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Book Review: Other-Wordly: Words Both Strange and Lovely from around the World  by Yee-Lum Mak 

(Chronicle Books, 2016)

By Jaye Marsh
Other-Wordly: Words Both Strange and Lovely from around the World by Yee-Lum Mak 

Jungian analyst Robert Johnson’s oft-quoted words from his book The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden have stayed with me: “Sanskrit has 96 words for love, ancient Persian has 80, Greek three, and English only one.” Given the English language’s predilection for absorbing new words from many cultures, it still has a paucity of beautiful and concise terms for the eternal and universal concepts of love, pain, and the sublime. In her search for the sublime in language, Yee-Lum Mak created Other-Wordly in which we find “komorebi: the sunlight that filters through the leaves and trees” and “hiraeth: a homesickness for a home which maybe never was”. Mak is from California and currently completing advanced English studies at the University of Edinburgh. Her love of words began when she stumbled across the Portuguese term for “the love that remains” (saudade), which sparked her search for other “strange and lovely” words.

Some words are striking, respectfully highlighting different cultural norms. Others show a sense of humour about the human condition. Two paired Japanese words let us peek at cultural values: “tatemae: what a person pretends to believe” and “honne: what a person truly believes.” A lovely Spanish word describes my favourite activity, “sobremesa: the time spent around the table after dinner talking to the people with whom you shared the meal.” Not wanting to spoil the joy of discovery, I expect most of us in the editorial world can relate to page 13: buying books, hoarding books, books piling up – there are words for that! (more…)

The Nitpicker’s Nook: February edition

The Nitpicker's Nook, Carol Harrison

The Nitpicker’s Nook is a monthly collection of language-related articles, interviews, and blog posts. If you read something that would make a good addition, email your suggestion to [email protected]

By Carol Harrison

Does the current state of world affairs leave you without words? Thankfully Planet Word, the soon-to-be museum of linguistics in Washington, DC, won’t be. And did you know there is also a National Museum of Mathematics in New York? For me, both celebrate languages.

On January 14, Zhou Youguang died at 111 years old. If you’ve learned to read and write Mandarin using Hanyu Pinyin, you have him to thank.

Pardon me while I geek out. I can’t say enough good things about the movie Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve. Finally, a science-fiction film that’s about communicating with aliens, not shooting them up! If you’ve watched the trailer, you’ve seen a sample of how the language looks. Wired’s Margaret Rhodes talks to the people who created the alphabet. Oh, and a shout-out to Jessica Coon, an associate professor of linguistics at McGill University and Canada Research Chair in Syntax and Indigenous Languages, who consulted on the film! Now I’m off to find Ted Chiang’s 1998 novella “Story of Your Life” on which all this is based.

Back down to earth, or perhaps flying a few feet above the ground, the BBC’s Andrew Evans finds out how falconry sank its talons into the English language.

Have current events got you riled? Do you plan to join a march? Want your placard to pack extra punch? Let linguist Daniel Midgley help.

Carol Harrison is editor-in-chief of BoldFace and freelance editor and writer at Muse Ink. When she isn’t focusing on words, she’s focusing her Nikon D3200.

This article was copy edited by Ambrose Li.

Is it art? Well, how does it feel?

Illustration: Niklas Elmehed. Copyright: Nobel Media AB 2016

Illustration: Niklas Elmehed. Copyright: Nobel Media AB 2016

By James Harbeck

There has been much discussion of the Nobel Prize in Literature being awarded to Bob Dylan. I have no interest in weighing in on whether his work is Nobel quality—I won’t pretend to understand the judges’ criteria—but I do have some thoughts on the question of whether a songwriter is even eligible to be awarded the prize.

There is no Nobel Prize in music, or in songwriting. So we can’t say that he should be considered for a different category unless you think songwriting is more appropriate to the Peace Prize, or perhaps to Economics. No, if he’s getting a prize, Literature is it. The question is whether songs qualify as literature—whether, to be frank, they’re good enough, or whether they’re “just songs.” There’s something of a privileged-genre attitude, a white-marble image of literature (that is, the truly worthy kind of text) as being cool prose in dry books that silently dissects humanity’s problems, not in the noise of a musical performance.

This has about as much basis as the white-marble image of Greek statuary, which, we now know, was originally painted bright colours. We ought to remember that the novel, as such, has only existed for a few centuries. Narrative texts pretending to any literary merit were expected to be written in verse until early modern times. And why was that? Because the written literature was, originally, the lyrics of songs and chants and declamations to music. The vaunted Greek drama had not one word that was flatly spoken. The psalms of the Bible were for singing. Beowulf was incomplete without a harp to aid the recitation. The fact that we have peeled the spoken from the sung, and ultimately the silently read from the spoken, does not have any bearing on the human insight conveyed in the words. Poetry has been deemed worthy of the Nobel: Pablo Neruda, Seamus Heaney, and Wole Soyinka have all won it, and it is terrible to think that they might have been ineligible if they had, like Leonard Cohen, been driven by economics to set their poetry to music. (more…)