I’m the co-director of the Ponying the Slovos project which looks at invented languages in translation, predominantly focusing on Nadsat, the teen slang of Alex in Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.
But Burgess didn’t just invent one language for his fiction. In fact, like Tolkien before him, he invented quite a few. So we thought late last year it was time to take a look at the others, and try to explain how they function and what they’re made of.
There will, as you might have surmised, be seven more to follow. If the languages of aliens, stone age man, Jesus Christ, William Shakespeare, the streets of 19th century Rome, Australia, Sicily or Medieval Latin blasphemers is of interest, it’s a series which may intrigue you.
Do you remember the time that the manager of the Rolling Stones parodied A Clockwork Orange on their album sleevenotes, and ended up being mentioned in the House of Lords after a complaint from Bournemouth Society for the Blind?
Or the time after that, when the Rolling Stones tried to appear as the droogs in a movie of the novel, and ended up petitioning the screenwriter for the roles? You know, the time when the Beatles signed the petition because they were going to do the soundtrack?
“Enthusiasm is a supernatural serenity,” Henry David Thoreau once wrote. Lingthusiasm, by contrast, is neither supernatural nor serene.
It’s the state of being excited by language, how it works and how it functions.
It’s about being fascinated by phonemes, seduced by semantics and in love with lexis.
It’s why I’m interested in what invented languages do, because in their artificial creation, they reveal the obsessions of their creators in relation to the generally opaque modes through which we communicate.
This one looks at the various legacies and tributes to the post-apocalyptic debased English invented by Russell Hoban for Riddley Walker. Unsurprisingly, they’re largely post-apocalypse narratives themselves.
We have the third Mad Max movie, an Iain M. Banks NON-Culture SF novel, and a novel by Will Self, The Book of Dave, wherein the rantings of a psychotic London cabbie form the basis of a post-apocalyptic future religion.
It’s a fun mixed bag, linked by language, and it was fun to write about them all.
This one’s the third of four now, and does the heavy lifting, addressing the linguistic structure of Riddleyspeak and navigating through some of the earlier critical perspectives on Hoban’s language invention.
To make up for that, the last one, out in a week or so, is all about Riddley’s legacy – Iain M. Banks’ non-Culture SF, Will Self’s post-apocalypse and Tina Turner’s wig, in other words. Don’t forget to tune in.
It’s an astonishing novel, an evocative work of post-apocalyptic world set millennia in the future but demonstrating how the future will be back to the past if we permit the fragile, complex thing we call technologically-enabled civilisation to collapse.
The most notable thing about Hoban’s novel is of course Riddleyspeak, the quirkily spelt, puntastic invented language in which it is written. Meant to evoke both the post-literate society in which it is set and the limited cognitive capacities (and low cunning) of its 12 year old narrator, Hoban’s invented language is a remarkable piece of literary creation.
I’ve been posting about Riddley Walker over at Ponying the Slovos in my own meagre celebration, seeking to get under the bonnet of Riddleyspeak and identify how it works and what it does. I’m hoping to experience sum of the sum poasyum too, but that will be dependent on another creature of complex idiosyncratic communication and low cunning, my infant son.
So if I fail, good luck instead to all who attend and hopefully some of the materials will end up archived and online for those unable to be there, even virtually.
So, after a summer hiatus, there’s a new post on the Ponying the Slovos blog, the first of three looking at Russell Hoban’s post-apocalyptic novel Riddley Walker on the occasion of its 40th anniversary.
Hoban’s novel, like A Clockwork Orange, deals with dystopia by distorting the language, the very means of communication between author and reader. A broken world is revealed piecemeal via broken English.
Can we talk about Riddleyspeak as a language in itself? It’s obviously derivative of English and is supposed to be that English which has evolved over 2000 years following a civilisational collapse. In that regard, by its own premises, it fails. A mere 13 centuries after Anglo-Saxon and Caedmon’s hymn, English is entirely unrecognisable compared to its forebear tongue, whereas Riddley Walker’s English is mostly comprehensible to us on first sight.
Perhaps that is nit-picking, since books are written to be understood and read.