Lost in translation

For some reason, Conrad Hackett — all the way from Washington DC — has revived a Telegraph graphic from last November:

Tel_graphic

First up, I’m wholly convinced that the loss of any language diminished all of us, because it denies tradition, and further narrows the cultural base.

However …

[You knew that was coming.]

I’m unconvinced.

Are all of those “languages”?

Surely some — if not many — are “dialects”. Now, I recall, dimly, as a student being educated — even  berated —on the distinction. Hence I stick to the OED definition:

dialect, n.

A form or variety of a language which is peculiar to a specific region, esp. one which differs from the standard or literary form of the language in respect of vocabulary, pronunciation, idiom, etc.; (as a mass noun) provincial or rustic speech. Also more generally: a particular language considered in terms of its relationship with the family of languages to which it belongs.

That’s a trifle confused and confusing, so I’ll gloss:

A language is common to a country, a people or a community. It abides by regular grammar and syntax structures. So Aberdeen can communicate with Anglophone Austin, TX, and Alicante with Hispanophone ditto. Differences are mainly usage and dialectical. Just take care over local applications and terminology, such as the myriad implications of wedge, not to mention wedgie.

Two further examples of “contrived languages”

1. Cornish is on that list of “threatened” languages.

Let’s be honest: true Cornish died with Dolly Pentreath of Mousehole in December 1777. It may have lingered on with bilingual speakers, such as John Davey of Zennor (though he, it is alleged, had only a few phrases).

What we have of Cornish today is a reconstruction, one of many variants attempted through the Twentieth Century. It is a construct, has to be heavily policed by self-appointed purists, and lacks much of the vitality of a living, changing language.

I used to illustrate how change in language works by asking students how they listened to music. The answer today might be “on my phone”, which is a further iteration from the previous list of terms, all the way back beyond Edison to the phonautograph of 1857. I’d suggest that the term in current use, along with the technology, changes every decade or so. I’d also hesitate today to use the early-1970s “tranny” (a small transistor radio) without misunderstanding.

2. Then there’s the curious business, back around 1960, of the Irish government’s attempt at a “new dictionary” of Irish.

Unwisely, a bounty was declared for “discovering” vocabulary. As I recall one had to provide a certain number of “words”, and in return one received a ten-bob note (a whole 50p!). The devious types at University College, Dublin, saw a ready way of financing their drinking habits. So it started with “sulfur” and rapidly progressed through dodgy Hibernicising of numerous scientific and technical terms. Sadly, or humorously (depending on your whim), this process persists to the present day — though monetary rewards apply no longer.

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Filed under Daily Mirror, Ireland, reading

A tale of two Sams

Taleof2Cams

You wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

She has one of the most published faces in the Tory Press, but today’s front page of The Times did her no favours:

The next time David Cameron asks his speechwriter to find an example of a famous business that has set itself up in a tax haven, helping to deprive Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs of millions of pounds, he may be given an answer a little too close for comfort. 

Smythson, the upmarket stationer where Samantha Cameron works as a highly paid “creative consultant”, has upped sticks from the UK for Luxembourg, one of Europe’s biggest tax shelters.

Company filings have revealed that Smythson, where the prime minister’s wife has worked for nearly two decades, is owned through a complex structure of trusts in Luxembourg and the Channel Islands.

This arrangement is likely to have helped the leather goods business, where a python-skin handbag will set well-heeled customers back £2,000, to avoid UK taxes.

The company is not accused of any wrongdoing — and there is no suggestion that Mrs Cameron has any involvement in the business’s tax affairs — but the news will nonetheless be an embarrassment to the prime minister, who has made clamping down on tax avoidance a feature of his premiership.

That is “news” only after the disaster that was Stefano Pessina putting the Boots in:

Pessina lives in Monte Carlo, with a fortune estimated at £7.5bn. Boots was targeted by tax campaigners when it moved its formal tax residence from Britain to Switzerland following Pessina’s private equity-backed buyout in 2007. Last year when Pessina merged Boots with US group Walgreens, there were plans to move the headquarters from the US to Switzerland for tax reasons, although the idea had to be abandoned in the face of a US political row and a potential customer backlash.

The weekend row started with Pessina, the 74-year-old acting chief executive of the newly-merged Walgreens Alliance Boots, saying that if Labour politicians acted in the way that they spoke “it would be a catastrophe”.

But the real horror must be the comparison of the two images above, both apparently from the same photo-op (“opening the Hong Kong outlet of Smythson”). The photographs are both credited to ImagineChina/Rex. On the left there is the web version, on the right a scan of the print edition.

The latter is a crying shame of a PSD (a Photoshop disaster).

On the other hand …

I find myself reflecting on a chain of coincidence:

  • Samantha Cameron (née Sheffield) is the elder daughter of Annabel (née Jones, and — a divorce and remarriage later — Viscountess Astor).
  • The Viscount Astor, William Waldorf Astor III, is the grandson of Nancy Astor.
  • Nancy Astor was the topic Hamish Henderson (or A.N.Other, for there are other claimants) celebrated in D-Day Dodgers:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4hny_XRaw4

Altogether now:

You’re England’s sweetheart and her pride:
We think your mouth’s too bloody wide…

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Filed under David Cameron, folk music, History, Quotations, Times

The “not-so-good and not-so-great” revisited

Well, to be honest, I’ve lost count on this irregular series. Yet, today I need a peg to hang a hat on:

IT_Leonard

I see, on the shelf behind me, three of Anne Leonard’s oeuvres, in grander company than they deserve:

IMG_0244

In either incarnation, as myself or as pseudonym, I do not appear in any. My circle at TCD in the early 1960s was as active, as interesting, as complex, as talented (if not more so) as that exclusive world of ex-pat, West Brit jeunesse dorée she celebrates. Where she, and her set, mentally resided (mainly in Kensington and the English Home Counties, with the odd baronial pad), we were merely the spear-carriers, the walk-on parts, who flitted across the screen to add texture.

No, Ms Leonard, MBE; no, Colin Smythe (writing that Irish Times puff-piece), yours is not the Trinity I remember:

Trinity was more like an Oxbridge college than a university: you could know “everyone”. And this is what Anne Leonard has shown us in her three volumes, the most recent, Portrait of an Era, a superb visual record of what Trinity was like in the 1960s, with essays and photos by students of students, of scholars, of staff, of President de Valera, of events, cars, fashion, Players, Trinity Week, Dublin pubs, sport, porters in their archaic uniforms, a time when all male students dressed in jacket and tie, and women only wore dresses, men living in college having to attend Commons in their black gowns every weeknight, and when roll calls preceded each lecture and all students had to attend six sevenths of those given in each seven-week term.

The reason for that is my Trinity was definitively in Dublin, in Ireland, and not semi-adjacent to the Kings’s Road. We were not wholly taken by cars, fashion, Players, Trinity Week. Actually, one year we had our own anti-Ball party, which (as I recall) involved drinking bottled beer in the Dublin mountains and watching the sun-rise over Dun Laoghaire. I admit I had a tie, and wore it occasionally — though my “jacket” may have been a donkey-jacket.

Far more TCD students at that time were Irish and Northern Irish than Ms Leonard, MBE, cares to recognise. Our concerns and interests were not exclusively English.

Most of us could not afford the rents of rooms in College: mine was a cold-water flat in a Ballsbridge basement (sanitary arrangements irregular, but hat-tip to the Edwardian bath-house off Botany Bay). We used bars which were not the Bailey or the International: mine was the corner bar of O’Neill’s in Suffolk Street. We ate at joints like the Universal Chinese restaurant in Wicklow Street, when we could afford to — and bread-and-processed cheese when we couldn’t. We travelled by Dublin Corporation bus. We swilled endless quantities of Maxwell House instant coffee. We argued incessantly about things that mattered: Cuba, Irish membership of the EEC, CND, the Black North under the Brookelborough mal-administration.

While Ms Leonard, MBE, and her associates and supporting Players, everyone der biedere Mann, reckoned Max Frisch and The Fire Raisers were the last word on world politics, the TCD Fabians were involved in the Universities Branch of the (Irish) Labour Party, and even reaching out to the assorted odd-balls of Queen’s Labour Group.

Ms Leonard, MBE, writes about her little self-anointed élite: they were, and as these books show, more effete.

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Filed under Dublin., History, Irish Labour, Irish politics, Irish Times, Trinity College Dublin

In the throes

Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma or a hideous dream.
[Julius Caesar, Act II, scene i]

Never so true as when one is having domestic building work done. Or, in today’s case, when — despite promises of an early arrival — it is not being done.

And when an hour in the dentist’s chair is imminent.

Furthermore:

Today, Jan. 9 is National Static Electricity Day! It is a day to have fun and give your friends and family members a shocking experience.

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Filed under Quotations, Shakespeare, York

The map empties

Charles Greenhough, for geograph.org, may have scooped the pool for the the most boring Ordnance Survey Grid Square with TG0645:

TG0645

His comment:

If my map reading is correct this square has a triangle of land at low tide with side approx 50 metres. The only features were two orange buoys a few yards off shore and they do not count because they are on the water. So I believe I have photographed all the land in the grid square in this photo. There is a grid square in the Midlands with one contour line and an HT electricity line crossing one corner which people have claimed is the most boring, but TQ0645 only has a few hundred thousand pieces of gravel, no contours and no electricity, and should take the prize.

The location is Salthouse, on the North Norfolk coast, none too far from my own natal origin. Add a mid-January grey sky to the leaden North Sea, and you have normal for that part of Norfolk.

Another feature of the maps of East Anglia are the expanses marked “disused airfield”. I remember RAF Bircham Newton (last heard of as used by the Construction Industry Training Board), RAF Coltishall and RAF Watton (both used as detention centres), RAF North Creake (where the control tower is a B&B), RAF Langham (like so many, returned to farming), RAF West Raynham, which was where — as a Sea Scout —I first swam in fresh water (and is now housing) …

One that survived for a while was RAF Sculthorpe, in the late-1950s the largest USAAF  facility in Europe, operating RB-45 nuclear bombers.

Now we hear the Americans are pulling out of Mildenhall, Alconbury and Molesworth, all further south and west.

The Yankee occupation of East Anglia (1942-2015) is coming to its logical conclusion. No more “Overpaid, over-sexed, over here”.

The map will show more disused airfields, each filling — no doubt — with red-brick speculative housing, lorry parks and warehousing. Very boring, especially compared to the whiff of  aviation fuel, the accents of Georgia and the Mid-West complaining of warm English beer, produce escaped from the commissary into a country recovering from post-war rationing, the flashing fishtails of Chevrolets, the noise of tactical nukes passing overhead, or the glimpse of a U-2 spy-plane.

And there is that persistent myth, which Prestwick will always deny, that Elvis Presley did a flying visit through Mildenhall.

That would be worthy of a marker on the map.

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Filed under History, Norfolk, United States, Wells-next-the-Sea

Numbers

Three “experiments” (none really worthy of the term) come to mind.

One was a primary-school headteacher who attempted to illustrate size by painting a million dots on the playground tarmac. It had to be done by putting tens into blocks of hundreds, hundreds into thousands … The result was a surface suffering from acute, multi-coloured chickenpox, and achieving total incomprehensibility.

At the other end (and here I’m dredging my memory, so E&OE), Konrad Lorenz did a thing with ducks. He successively removed ducklings from the mother duck. The mother became distressed only when the last-but-two duckling was offed. Lorenz concluded that ducks count “One, two, many …”

The third was my own attempt to get students to appreciate the limits of their imaginations.

  • “Close your eyes. Imagine — say a milk-bottle on the doorstep.” [Gosh! That dates me. When did one last see that domestic detail?]
  • “Now put a second bottle down beside it. OK: everyone got a mental image?” Nods all round.
  • “And a third. And a fourth …”

My own conceptualising ran out at seven. Then I had to “see” two rows of four … Either my persuasion was so good, or that’s about the natural limits. Very few students claimed to be able to produce a clear picture of more than seven.

Holocaust

Here’s another example of our intellect being betrayed by number.

The Greek word means “consumed by fire”. At some point it was transformed into mass-sacrifice, and therefore into its modern usage. That may date from Tyndale’s Bible of 1526:

… to love a mans neghbour as him silfe ys a greater thynge then all holocaustes and sacrifises. [Mark’s Gospel, 12.33]

Numbering the dead

I had a look back to President Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor speech. I wasn’t too surprised to notice the vagueness over the casualties (which hadn’t yet been properly assessed, of course):

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

That is about the sum of it.

Similarly, President Bush on the evening of 9/11, is far from crystal clear:

Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes or in their offices: secretaries, business men and women, military and federal workers, moms and dads, friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror.

“Thousands of lives”: at Pearl Harbor the count made later was:

The Navy and Marine Corps suffered a total of 2,896 casualties of which 2,117 were deaths (Navy 2,008, Marines 109) and 779 wounded (Navy 710, Marines 69). The Army (as of midnight, 10 December) lost 228 killed or died of wounds, 113 seriously wounded and 346 slightly wounded. In addition, at least 57 civilians were killed and nearly as many seriously injured.

And

The September 11 attacks resulted in 2,996 immediate (attack time) deaths: 2,977 victims and the 19 hijackers. A total of 372 people with non-U.S. citizenship (excluding the 19 perpetrators) perished in the attacks, representing just over 12% of the total. The immediate deaths include 246 victims on the four planes (from which there were no survivors), 2,606 in New York City in the World Trade Center and on the ground, and 125 at the Pentagon. About 292 people were killed at street level by burning debris and falling bodies of those who had jumped or fallen from the World Trade Center’s windows. All the deaths in the attacks were civilians except for 55 military personnel killed at the Pentagon. Some immediate victims were not added to the list until years later.

I seriously doubt that many of us carry cold statistics, like those, in our heads. We round the numbers at best, or focus on the odd one or two victims known to us.

So those 888,246 ceramic poppies I saw planted in the Tower of London moat come down to a single grave, my grandfather’s, at Doullens Communal Cemetery Ext No 2. The toll of the Second World War subjectively amounts to cousin Jean Chapman, among the other ATS girls of 121 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, taken out by a sneak bomber at the Imperial Hotel, Great Yarmouth, in 1943.

Je suis Charlie

What I’m attempting to do here is comprehend the upsurge of popular emotion over the Rue Nicolas Appert murders.

I do not believe it is for some abstract: the “Freedom” featured by the Times, the Telegraph and Daily Mail headline screamers:

Freedom

Nor the even-more bizarre metaphor in The New York Times

Charlie Hebdo Carries Torch of Political Provocation

By comparison, and by far, the most effective, human, front page today was that “Up yours!” of the Independent:

timthumb-3.php

It may also be the very name of the magazine: again, not an abstraction but a comfortable prénom.

Twelve, the number of the dead, is one of those iconic numbers, enough for a small circle of acquaintance. It is the complement of the minibus on the way to the football, the population of a typical office, the moment when an empty bar or café starts to feel it is filling up, when we look around and feel we may have chosen the right restaurant after all. It is an understandable, embraceable, personifiable group.

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Filed under Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, History, Independent, New York Times, Quotations, reading, Religious division, Times

Je suis Charlie

Day by day, we are impoverished.

The forces of darkness intrude progressively into our lives, our liberties, our world view. Their hatred, by a process of osmosis, creeps into the way we think, the way we interact. It needs an effort of will not — in small, but perceptible stages — to be infected by their poison. Which is what they crave.  To that extent, they are winning.

I’ve seen Charlie Hebdo on Parisian news-stands. I’ve never bought it, read it. Suddenly its irrelevance, its irreverence has become fearfully relevance, and deserve reverence.

- — o 0 0 — -

It’s a trivial thought, but I did a double take, seeing the face of murdered editor, Stephane Charbonnier. For a moment of time I was wondering what the late Simon Hoggart had to do with this story. Separated at birth?

Hoggart—Char

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