Mick Jagger has appeared on Sentence first before, in my post about “bad” grammar in song lyrics. But I was surprised to learn that the Rolling Stones singer and occasional actor is something of an amateur linguist. Here, from Werner Herzog’s Conquest of the Useless, is a note written in Camisea, Peru, in February 1981:
We shot some footage with Mick [Jagger] and the little Indian boy who is called McNamara in the film, and both of them did such a good job that the team broke into applause. During the scene Mick was bitten on the shoulder by one of the monkeys and laughed so uproariously about it afterward that it sounded like a donkey braying. Whenever we take a break he distracts me with clever little lectures on English dialects and the development of the language since the late Middle Ages.
Herzog’s book is a darkly poetic account of the director’s protracted attempts to film Fitzcarraldo, the centrepiece of which involves hauling a ship over a mountain in Peru. At one point Herzog, faced with the “obscene, explicit malice of the jungle”, describes feeling “like a half-finished, poorly expressed sentence in a cheap novel.” There are no such sentences in the book, which I highly recommend.
And in case you were wondering: Jagger’s role was later cut from the script, through no fault of his own.
I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your policework there, Lou.
I’ve always loved the Coen brothers’ films, and Fargo (1996) was the first I saw on the big screen. Since then I’ve returned to it several times, and consider it one of their best. (I’m tempted to write about why, but I should stick to language here.)
Fargo is eminently quotable, and its regional Minnesota accents – the brothers are natives – add greatly to its character and texture. Few viewers can resist trying out an “Oh yah”, “Aw geez” or “You betcha” after seeing it. Here’s a charming scene featuring local actor and theatre director Bain Boehlke (skip to 0:30):
I have a couple of new posts up at Macmillan Dictionary Blog. First, The fun of new words considers the pleasure we get from playing with words, letters and language, with special focus on neologisms:
Wordplay, in a word, is fun. It can break ice and break conventions, exercise the mind and stretch the imagination. Language, like physical play, is a medium through which we can indulge our creative instincts. Some people channel this into inventing entire languages; more commonly it manifests in our love of coining and using new words. . . .
Portmanteaus are an especially popular type of new word. Here, much of the groundwork has already been laid in the form of two or more existing words. There is a surreal kind of entertainment in seeing words joined improbably together, and when newspaper headlines join in the game, these blends spread all the faster. [more]
Next, Helmer at the helm sketches the development of helm from its origin as a nautical term to later senses that have nothing directly to do with steering a ship:
Inevitably, the word has developed metaphorical uses. At the helm means in charge, and you can be at the helm of a government, business, sports team, film production, and so on. Words such as steer, saddle, and pilot have broadened similarly, from navigation and transport to more figurative senses: a steering group could be in the saddle guiding the direction of a pilot project. . . .
I’m especially taken by a Hollywood slang usage:
Helmer in particular interests me. Most commonly it appears as a surname, but in US English it has become a synonym for film (or TV) director. I see this usage especially in film reviews and reporting, for example in the Hollywood Reporter (“the helmer’s 1978 horror classic”) and Variety (“the helmer switches to color”).
Helmer appears in Variety‘s slanguage dictionary, which contains what Julian Gough, in a comment, describes as “an internally consistent version of English that reads like the snappy, jazzy dialogue in a Howard Hawks script”.
For Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), linguist Marc Okrand was asked to develop the Klingon language. Most of it he made up, but there was some raw material to begin with: Klingon names, improvised speech from an earlier film, and aspects of Klingon culture (they are a warrior race, honourable and direct).
“Human languages are very patterned,” he says. “There’s no 100% rules, but there’s a lot of tendencies, and more-likely-than-nots.” Creating Klingon allowed him to subvert these patterns. So, for example, syntactically Klingon has OVS (object-verb-subject) word order, which is very rare in human languages.
Because Okrand was working with filmmakers to a studio budget and schedule, he couldn’t be too fussy. Sometimes he would make adjustments to the language (phonetic, lexical, or grammatical) simply in order to accommodate an actor’s imprecise delivery of a line.
You can’t help being influenced by what you know, which (for me) was a bit of Spanish, French and American Indian. I also knew Southeast Asian languages. I’d be writing something and suddenly realize that it sounded like Navajo. I’d stop and make sure the next thing sounded as different as it could possibly be.
Okrand wrote a Klingon dictionary (which to date has sold hundreds of thousands of copies), and the language soon took on a life of its own. It remains a niche within other niches — Star Trek, conlanging — but by the standards of invented languages, it is thriving.
The Klingon Language Institute, founded in 1992, publishes a quarterly journal (HolQeD) and a literary supplement, offers resources for people who want to learn Klingon, and has created an extended corpus of Klingon vocabulary. People get married in Klingon ceremonies; one man tried (unsuccessfully) to make it his son’s native tongue.
Few of its many enthusiasts are fluent, but all are surely encouraged by the growing body of Klingon literature, which includes translations of Hamlet, the Tao Te Ching, Gilgamesh, and other great works.* Arika Okrent, a linguist who has studied Klingon, told me a Kama Sutra translation may be on the way.
both flouts and follows known linguistic principles, and its real sophistication lies in the balance between the two tendencies. It gets its alien quality from the aspects that set it apart from natural languages . . . . Yet at the same time it has the feel of a natural language. A linguist doing field research among Klingon speakers would be able to work out the system and describe it with the same tools he would use in describing a remote Amazon language.
In the video below (21 minutes), Marc Okrand explains how he created Klingon. If you’re into Star Trek or constructed languages, you’ve probably seen it already. If, like me, you’re not particularly so, don’t be put off. It’s aimed at a general audience, and anyone curious about how languages work is likely to find it interesting.
* Jeremy Kahn saysGilgamesh seems most suited to Klingon; Hamlet “seems more of a Romulan thing; Tao [Te Ching]: Vulcan.”
These are props that my friends used in a short film they shot over the weekend. They took the wheelbarrow to a bookshop, filled it with books, and took it for a walk. I can’t tell you where, why, or what happens to the books, because it would spoil the surprise when you watch the film on its international premiere.
Here is a pair of crew members standing over a light reflector. If we had been making a cheap fantasy film it could have served as a Golden Mirror of Mystery. You may be relieved to learn that we weren’t and it didn’t.
INT. SHED – EVENING
My involvement in the film was peripheral, mostly as book lender and set photographer. Depending on what happens in post-production editing, I may have an inadvertent cameo as “tourist who quickly gets out of the way of the wheelbarrow”.
There might also be a cameo by this cat:
The cat made a series of funny faces as it scratched itself against the stub of a shrub. I suggested a career in silent films, and it purred in apparent approval.