language of the street that he began work on a dictionary more than 50 years ago. Now his lost dictionary of slang, abandoned after several hundred entries covering three letters, has been discovered.

The work had been hidden in a vast archive of his papers and possessions held by the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, an educational charity in Manchester, where he was born a century ago. […]

[Read more…]


I’m about two-thirds of the way through Kuzechkin’s novel (see this post), and I thought I’d pass along some more of the interesting tidbits I’ve been noticing in this very enjoyable book. First I should say that my earlier thoughts about the title and its translation are no longer operative and my doubts about the relevance of Peter Pan were entirely misplaced, since it is referred to explicitly and frequently, first on page 84: “Peter Pan is a story too, but everything in it is just like in real life. It had kids who didn’t grow up, too, but all their discipline was supported by the authority of a boss.” [“Питер Пэн” — тоже сказка, но там все как в жизни. Там тоже были дети, которые не старели, но у них вся дисциплина держалась на авторитете вожака.] And the book’s title is taken from a song (quoted on page 76) by the fictional group Plastika, which has a female singer, hence the feminine forms in “Перестала быть ребенком,/ Но уже не стану взрослой./ Никогда не стану взрослой…” [I’m no longer a child,/ but I’m not going to grow up,/ I’ll never grow up…] So the gender of the adjective is not as important as I thought it was, and the proposed translation “Young 4 Ever” seems fine.

I continue to be struck by the number of English words, both borrowings (эмо-кор ’emo-core,’ айпод ‘iPod,’ фаст-фуд ‘fast food,’ кидалтс ‘kidults‘) and actual words in the Roman alphabet (bodycount, reset, “The cake is a lie”). It reminds me of Anthony Burgess’s Nadsat, English larded with Russian borrowings, except that that was, of course, fictional. I can only imagine how this English-infused youth jargon must strike Russians of older generations. It does make it easy on the English-speaking reader, though!

Here’s a paragraph describing a very different style of Russian:

The foreman, Nikita, enchanted Sanya by his manner of speaking, his entirely correct Russian language, by the fact that he never made long pauses between words, didn’t use superfluous garbage like nu, mmm, or vot, and what’s more, never cursed. And his voice was pleasant: not severe but weighty, not loud but clear.

[Десятник Никита завораживал Саню своей манерой говорить, своим исключительно правильным русским языком, тем, что никогда не делал длинных пауз между словами, не использовал сорных “ну”, “эммм”, “вот”, и тем более никогда не ругался. И голос у него был приятный: не строгий, но веский, не громкий, но четкий.]

On page 87, the protagonist, Max, has fun playing with the word сюрприз [syurpriz] ‘surprise’ (a loan from French, not English, going back at least two hundred years): “Sur-prise. A strange word. Surrealistic prize? Maybe. A surprise is an unexpected gift. A gift you were afraid to believe in. An unreal gift. SURreal. And any gift is a sort of PRIZE.” [“Сюрприз. Сюр-приз. Странное же слово, — подумал Максим. — Сюрреалистический приз? Да, пожалуй. Сюрприз — это нежданный подарок. Подарок, в который ты боялся поверить. Нереальный подарок. СЮРреальный. А любой подарок — это своего рода ПРИЗ”.] And here’s a passage (from page 108) full of interesting linguistic stuff (I’ll bold the words that are in the Roman alphabet in the original):

[Read more…]


A while back, OUP sent me a reviewer’s copy of From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages, by Michael Adams. I set it aside, thinking it was probably some marginally interesting attempt to cash in on the popularity of all things Star Trek and Tolkien. When I finally took a good look at it, however, it turned out to be a collection of papers edited by Michael Adams, and a fascinating one. The table of contents is after the cut; as you can see, it covers a much wider range of topics than one might think—not only the titular languages and a chapter covering Volapük, Esperanto, et al., but Orwell and Burgess, Hebrew and Hawaiian, even Joyce and Beckett. I was as pleasantly surprised by this book as I was by Arika Okrent’s In the Land of Invented Languages a couple of years ago (see this post). Rather than try to summarize all the chapters, I’ll just quote some bits from the Tolkien one, which is worth the price of admission all by itself. It starts with this wonderful epigraph:

You can’t be a Tolkien fan without liking the look of these fake languages, and I still find them aesthetically pleasing, even now. There is something wonderful about looking at a new language, noticing something of its structure, sensing its power to communicate and hold things. […] And I remember feeling the ground had opened up in front of me when I got to Appendix F.

Jenny Turner ‘Reasons for Liking Tolkien

From the section “Secrecy and hiddenness”:

The piecemeal revelation [of the languages in The Lord of the Rings] preserves a sense of distance, ancientness, and mystery, just as does the gradual and partial revealing of the history of the Elder Days. Instructive comparison my be made with ‘The Notion Club Papers’ […], an unfinished draft in which the legend of the ancient downfall of Nûmenor is received preternaturally by 20th-century recipients. In a kind of linguistic thriller, the tale emerges as the characters gradually decipher fragments of two languages in which it is described, Elvish and Adûnaic. For the language enthusiast, the phonology and declension system are fascinating, but Tolkien’s instinct in abandoning a story so wholly dependent on linguistic investigation was very sound.

From “The pleasures of Elvish philology”:

Because Tolkien constructed his Elvish language family using the pattern of real-world language change, it is possible for the investigation of Elvish to create the same intellectual and aesthetic pleasure that can be found in real-world philology, delighting in the relations and histories of words.[…] The apprehension of these complex relationships—discovering the relation of an obscure word to another element in the same or another language, or uncovering the transformative effect of a series of sound changes—is a source of fascination whether the context is Elvish or English etymology.[…]

Since few people study classical or even modern languages in depth nowadays, very few have had the chance to discover such philological pleasure; but of those who have, many were introduced to it through Tolkien’s languages.

And reader, I was one of them!

I’m tempted to quote some of the detailed linguistic discussions, but I think I’ll just say if you like the sound of the contents and the excerpts, you’ll like this (amazingly inexpensive) book a lot. And you can still run out and get it if you need a last-minute gift!

Introduction, Michael Adams
“Confounding Babel: International Auxiliary Languages,” Arden Smith
“Invented Vocabularies: The Cases of Newspeak and Nadsat,” Howard Jackson
“Tolkien’s Invented Languages,” E.C.S. Weiner and Jeremy Marshall
“‘Wild and Whirling Words’: The Invention and Use of Klingon,” Marc Okrand, Michael Adams, Judith Hendriks-Hermann, and Sjaak Kroon
“Gaming Languages and Language Games,” James Portnow
“‘Oirish’ Inventions: James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Paul Muldoon,” Stephen Watt
“Revitalized Languages as Invented Languages,” Suzanne Romaine
Appendices (“Owning Language,” “Nadsat and the Critics,” “The Case for Synthetic Scots,” etc.)