Random thoughts on language

A few language-related items that have captured my fancy of late:

1. My friend Lori DiPrete Brown, in response to my announcement at our Spanish book club the other night that I had finally begun to write a blog, proclaimed us “bloguerinas” (I guess that would be “bloggerinas” in English). I love this coinage, and hope it will be widely adopted. You can check out Lori’s blog about Global Public Health at: http://www.globalhealthreflections.wordpress.com. For fun, in Spanish you can also tweak the meaning of the word by adding different suffixes; i.e. “bloguerotas,” (big, strong bloggers), “bloguerazas” (bloggers that pack a mighty punch), “blogueronas” (prolific bloggers).
2. My other book club, which consists of six couples, discussed the book The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes last night. I had never read anything by Barnes before, but found this book while browsing at Barnes and Noble one day and picked it up. It had won the Man Booker Prize in 2011, and it seemed to me I should find out about this author.  I was quite taken with the novel on the first reading and proposed it to the book club. Others had read it already, but were game for a second reading and a discussion. We had one of our liveliest discussions ever, and with this group, there’s never a shortage of opinions and discussion. In addition to the enticing challenge of trying to figure out all the mystery and meaning embedded in this very tightly-written novel (only 163 pages), the use of language to clearly express ideas is awe-inspiring. Here are just a couple of examples: On the malleability of time and memory, two central themes of the novel, Barnes writes, “Perhaps I just feel safer with the history that’s been more or less agreed upon. Or perhaps it’s that same paradox again: the history that happens underneath our noses ought to be the clearest, and yet it’s the most deliquescent. We live in time, it bounds us and defines us, and time is supposed to measure history, isn’t it? But if we can’t understand time, can’t grasp its mysteries of pace and progress, what chance do we have with history–even our own small, personal, largely undocumented piece of it?”

On the angst parents feel over their adolescent children’s friends:  “It was the same with sex. Our parents thought we might be corrupted by one another into becoming whatever it was they most feared: an incorrigible masturbator, a winsome homosexual, a recklessly impregnatory libertine. On our behalf they dreaded the closeness of adolescent friendship, the predatory behaviour of strangers on trains, the lure of the wrong kind of girl. How far their anxieties outran our experience.”

3. Another book that I picked up recently and recommend to anyone interested in the use of language is Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche. I bought this book at the American Translators Association annual conference in October and then had the opportunity to listen to Nataly Kelly give a talk about the book. She spoke beautifully and simply about the experience of gathering all the stories that are recounted in the book. The stories consist of vignettes of true cases in which interpreting or translation have played a key role in world events or in ways that have had an impact on our daily lives. The book is dedicated to translators and interpreters and is meant to honor their largely unseen and unsung work, but it is written for the general public and is highly readable.



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