Thursday, July 30, 2009

Guerrilla Punctuation Action Group?

In January 2008 we reported on the mysterious arrival of several apostrophes on the local road signs to the College. These corrected the egregious 'St Columbas College' official signs, and we pondered on who was responsible - the Punctuation Compliance Standards Department of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council? The Punctuation Militant Front? The Apostrophe Action Coalition?

Now it seems that our anonymous punctuation/public signage operative has been at work again. The two remaining signposts to the college to have avoided their rightful possessive apostrophe have been 'dealt with'. One, at the junction of Taylor's Lane and Whitechurch Road (right), had been removed for over a year while interminable road-widening took place. The other sign (left), at the junction of Grange Road and Brehon's Field Road (the road formerly known as the Green Route), is raised some 4.5 metres above the ground and from the photographic evidence appears to have been the greatest challenge to our nameless servant. Click on the photograph for a closer look.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Prodigal Tongue

Mark Abley's book The Prodigal Tongue : dispatches from the future of English is just out in paperback. It's a lively, wide-ranging and readable account of the constant flux that is contemporary English. He writes that the future has always been cloudy; it always will be. It's best approached, I believe, by looking keenly and closely at what's happening now in the world, without prejudices or preconceptions ... we'll discover that people with little political or economic power can exert economic influence on language ... we'll find a tension between the informal and formal registers of language - between the top-down and bottom-up forces that lead to verbal change.

The subsequent chapter sub-titles summarise the areas that Abley then goes on to analyse:-
  • How words are created and organized
  • Asian English
  • Global English
  • Language in Japan
  • Languages in Los Angeles
  • Black English and Hip-Hop
  • Language in Cyberspace (which quotes the text version of Pride and Prejudice - 5Sistrs WntngHsbnds. NwMeninTwn-Bingly&Darcy. Fit&Loadd.BigSis Jane Fals 4B,2ndSisLiz H8s D Coz Hes Proud. Slimy Soljr Wikam Sys DHs Shady Past.Trns Out Hes Actuly ARlyNysGuy &RlyFancysLiz. She Decyds She Lyks Him.Evry1 Gts Maryd.)
  • Words and the Fictional Future
  • Keeping Language Real
There's also a thorough bibliography, and a long list of useful websites, including the following as a sample:-
Mark Abley's previous book on language was Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages. His website is here, and columns on language from the Montreal Gazette here.

Michael Longley at 70

Joining several other distinguished Irish authors with 'significant' birthdays this year, Michael Longley is 70 today (he's on next year's Leaving Certificate course again, including poems such as 'Wounds', 'Wreaths', 'An Amish Rug' and 'Ceasefire').

Gerard Dawe pays tribute to Longley in today's Irish Times, 'Poet of Radiant Revelation' :-

Now celebrating his 70th birthday, Michael Longley’s poems have become to a new generation of readers 'ubiquitous' in the best sense of the word and in the most positive light they cast upon our life and times. For Longley is a bringer of light and his Collected Poems , published by Jonathan Cape in 2006, amounts to one of the most impressive achievements in contemporary poetry in English. Reading the volume from cover to cover is like reading a great classical novel of the European tradition, with a powerful dramatic (and self-dramatising) voice guiding the reader through a fully rendered, physically alive, thriving and glorious work of the senses.

Full article here. And Michael Viney writes here about Longley's connection with Carrigskeewaun in Mayo.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Summer Recommendation 3: Me Cheeta

Out of nowhere comes a comic masterpiece. Originally published anonymously last year (before the author was 'outed' as first-timer James Lever), Me Cheeta: the autobiography is the personal story of 'the oldest non-human primate in the world', best known as Tarzan's constant companion.

And what a story it is - blisteringly funny, filthy and surreal. The 'memoir' parodies celebrity autobiographies, but it's much more than that. We see Hollywood from Cheeta's simultaneously innocent and worldly-wise perspective, and at the heart of the book is his love for Johnny Weissmuller, culminating in a devastatingly sad final encounter in Acapulco as the great swimmer sits by the side of a pool, an old broken man.

Also, make sure you don't neglect one of the funniest indexes ever compiled.

Cheeta's real-life website is here. Nicolas Lezard's review in the Guardian here calls the book by some margin the most audacious, funny and even moving novel that I have come across in years.

[added 29.7.09 - Me Cheeta has been deservedly longlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize.]

Keats House

Today marks the re-opening of Keats House, which is "the museum where the poet John Keats lived from 1818 to 1820, and is the setting which inspired some of Keats’s most memorable poetry. Here, Keats wrote 'Ode to a Nightingale' [one of the poems by Keats on the Leaving Cert course] and fell in love with Fanny Brawne, the girl next door. It was from this house that he travelled to Rome, where he died of tuberculosis aged just 25." The Guardian has pictures here, and a report by Maev Kennedy here. [25.07.09 - Richard Morrison writes about the house in the Times here].

Click here for an earlier post about the Keats-Shelley Museum in Rome.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Language Blogs Voting Deadline

Monday is the deadline for votes for the 100 Top Language Blogs being run by Lexiophiles. Click the button on the right to vote, or go back here for more details.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer Recommendation 2 : Deaf Sentence

David Lodge has had a long career in fiction since his first novel The Picturegoers in 1960, combining comedy and thoughtfulness in novels such as Changing Places, Thinks, Nice Work and Therapy. His latest, Deaf Sentence (just out in paperback) is another highly enjoyable work, if not his very best.

Desmond Bates is a retired professor of linguistics, whose hearing has deteriorated badly, the cause both of distress and humour. He is caught in an uncertain state, spinning around in some confusion between his much more robust wife 'Fred' (Winifred), an aged and embarrassing father, and a disturbed and disturbing young female American student, Alex. Alex is a rather unconvincing character, but otherwise the novel shows Lodge's characteristic strengths, being both delightfully comic and moving.

He is interviewed by Rachel Cooke in the Guardian about the book here, and Jane Shilling reviews it in the Times here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Seamus Heaney: a life in rhyme

Robert McCrum has a long interview with Seamus Heaney in today's Observer magazine, called 'A Life in Rhyme':-

For someone who has been so remorselessly scrutinised, Heaney is still something of an enigma. He works hard to make "famous" seem normal. Unfailingly courteous and attentive, he can also be grave, remote and occasionally stern, always watching himself, like the king of a vulnerable monarchy.

In keeping with that vigilance, and a well-defended uncertainty, Heaney is always asking himself the essential questions articulated in Preoccupations, his collected essays. "How should a poet properly live and write? What is his relationship to be to his own voice, his own place, his literary heritage and his contemporary world?"

Read the full article here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

William Trevor Films

The forthcoming Kilkenny Arts Festival (7th to 16th August) is featuring the works of Old Columban William Trevor, as seen on the cinema and TV screen. The screenings are on Saturday 8th August in the Set Theatre in John Street: Hidden Ground (a 1990 BBC documentary on Trevor), Felicia's Journey, Access to the Children and The Ballroom of Romance. Colm Tóibín introduces the day. Full details (and online booking) here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Top 100 Language Blogs Voting

We're delighted to be in the running for the 2009 Top 100 Language Blogs (in the Language Learning category), and voting has now started (50% of the assessment is via public vote). We'd also be delighted to get your vote - so just click here or on the icon at the top of the sidebar on the right, both of which will take you to the voting page. Then scroll down (alphabetical order) to 'SCC English', click the circle to the left of the name, and go to the bottom of the list and click 'Vote'. Done! Should take 10 seconds. Please vote by the deadline, Monday 27th July.

You can read about all the nominations in the category here - with blogs in Hebrew, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, Hindi, French and lots more. There are also categories in Language Teaching, Language Professionals and Language Technology. The awards are being run by and, both of which have lots of interesting material about language in its myriad forms.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Summer Recommendation 1 : The Story of a Marriage

The first of a series of occasional book recommendations for the summer holiday...

Andrew Sean Greer's The Story of a Marriage, just out in paperback from Faber and Faber, is set in 1953 in San Francisco, and shares some of the atmosphere of the great TV series Mad Men (which is set at the start of the 60s, when change is more obviously in the air in America). It's a short novel, but packs a lot into its 233 pages. Narrated by housewife (and mother of a polio-stricken son) Pearlie, it hits us with two revelations in the first section, one which comes as no great surprise, and a second which is a real shocker. The interplay of these two complications drives the story, which evokes 1950s San Francisco expertly.

The novel opens 'We think we know the ones we love', a sentence repeated periodically through the novel, and the elegant twists and turns of the narrative constantly enact this idea. Greer's prose style is pleasingly free of the portentousness of some modern American fiction, but is still capable of moments of lyrical beauty. Pearlie's voice is always convincing; a particularly moving passage late in the book expresses the aching possibility of loneliness -

I was still in my twenties. And here's what I thought would be the worst: that no one else would ever know me young. I would always be this age or older, from now on, to any man I met... (continued on page 209 in the Faber paperback)

Previously, Greer wrote The Confessions of Max Tivoli. Below, an interview with the author by Daniel Handler ('Lemony Snicket'). Greer's website is here. George Miller's interview on the Faber site here is recommended.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The English Fuss

A month ago, there was a huge fuss in the national media about the rescheduled English Leaving Certificate exam. Our Head of Department has a piece reflecting on this on the Poetry Ireland guest blog here.