Language

Language 2018-02-16T20:46:37+00:00

Language

Linguistics

Linguistics and writing are different, but related, things. In my career with computers I dealt a great deal with translating between computer languages, and I thought (wrongly!) that ordinary, natural languages would be just as easy to translate. I was not the first person with that misapprehension. I met, through the British Computer Society (BCS) several people who were actively working on real Machine Translation, and producing theories about it and plans as to how it could be achieved. We set up a specialist group – the Natural Language Translation Specialist Group (NLTSG – a horrible name!) – which looked at systems as they were planned and produced and distributed. I was chairman of that group for a number of years (seventeen, if I remember rightly), and I produced two books and several papers on the subject (for a list, see the Bibliography).

For about twelve years I worked for a French company – gsi (since then taken over by adp) – and for part of that time I was posted to Paris. It was essential for me to learn French – proper French, and not the feeble stuff they used to teach English schoolboys back in the 1950s. French works differently from English, and those of you who speak more than one language will know that that’s true for every pair of spoken languages. When I was thinking in English and translating into French before I spoke my speech was slow and very imperfect: when I began to think in French then my speech was more fluid.

These two sources gave me an interest in linguistics, and how human languages are constructed – theoretical and practical. I speak English and French – but I have studied Latin, Russian, Sanskrit and Farsi. I can read – and understand – simple Italian and Spanish. A close family friend and my Canadian/Chinese daughter-in-law are trying to get me speaking Cantonese. I have even contributed to the development and documentation of an artificial, constructed language – Talossan (see also the Talossan wiki and the main Talossan site, which give links to the detailed language description).

Will I ever learn all the 7,000 languages now in the world? I doubt it!

Literature

Do I write literature? The honest answer is “no”. But I have written letters and technical essays and poems – and published books. Four of the non-technical books are for children or young people, and only one is for adults. You can see a list of then in my technical Bibliography.

Emerald Pie is a story for children from about eight years old. It tells an utterly unrealistic story about a boy (assisted by a huge fruit-bat) who chases a thief, get lost, is followed (and released) by his most eccentric great-aunt. Of course, things don’t go completely smoothly – and we have villains who speak a dreadful language (full of strange sounds), sympathetic ballet-dancers, a cook who is unbelievably weird, and problems at the border for our hero’s parents. The advertising for the book says “When Simon gets his birthday present from Great Aunt Fanny Wopdrop, he is delighted. His present is a bat – a fruit bat – very nearly the largest bat in the world. But there follows an adventure with a sinister thief, stolen emerald rings, old castles, a king’s jubilee party – and a cook who sings out of tune. All great fun – and suitable for children of all ages. (The book has been tested on selected grandparents and grandchildren, and has no long-lasting effect other than causing them to giggle.)”.

The Carpenter’s Carpet is for younger children, and contains short stories drawn from several of the religions and philosophies of the world, as well as the ancient collections of fairy stories. Some of the stories are amusing, some are quieter – but all of them are instructive. As the advertising says: “The stories in “The Carpenter’s Carpet” are all teaching stories from old traditions and religions. The three Krishna stories about God’s hidden power & personal contact (“Birthday Party“, “A Pot of Butter” and “Swimming“) come from Hinduism. There are Sufi teaching tales too, showing how the mind can move faster than all things and yet be deflected by inattention (“The Woodcutter’s Horse“, “The Carpenter’s Carpet“, “The Kurd’s Camel” and “Think Ahead“). The story of Noah is from the Old Testament, and “Yellow Coat” and “Sparrows” are from the Apocryphal New Testament. “Diamond Cut Diamond” is a Sikh tale from Bengal. Pay attention and dream; think far and look near; remember that love is the most powerful weapon of all. Smile – and perhaps you will find another Woodcutter’s way of moving between worlds.”

A Lad in Knaphill and His Magic Lamp is a pantomime that was written for Knaphill Methodist Church. A Lamp that is a bit damp, and does not always produce the genie you expect, an evil magician who talks in verse, characters dressed in clothes from the wrong pantomime, and of course the Principal Boy who falls in love with the lovely princess – despite the Dame. We found it great fun to put on… and (heaven help us!) I played the part of the Dame – Widow Twanky. If you can find an Abanazer as good as ours you will be most fortunate: that part was played by my daughter, Miranda, who had to learn a part consisting entirely of rhyming couplets. And she did it beautifully.

Cinderella and her Bearded Sisters is also a pantomime, also originally for Knaphill Methodist Church. The glass slipper, the midnight clock, a Fairy Godmother with a confused apprentice, the magic of transformation – and a Prince who (accidentally) becomes a football fanatic. A pantomime for all. In our production Prince Charming was elegantly slender, and our Aladdin was too heavy to jump into her – I mean his – arms… so Prince Charming jumped into Cinderella’s arms. Why bearded sisters? Because the two “volunteers” for the Ugly Sisters had (and still have) beards. And why do they refer to themselves as twins? Well, the two actors share the same birthday – several years apart. Hence I was the older one.

Unremembered Future is declared in the sales blurb as “A surreal and thoughtful tale of a computer scientist with a difference. There is lashings of humour and sex and computing and linguistics and very odd events to keep you intrigued from cover to cover”.  This is a bit of sly misdirection, as the design core of the book – though not visible on first reading – is the bringing together of the possible and the impossible, of dreaming and language, and of the fluidity of time. Yes, there is a computer scientist involved – that bit of the blurb is accurate.

Pantomime

How do people other than those from the UK understand pantomime? There are traditional stories that are mangled each year – pantomimes are customarily put on at Christmas time – with new topical references inserted. The Hero (male) is often played by a Girl – who is called the Principal Boy. There is always a comic Dame (female) who is played by a Man. There is always villain – who is very clearly evil <insert wicked snigger here>, and who the audience always greet with boos and hisses. Oh, I forget to tell you – the audience are a major part of any pantomime performance. The audience will be families, from children to grandparents, and there have to be jokes suitable for all of them. Some children can be invited onto the stage to talk to The Hero and The Dame – which all can enjoy. And there is always the “he’s behind you!” from the audience, and “Oh no he isn’t” and “Oh yes he is” and lots of confused interaction between the actors who (apparently) don’t know what’s happening on the stage, and there’s slapstick, and there’s dancing, and there’s singing… and there is always a happy ending.

Thesis

Miss Miranda Kelly wrote a thesis on The Simpsons, South Park and Carnival, which you should find of interest (visible Thesis.pdf and downloadable here). Unlike me, she does write literature.