have received several enquiries as to the derivation, if any, of my
name. Well, not unexpectedly, it has its origin in language study. Here
is the reference: H.A. Gleeson, Jr., An Introduction to Descriptive
On page 134 of
that work, Gleason invents the following unforgettable sentence as an
example of syntactic markers in English that allow understanding (albeit
vague) of such an utterance:
iggle squigs trazed wombly in the harlish goop.
Three of those
markers are obvious when you think about it: the word order, the use of
common words such as “the” and “in” and the endings “-le”,
“-s”, “-ed”, “-ly” and “-ish”.
Many of you, I
hope, will have already discerned a resemblance to a far more famous
piece of nonsense writing. So renowned is it that Horace Rumpole is
always quoting from it, Terry Gilliam made it into a movie and it has
been translated at least six times into French, as well as into 22 other
I refer to none
other than the Jabberwocky poem (from Lewis Carroll's Through
the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There).
apart from your predictable languages like German, Italian and Russian,
those 22 translations include versions in — wait for it — Choctaw,
Esperanto, Latin and Welsh, plus, would you believe, Klingon.
has even been resorted to, not exactly as Gleason does with his “iggle
squigs” sentence to teach syntax itself in a linguistics course, but
in somewhat related vein for a hefty textbook (500 pages) on logic —
Francis Watanabe Hauer’s Critical Thinking, An Introduction to
Reasoning (1989). Here Hauer devotes 100 pages to the importance of
language in the context of logical thinking, spending no less than two
pages on a discussion of how some sort of meaning emerges from those
classic first two lines of Jabberwocky:
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
gyre and gimble in the wabe.
Traces of this
linguistic device are to be found — almost always in proper names —
throughout much English language science fiction. Well-known examples
occur in the Star Wars movies (e.g. Jabba the Hutt) and in Frank Herbert’s
Dune books (e.g. the Shadout Mapes).
And while we’re
at it let’s put our hands together for the cream of the crop, Douglas
Adams’ Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This series has given
us not only marvellous names like Zaphod Beeblebrox, Slartibartfast,
Eccentrica Gallumbits and Oolon Colluphid, but also such portmanteau
word treasures as:
Galactic Gargle Blaster
Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Garfighters of Stug
Binding Fiefdoms of Saxaquine.
All of which
somewhat academic introduction leads nicely to the hidden agenda of
technique of inventing words and phrases in this way have a name? Could
it be extended into a language? And what would we call such a language
— Jabberwocky (or just Jabberwock), Jujub, Tumtum? I like the sound of
Bandersnatch myself, but if any reader knows of an “official” name,
I’ll bow to your expertise.
has potential as a universal language, don’t you think? In my view it
possesses three basic characteristics (not all of them linguistic) that
make it an excellent candidate for such a role:
It is easy enough for
a child to learn, thus giving it a slight edge over Etruscan;
It is more musical
than golf, thus making it more suitable for bath-time; and
It is surely more
laughable than quantum physics, thus affording it a happier future
than Schrödinger's Cat, say — not to be confused with the Cheshire
Cat, of course.
don’t we try a language creation experiment along these lines in Bikwil?
Let me insist right away, however, that the outcome of this verbal
amusement, while certainly in the Carroll spirit of fun, is not intended
to be a parody of Jabberwocky. Yes, there have been parodies, but
I’ve never dared seek them out, because for me that timeless
masterpiece stands alone and should be left alone.
the brief yet haunting opening of a proposed communal adventure epic in
Bandersnatch. Invitations are now extended to all Bikwil
linguists for contributions towards our ongoing pre-circum-modernist,
ambi-sub-constructionist narrative. We’ll restrict them to one paglet
(four or five paragraphs) every few issues because any more may become
just a smidgin tedious.
Now, while I have
your undivided attention, I want to quickly insert here some advice to
you Sydneysiders re a wordy event coming up in November. This is the
1997 Style Council, which this year returns home to New South Wales.
Style Council is
an annual conference on Australian style and usage, intended as a forum
where people with an interest in Australian English can discuss aspects
of language of current importance. As well as the amateur linguist, this
would include professional editors, publishers, journalists,
broadcasters, teachers, lexicographers and software designers. Previous
Style Councils have more than proved their worth in promoting
intelligent consideration of English in Australia and in shaping
linguistic standards and conventions.
Sydney usually reaches around 100.
under the auspices of the Dictionary Research Centre at Macquarie
University in Sydney, Style Council is run jointly by the Centre and The
Macquarie Library Pty. Ltd.
This year's theme
is The Language of the Media. While the programme is not yet
finalised, there are likely to be papers on the ABC's Standing Committee
on Spoken Language, film scripting, the language of advertising and of
the Internet and the writing of film subtitles and autocues for TV.
I hope to bring
you fuller details in the November issue, but just in case that won't
give those who might want to attend enough time to register, I strongly
suggest you contact the Style Council people on (02)9850 9807 or 8773.
The dates and
place are known already, however.
When? The weekend
of 22-23 November, plus an optional workshop on the preceding Friday
afternoon on the new third edition of the Macquarie Dictionary.
Library of NSW, Macquarie St. Sydney.
(prior to 31/10/97) will be about $220.
permitting, I'll be there myself.
Anyway, to come
back to language creation for a sec, just remember the Bandersnatch
cardinal rule. Always read it aloud with gusto . . . or Harpo or Chico
or Ringo or Margo or . . .