I haven’t updated for quite a few weeks now, but I wouldn’t like you to think that the pic at the end of my last post means The End of this blog.
Far from it. A concatenation of circumstances has meant me getting on with it and pouring out streams of words in all sorts of different directions from this blog. I have a well-acknowledged cacoethes scribendi, or insatiable desire to write, but when I’m pouring out streams of words professionally, there’s almost no thunk left to write anything meaningful on my blog.
In my professional life, I frequently deal with members of the public, academics and researchers. With “regular correspondents” e-mails can sometimes be lighter in tone. One of my regulars was quite amused by recent correspondence, calling something I’d said quite Wodehousian, which in turn made me chuckle, as it was completely unintentional.
I haven’t read anything by Wodehouse for years, so any influence must be subliminal, and my so-called Wodehousian sentence used a three-part structure which is as ancient as the Seven Hills of Rome. That said, Wodehouse did have a gift for painting a word-picture. The famous “Ice formed on the butler’s upper slopes” packs so much into seven words: describing his expression of disapproval extending downwards into a body language of freezing immobility, and conjuring up an image of a substantial butler, a man-mountain, by association. Which makes his disapproval more looming and even funnier. Genius.
Sign language also has a gift for doing something similar. Spatial relationships between objects or relative dimensions can be encapsulated in a single sweep of the hands, compressing information that in spoken language would take several words or phrases to say, with facial expression for the adverbs and adjectives, using placement and role play to iron out redundancy and add the richness of simile and metaphor to describe how things have happened. Sign language is uniquely flexible, and relies heavily on sign-coinings adapted to suit the context.
I always tell people that you can laboriously tell the story of Little Red Riding Hood and sign the wolf – put – grandmamma – in – cupboard where the English word order is present and the standard sign for cupboard, opening doors, is used. But that makes no sense in BSL – grandmamma isn’t hidden from view, she’s left dangling for all the world to see. So the wolf takes grandmamma and puts her ‘up there somewhere’ and slams the doors on her – a non-standard sign that makes perfect sense in the context and neatly hides grandmamma from view. Now in English I could add lots of descriptive clauses such as ‘he glanced around shiftily as he did so, with a villainous expression in his eyes’, but that would have to preface or follow his actions in the written or spoken word. In BSL I can enact that simultaneously with his actions in bundling a poor defenceless old lady into a small dark cupboard. That same kind of dense, rich, descriptive compression is at work as in Wodehouse’s butler.
What a delightful antidote to the reams of verbiage I’ve been writing recently in interim project reports . . . Normal service will be resumed shortly when my brain has been emptied of academese.