27 August 2008

Contemporary Jabberwocky

I haven't posted much lately here, mostly because I've been completely focused on the start of the Prem and getting my fantasy team in proper order. Nobody cares about my doings in that realm, so I keep it segregated (though if anybody wants to read a footie-related post, I'm happy to oblige, and may start doing so anyway).

Such blindness on my part resulted in my not finding anything else interesting on the interwebs to post about and that's always a bit depressing. However, my spirits were embiggened today when I caught an article via BoingBoing discussing the English usage as an adaptable technology. As a nerd-word-smith I was rather enthused, since poetry is all about finding new expressions in language and the play of word meanings. Crazy make-em-ups—as Lewis Carroll could attest—are not only valuable monetarily these days, but they help keep a language vibrant and relevant. English is notable among world languages for such adaptability and structural freedom. We don't have a language society that makes concrete rules for word usage, we have dictionaries that keep on top of newly coined words and multiple usages.

Does anyone out there know if there is an Urban Dictionary in any other language? I know that French has its own subversive slang, Verlan, but that's a different case, as French, though a beautiful language that I speak poorly, has lots of rules about word development and additions to the lexicon. Use of Verlan is clearly a political act against oppressive elements of French society, in much the same way as corner slang is a method of keeping communications secret. However, in English corner slang is only one source of new verbal adoptions as Erin McKean's Boston Globe piece clearly illustrates. Our language is flexible enough that we can toy with the grammar we learned when young to expand our vernacular in more expressive (or yes, sometimes just plain lazier) ways. Kids do it on the street, academics do it in their papers, and bloggers do it in their moms' basements. Nature abhors a vacuum, so when there is a vacuum in the vocabulary, it makes evolutionary sense that something develops to fit that niche. (Maybe that last bit is a stretch, but it makes sense to me.)

I'd love to hear about this capability in other languages or if this type of adaptability is really an aspect of English that truly sets it apart from other world languages.


Liam said...

I know this is nothing new but it still amazes me:


CMP said...

i will forever protest the fact that you can openly admit to liking fantasy insofar as it pertains to football, but that you hate on my beloved Tolkien's fantasy. your standards? double. yarr.

ps did you know i was one of your 7 fans? it's true. i read your blog daily. well, whenever you update it.