Free Kindle download – last chance 27-29 September 2022

I’m offering a final free download of The True History of Jude on Kindle 27-29 September.

From 1 October, I’ll be widening my retail platforms to include Smashwords, Apple, Kobo and others. Jude will still be on Amazon in Kindle and paperback.

Here’s what people have been saying about my latest novel:

When I started reading “the true history of Jude”, I was completely taken aback. The back cover describes it as “a dystopian thriller” and that is exactly what it proved to be. To say that I enjoyed it, is an understatement. It is completely different from all your other writing.. But different in an engrossing way. The style of writing, the characters, the structure of the book are really terrific. Much of the book is in the style of letters (forbidden) between two principal characters and it is through the letters the story emerges. Although the book has no resemblance to “The Time Travellers Wife”, it left me with the same feeling I had on completion of that novel. The feeling can only be described as sitting back, putting the book down and going “Wow, that was an amazing story.” I admire the way you imagined the future and the repercussions of several events that precipitated that dystopia. I’ll leave it to other readers to discover what happened. Stuart, it’s a great book. I loved it.

Check my books out here!

Creating Arabic-speaking foreigners in fiction

Introduction

I’m an academic linguist turned novelist, and my academic training has been tangled with my creative practice ever since I tried to write fiction.

This article began out of curiosity. After I completed a trilogy bristling with Arabic speakers, it occurred to me that I’d achieved the technical effects of making them sound foreign virtually on autopilot. I started drafting a blog post trying to analyse the techniques I’d used to create foreignness.

Around the same time, I was reading Cormac McCarthy’s fiendishly challenging The Crossing with its swathes of untranslated Spanish dialogue. McCarthy brought me up with a start: His treatment of foreignness was a universe away from my own.

I had to look more widely. I put my blog post aside.

The framework

I made a fresh start with an article called How authors create foreigners and foreignness in fiction, where I used examples from Philip Kerr, Michael Mohammed Ahmed, Agatha Christie, Cormac McCarthy and Ernest Hemingway to develop a framework of propositions about how authors create foreign characters in fiction. In summary, what I proposed was:

Foreignising is manifested in voice—that of narrator, author or character.

The purpose of foreignising varies according to voice.

Foreignising techniques include:

  • Foreigner talk
  • Untranslated terms and dialogue
  • Definitions, including: Explicit definitions, Implied definitions

With a set of propositions to hand, I was in a position to return to my trilogy. and to further develop the framework.

The Siranoush Trilogy

The trilogy comprises a series of stand-alone novels, Cairo Mon AmourBury me in Valletta and The Sunset Assassin, set in Egypt, Malta and Australia respectively between 1973 and 1978. Each novel is written from alternating points of view of the key protagonist Pierre Farag and several others, all in close third person. This allowed me to foreignise the protagonists’ inner thoughts as well as their dialogue. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll stick with Pierre rather than bringing in the other characters.

Pierre is a half-Armenian and half-Coptic private detective from Cairo. He is inadvertently entangled in an espionage plot during the Yom Kippur War, which launches him on a chain of perilous scrapes across the world, ending on a crocodile farm in remote northern Australia. I portray him as an Arabic speaker since I know quite a lot about Arabic (my Armenian is so poor that I remained silent on that dimension of Pierre’s linguistic world).

Dialogue, inner thoughts, and a hall of mirrors

Foreignising dialogue is relatively straightforward, notwithstanding the mental tricks the reader has to unconsciously perform: If the character is supposed to be speaking in a foreign language, the author naturally composes the dialogue in English, but may choose to play some tricks to make it sound Arabic-flavoured, Russian-flavoured, etc. But if the character is speaking in English, the writer might tweak it with some foreigner talk using nonstandard grammar, odd vocabulary choices or even spelling out an accent.

The fragile notion of ‘inner thoughts’ throws up its own exquisite dilemmas. I frame Pierre’s thoughts for the reader in English, but I tacitly ask you to suspend disbelief and assume they occur mainly in Arabic. But it gets more tricky: I’m asking you to assume those thoughts rattle around his head in perfectly formed Arabic sentences that happen to look like perfectly formed English sentences on the page*.

A hall of mirrors, indeed.

Voice

Based on the proposed framework, I firstly foreignise Pierre as character, typically through his manner of speech; and when he holds the current point of view, I foreignise him as  author, typically through his inner thoughts.

Character

Pierre is pedantically precise in his multilingual skills and restrained in his emotions—a man ‘closed in on himself’, who thinks carefully before he speaks. I often foreignise him by placing tripwires in his English competence. For example, in The Sunset Assasin, he travels to the remote Australian town of Broken Hill to interpret for a Syrian in a court case. But he is told on his arrival that the gentleman has “karked it overnight”.

“Oh dear,” Pierre said, disguising his puzzlement. Perhaps the police sergeant meant the Syrian had changed his plea. “Should I have a word with him nevertheless?”

I’m careful not make Pierre into a caricature through foreigner talk. The ‘bad Arab’ trope is so deeply entrenched in novels and films that I absolutely refuse to propagate it (see further discussion here) .But I justified a drop of foreigner talk in these examples from minor characters in Cairo Mon Amour, the first of which attempts to portray Russian being spoken badly by an Arabic-speaking Soviet Embassy driver:

“Comrade boss. Why Russian lady all go home?”

And in the second case, which depends purely on accent, an Arabic-speaking waitress repeats a customer’s order made in English:

“Tea wiz milk shocolate kek.”

Author

The locus of author is where the hard work of foreignising goes on in The Siranoush Trilogy. Here is Pierre in Cairo Mon Amour on the last ship to leave Alexandria at the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War. He hasn’t had much to do with Americans, and he is shocked at the behaviour of the fleeing US diplomatic staff:

Braying like donkeys, [the Americans] complained that they “only ever sailed in fucking first-class” or “wouldn’t stand for a fucking starboard cabin.” The very air was thick with the ugly English word. It was as if a race of civilised beings had reverted to savagery. The women, Pierre thought, were even more vulgar than the men.

In Bury me in Valletta, Pierre reflects on finding his arch-enemy Colonel Dimashqi confined to an iron lung. He inwardly reflects with baroque verbal ornamentation:

… was this an evil dish cooked up from British duplicity and Egyptian bald-faced guile? Oh, the tricks of la perfide Albion.

And here, Pierre experiences a Wimpy Bar for the first time in 1975:

He’d seen the English seated before these Wimpies through the window of the ‘Bars’ where they were purchased: Flat anaemic buns containing a strip of grey meat, next to desiccated yellow potato chips.

Numerous other examples of the author voice occur in the following section, where we turn to foreignising techniques. As we will see, the discussion will elaborate the framework set out in the introduction.

A learnable set of Arabic terms

I chose a small set of Arabic words—initially defined and then left in the original—for the reader to learn through repetition and prompts. Several of these occur through the entire trilogy, e.g. khawaga ‘foreigner’, bawwab ‘doorman’, shabkah ‘network’, sharmouta ‘bitch’. The whole set amounts to about ten words in total, with no more than eighteen instances of a word in any of the books—just enough in my reckoning to garnish the text without overloading the reader. The words bawwab and shabkah, for example, are part of an important plot device: Pierre’s work as a private investigator entails maintaining his ‘network’, which includes Cairo’s doormen, his eyes and ears on the city’s apartment blocks.

Here’s how I embedded an explicit definition into Pierre’s inner thoughts:

He had spent most of the previous evening consulting his shabkah, as Fawzi called it; well, you could call it a ‘network’ if the word adequately described the troupe of misfits, malcontents, blackmailers, and square pegs in round holes who fed him scraps of information, shreds of rumour and dollops of sheer spite.

There’s a really smart trick here (I modestly aver): shabkah in line 1 is the signal for us to pretend Pierre is thinking in Arabic; the quote marks around ‘network‘ in line 2 signal that the pretence is briefly lifted.

Sometimes I tutored the reader obliquely with an implied definition, again in those slippery inner thoughts:

And then what if the lawyers discovered that he had been keeping the sharmouta in luxury all this time? How would she bear the shame?

Zouzou Paris, a ‘bitch’? Well, she would say that. Everybody else did.

Let me round off my set of learnable Arabic words with ya’ni, the Arabic conversational filler roughly equivalent to ‘I mean’ or ‘you know’, which occurs about a dozen times in Cairo Mon Amour. Here I put it in the mouth of Major Fawzi, a man who relishes his prowess in the English language:

“My dear friend Pierre Farag,” he began, “has persuaded me that your situation presents opportunities for all of us to profit. We have ya’ni put our noggins together in your absence.”

“Noggins?” Bellamy wasn’t sure whether Fawzi’s quaint English was part of a sophisticated act or simply the result of a diet of Noel Coward and P.G. Wodehouse.

Well-known Arabic expressions

I also added a handful of Arabic expressions like In shaa’ Allah, inserted without translation in the hope that the reader will recognise them without help. Habibi and habibti, as Zouzou and Pierre address one another, fall into this category, occurring consistently untranslated throughout the trilogy.

Crosslinguistic puns

These can be pressed into foreignisation service if you’re lucky enough to find one or two. In Bury me in Valletta, Pierre and his wife Zouzou are involved in a conspiracy involving Stash, a political extremist who poses as a hippy; I have Pierre use the word khunfus (beetle) eleven times to describe Stash. It’s a colloquialism used in Egypt in the seventies, supposedly because hippies were associated with the Beatles. It comes in for some handy wordplay when Stash is found murdered:

“So the khunfus is a police informer,” Zouzou said. “Squashed like a cockroach.”

Cultural motifs

Soon after this remark, Pierre’s wife Zouzou has a glass of karkady, which by now the reader has learned is hibiscus flower tea. She yearns for a glass of this comforting drink at times of stress; the further the couple stray from Cairo, the stronger the yearning. I’d categorise this further as a cultural motif that pervades the trilogy. I had fun in The Sunset Assassin when a Sydney journalist visiting Zouzou mistook karkady for Ribena.

Another such cultural motif was kushari, the hi-carb Cairo street food; I used a kushari stall repeatedly as a meeting point; much more colourful that meeting at the Post Office! The reader’s tuition was delivered by an English speaker through an implied definition:

“As long as I don’t have to eat that horrible kushari stuff. If I have to make a run for it, I don’t want a belly full of lentils and macaroni.”

Unique Arabic words and phrases

Items occurring only once or twice in the trilogy were popped in with a definition when I felt I needed to remind the reader that the language in use is Arabic; I’m obsessively careful to know who is supposed to be speaking what in any piece of dialogue. This example is the sole instance of masri where I used an editorial definition to explain the meaning, and to confirm that Pierre is thinking in Arabic:

If anyone had bothered to ask him, “What are you?” he’d have said “masri”, ‘Egyptian’.

And in the next case, we have some brinkmanship between two Arabic-speaking British diplomats, this time with the implied definition tactic applied to a unique Arabic phrase:

“You’ve got some nerve. Bloody nerve, I’d call it. I don’t know why I don’t take you outside, point at you and yell gasus isra’ili.”

“Perhaps I am an Israeli spy, Don. Walk out the door and give it a try.”

And the following implied definition of a unique word occurred when Pierre’s nemesis Dimashqi asks Pierre’s forgiveness as he lies gasping in an iron lung. I have Pierre implicitly define bashar in his inner thoughts after the stricken Dimashqi utters the word in dialogue:

“I can offer a token of expiation.”

“There is no need. You have my forgiveness.”

“But still, we live in this material world. We are bashar, with debts to pay and accounts to be settled.”

Bashar– human? The man had lived the life of a devil. What kind of token could stand in expiation?

And here’s another tactic—a repeat definition of a unique expression, when the English version is uttered immediately after the Arabic phrase:

Allah yarhamuh.” The woman looked away, and then said, “I had a son too.”

“He died?”

“Nineteen sixty-seven.”

Allah yarhamuh, God bless his memory,” Lucy said.

Translated and repurposed Arabic proverbs

I threw in two of these for exotic effect:

“Ha! They whine about the breeze around their turbans, but what about the farts in their drawers?”

To quote the note background notes to Cairo Mon Amour, the ‘breeze around their turbans’ remark is my modification of an Egyptian proverb in J.L. Burckhardt’s Arabic Proverbs, (Curzon Press, 1994, p.3). The translation of the original reads, ‘If the turbans complain of a slight wind, what must be the state of the inner drawers?’

The second is my modification of another of Burckhardt’s proverbs. In the original (p. 114), ‘The owl has become a poetess’. I refashion this as:

“So with the help of his movie cronies the owl became an actress, as the old saying goes.”

I should add that Johann Ludwig Burckhardt died in 1817, so I’m not sure that the originals would be recognised in contemporary Egypt. But that’s not the point; the repurposed versions are an Orientalist-inspired strategy to add exotic flavour to the text.

Let me add one more related device, the translated foreign simile, an example being ‘as confused as an ant’. I think this works in foreignising the text simply because English does not use this simile.

Conclusion

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. I haven’t set out to establish an exciting new academic subdiscipline that will bridge linguistics and fiction writing; I learned long ago that they don’t march in step, but they do have interesting encounters from time to time.

While I was writing this article, I was conscious that I had focussed solely on writing in English. I’d love to hear from linguists or authors about how languages other than English create foreigners. Let’s start a conversation.

I’d also love to hear more generally from other linguists who write fiction: Right now I’m the sole example I know!

*I should make it clear that the notion of ‘inner thoughts’ discussed here is not underpinned by psychological theories about inner speech proposed by scholars such as Vygotsky.

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You can find details of my novels here.

Copyright © 2022 by Stuart Campbell

How authors create foreigners and foreignness in fiction

Introducing the concept of foreignising in fiction

In Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, a Basque man asks an American on a bus, ‘Where you go now? While the effect of foreignness is clear, how many readers would wonder how or why Hemingway achieved the effect? Very few, I think.

Except people like me. As a fiction author who happens to be an academic linguist, I’m interested in the techniques used to create foreign characters, foreign cultural milieux, locations, and mindsets. In this article I try to tease out the principles behind what I’ll call foreignising in fiction. In a subsequent article I’ll explore my own writing practice by analysing the foreignising techniques in my Siranoush Trilogy.

The article is organised around four questions:

  • What theories or principles of foreignising in fiction are available?
  • What is the purpose of foreignising in fiction?
  • What foreignising techniques do authors use?
  • What advice does my analysis suggest to authors?

Theories or principles of foreignising in fiction—or a lack thereof

My academic instincts told me to check out what others had written on the topic, for example in the field of literary stylistics, but I drew a blank. I did turn up references in the literature of translation studies, where a debate about foreignising versus domestication has bubbled on for decades with scholars wandering over a vast literary landscape to argue for and against a translation reading like a translation or an original text.

So with little help from my academic literature searches, I fell back on a few mentions on authors’ blogs on the lines of ‘try using a sprinkling of foreign words’, and ‘don’t confuse the reader’. An exception was Louise Harnby’s article on the problem of representing foreign accents. Jennifer Sommer’s well referenced piece on incorporating dialect into fiction is on the periphery of foreignising, but offers some good insights on reader acceptability.

It was time to shake out a set of propositions. I drew on a random selection of authors from Agatha Christie to Australia’s Michael Mohammed Ahmad to find out more about foreignising in fiction.

The purpose of foreignising in fiction

One approach to understanding foreignising is through the concept of voice—that complex bundle of stylistic features that make a piece of writing distinct. Voice is often specified as that of narrator, author or character, and I’ve tried to use these as lenses through which to examine foreignising. Each lens, as it turns out, reveals a range of different purposes for foreignising.

Foreignising through character

Perhaps the most famous example of a foreignised character in English literature is Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, whose voice is embellished not just with words and phrases like mon ami and n’est ce pas, but also with an elaborate formality: For example, Poirot comprehends rather than understands. Christie’s purpose is evidently to construct an exotic and instantly recognisable character—brand recognition if you will. But what about the man on Hemingway’s bus? His faulty grammar marks him as a foreignised character, but he appears only once. I suspect he contributes to the setting along with the rocky hills of the Spanish landscape. This tiny sample shows the contribution of vocabulary and grammar to what I’ll call foreigner talk. But what about a foreign accent? Neither Christie nor Hemingway seem to attempt representing a French or Spanish accent through spelling, and my suspicion is that foreign accents tend to be rare in contemporary fiction (unlike in film; see Nicolas Cage in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin for a virtuoso effort). 

Foreignising through narrator

I chose Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s The Tribe as an example of foreignising through narrator. As autobiographical fiction, the novel offers observations into the everyday lives of a chaotic, sprawling immigrant family in a Sydney suburb with a large Muslim population. The main foreignising technique is for the narrator to insert Arabic expressions into dialogue and exposition, along with English translations. The Tribe is an invitation: Join the family and get a sense of being one of us.

Foreignising through author

Philip Kerr’s March Violets works quite differently. We aren’t invited in; we’re already immersed from the first words. Bernie Gunther is a streetwise, smart-talking Berlin private detective operating in 1936 under the cloud of the Nazi regime. The first-person English text presents Bernie and all his interlocutors as monolingual German-speaking. We observe all Bernie’s external observations and internal thoughts through a magic Germanising lens. The effect is to persuade the reader that they are (almost) experiencing a German text.

Cormac McCarthy’s foreignising approach in The Crossing is quite different from Kerr’s. In pre-war America, Billy Parham journeys into a squalid and violent Mexico. Billy speaks English and Spanish, and McCarthy saturates the text with Spanish words and dialogue, largely untranslated. The experience of reading The Crossing is akin to a language immersion class; skip over what you don’t understand, keep going, absorb what you can. McCarthy’s approach is uncompromising with its sparse punctuation and absent quotation marks: This is Billy Parham’s bilingual consciousness—don’t expect the experience to be easy. How different from Kerr: Let’s make things as easy as possible for us to pretend this is Bernie’s monolingual German consciousness.

Foreignising techniques

Kerr creates a Germanised backdrop by peppering the text with a limited set of untranslated terms like MurattisBerliner MorgenpostThe Alex, Kriminalinspektor, Sipo, and Kripo. The reader suspends disbelief and accepts them as understood; the meanings eventually become clear from the context. This is in sharp contrast to McCarthy’s many untranslated Spanish words—güeritomenudocaídas, etc.—and entire chunks of untranslated dialogue, which cannot always be understood from context. I’ve tried reading McCarthy with a dictionary to hand—a pointless approach; far better to cruise the text, experiencing it on multiple levels of comprehension.

Authors exploit definitions in a range of ways. Kerr uses explicit definitions sparingly, eg. D-Zug is explained as ‘the express train’, and KZ as a ‘concentration camp’. McCarthy gives us an occasional helping hand by having Billy paraphrase in English a piece of Spanish dialogue in an internal reflection or a response to a speaker. I call this an implied definition.

Ahmad’s The Tribe is heavy with explicit definitions, in line with the book’s purpose to invite us into an alien world; unlike McCarthy, Ahmad doesn’t want us to misunderstand anything. A basic technique is to define an Arabic word at its first occurrence and then offer it untranslated on the assumption we’ll have learned the meaning. Sometimes a word is left untranslated, e.g. aa-jeen, which is easily understood from context as ‘dough’. Words like yulla and inshallah are presumably familiar to Ahmad’s readership.

Tips for authors

Here are a few tips based on the framework developed here:

  • Decide why you want to foreignise, e.g. to create a memorable character, to enhance a setting, to bring the reader into a foreign consciousness.
  • Determine the appropriate voice to foreignise, e.g. character, narrator, author.
  • Think about the amount of foreignising you expect your readership to tolerate.
  • Choose the techniques will you use, e.g. foreigner talk, untranslated foreign words and phrases, foreign words and phrases with definitions.

If you’ve found this article useful, please let me know. I’d be delighted to receive comments on foreignising in fiction from other authors and linguists.

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Copyright 2022 Stuart Campbell

Stuart Campbell was born in London but has lived most of his adult life in Sydney, Australia. He was formerly a Professor of Linguistics, but has been writing fiction since 2011. His latest novel is The True History of Jude. Find out about his books here.

Tell me what you think about The True History of Jude

I love to get feedback on my novels. Readers’ comments motivate me to keep writing, and help me to spread the word about my work.

If you enjoyed The True History of Jude, scroll down to the Leave a Reply box below and tell me why. You can write an essay or just a few words!

Thank you very much!

Stuart

My literary remake of Kuranda

There’s something about Kuranda in the far north of Queensland that draws me back every few years. It’s a green jewel of a town up on the Atherton tablelands, peopled by Aboriginal Australians, potters, painters and pie makers. The tiny railway station nestles in a culvert draped in rainforest trees and vines. The miniature St Saviour’s church is built from logs, its delicate stained glass windows recording its history and benefactors.

It’s here that I staged the eccentric romance at the heart of The True History of Jude which reimagines the story of Jude Fawley and Sue Bridehead in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. Kuranda couldn’t be more different than Hardy’s Christminster (a thinly disguised Oxford), where the naive working-class stonemason Jude travelled to find his cousin Sue and to study theology. My Jude and Sue are part of a remnant population in an Australia wrecked by climate change and abandoned to mineral exploitation. My Jude escapes a government-controlled refugee camp at Orange that has evolved into a matriarchal society with its own creole language; Kuranda is an outlaw community ruled by a patriarchal religious sect. And like Hardy’s Sue, my Sue is married to an old school teacher.

I’ll leave the back story here to focus on my literary remodelling of Kuranda. The BP service station on Coondoo street is now the Blessed Prospect Church where divine singing mixes with the tropical breezes; you can just discern a petrol tanker among a tangle of vines out the front. There’s a train rusting on the railway station tracks, which are boarded over to form the yard of Slab, an odd-job man who employs Jude. He’s the nearest Jude can find to a stonemason, a New Zealander librarian once press-ganged to be trained as a drone operator protecting mine sites in Australia. And there’s the seedy end of town beyond the contemporary Foodworks store, where I located the public latrines and a bar. It’s here where Jude, drunk and despairing, was reunited with his first wife Arabella and his twin daughters Sorry and Anger.

Those familiar with Jude the Obscure will recall the tragedy that took place in the closet-room in Christminster, but I’ll avoid a spoiler for those who aren’t and just mention that I found an excellent location at the Barron Falls lookout.

A friend put me on the spot the other day: Why did you choose Kuranda of all places? I can concoct half a dozen post-hoc rationalisations, but in the end it must have been a mystical intersection of two emotional planes – my inexplicable obsession with Hardy’s novel and my instinctive attraction to Kuranda. The idea just fell into my mind six years ago. And when I sat drinking a coffee in Coondoo Street in June this year, I looked around and knew it was right.

You can find The True History of Jude in ebook and paperback here.

The best or the worst novel I’ve written?

This question has dogged me since I brought the first pages to my writing critique group six years ago. The True History of Jude endured restructures, abandoned endings, a complete change of tense, and deep puzzlement from some of those who read drafts along the way.

The question is perhaps irrelevant. This was a novel I wrote for myself, ignoring advice to cram it into a genre box. I categorise it as ‘coming of age tale’ and ‘dystopian thriller’. I could just as well say ‘epistolatory confession’ and ‘satire on Australia’s elites’. Or even ‘reimagining of a nineteenth century English novel’.

The True History of Jude is now out in ebook and paperback. I’m nervous.

I’m planning six or seven blog posts over the next few months, talking about various themes and motifs in the novel. These are some of the topics I’ll cover:

  • The potential for a tsunami that renders Australia’s east coast uninhabitable.
  • The Macfarlane family, who lease Australia to the international community as the exclusive supplier of uranium for a thousand years.
  • The development of a new creole language among climate change refugees abandoned in Australia.
  • The secession of the southern states of the USA.
  • The community of religious fundamentalists who have taken over the North Queensland town of Kuranda.
  • The fate of a royal historian in the post-truth era in England, where computer generated language technology has eliminated fiction.
  • A main character who believes he is Jude in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure.

If that hasn’t convinced you that The True History of Jude doesn’t fit a genre straitjacket, then I’ll try a little harder: Most of the book is supposedly written on an old typewriter, which is fine in the paperback edition where a suitable font replicates typing; but the robotic flowing text of the ebook neuters the aesthetic effect—technology eliminating art!

The True History of Jude is available here at a promotional discount of $0.99 until the end of July 2022.

Advance review copy request

A man flees through a rain forest. A condemned woman pounds a typewriter …

Six years in the writing, The True Story of Jude is nearing publication. This is my most ambitious novel to date – part coming of age story, part dystopian thriller, part future-gazing on the post-truth era.

If you’d like to receive an advance review copy, email me at stuartcampbellauthor@gmail.com Let me know which format – epub or PDF.

Constructed language note

Note: This post deals with one of the constructed languages in my upcoming novel The True Story of Jude. Alongside Arg, the novel also includes a constructed Creole from the Australian town of Orange.

Introduction

Arg is a variety of English spoken in the Kingdom of England and Wales, which differs markedly from The King’s English to the extent that it can be classified as a dialect. The name Arg can be traced back to a paper published by the Cerebrum think tank in 0012 that advocated the banning of ‘unauthorised dialects and argots of English’. The term ‘argot’ was ridiculed by campaigners for language liberalisation outside the Kingdom, and was widely disseminated in the graffiti meme ‘hands off my Arg’.

Unverified sources claim that 22% of English speakers in K.E.W. understand Arg ‘well’, 67% ‘moderately well’, and 11% ‘not well’. Some 34 % of the K.E.W. population are claimed to speak Arg at least once a month.

Arg exists in a code-switching relationship with The King’s English. It is typically used for in-group conversation, e.g. intimate peer speech, non-professional workplaces, among boy bankers and girl bankers, and among criminals. It is not unusual, for example, for a manual worker to speak The King’s English in a workshop but to switch to Arg in an encounter in the washroom with a colleague. Using Arg in certain contexts can be interpreted as an implicit act of opposition to the rule of law in K.E.W.

Arg is rarely written except in the captions of some samizdat graphic novels, for example, the notorious Zak and Zina msorta fool around.

Loris Hacker’s book Arg: The Future of English, now proscribed in the K.E.W., argues that Arg is ‘the vanguard of English’ since it progresses language change features that were largely halted with language standardisation and the introduction of printing in the sixteenth century.

Grammatical features of Arg

The grammar of Arg differs from The King’s English in several ways:

1. Loss of inflection in nouns.

Nouns in Old English (sometimes known as Anglo-Saxon) bore inflections, i.e. endings to indicate their role in a sentence or to indicate plural number. For example, the word for ‘angel’ had the forms engel, engles, engle, englas, engla, and englum. In The King’s English today, those inflection are lost, except for the plural -s and a handful of ‘irregular’ plurals such as -en in children. Arg has taken the final step of losing even the plural inflections.

Example: Two rouble, nine girl [Two roubles, nine girls]

2. Loss of verb inflections

Old English had a rich system of verb inflections to convey such things as subject and tense, e.g. lufielufast, lufath, the present tense forms for ‘love’ with the pronouns I, you and he/she respectively. The corresponding past tense forms are lufode, lufodest, lufode. In The King’s English, we see a weakened system of inflections, with just a few vestiges of the Old English system, e.g. -s-ed and -ing in ‘loves’, ‘loved’, ‘loving’. However, Arg has lost all verb inflections.

3. Verb modifiers

To compensate for the loss of verb inflections, Arg has developed a set of verb modifiers that have the status of independent words rather than endings. Examples include:

Past tense modifier did

Unlike The King’s English, which uses inflected forms of do to form questions, tags and ellipsis, e.g. Do you like tea? He wrote the book, didn’t he? Yes, we do., in Arg, only an uninflected form did remains. It is used optionally to indicate actions in the past, e.g. He arrive, he did arrive [He arrived.]

Progressive modifiers ‘msorta‘mlike and ‘mkinda

‘msorta has developed from ‘I’m sort of’, e.g. ‘I’m sort of talking to my sister’. The inflected forms, e.g. ‘he’s sort of’ and ‘you’re sort of’ have been lost. At the same time the progressive inflection -ing has been discarded in Arg, to yield examples such as:

He’msorta eat dinner. [He’s eating dinner.]

We’msorta wait. [We’re waiting].

Baz ‘msorta fish. [Baz is fishing].

The other progressive modifiers, ‘mlike and ‘mkinda, are interchangeable with ‘msorta, e.g

He’mlike eat dinner

He’mkinda eat dinner

Modifiers can be combined, (with the proviso that did is optional) e.g.

I’m did sorta kiss her [I was kissing her]

He’m did like sit on the bench [He was sitting on the bench]

4. Nominalisation of complementizers

The -ing inflection is preserved in Arg in order to form nominalisations that correspond to to-infinitives and to-less infinitives in the King’s English, e.g.

I want eating chips. [I want to eat chips.]She ‘mlike help me chopping

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To find out more about my novels, click here.

Creating a fictional human language – a beginner’s experience

 

 

Most people are familiar with the idea of constructed languages like Esperanto, Tolkien’s Elvish languages, and Dothraki from Game of Thrones. As a novel-writing linguist, I was keen to get it right when I invented two languages for a novel Patria Nullius I’ve just finished writing after a six-year slog.

Constructed languages or conlangs is a serious business. The Language Creation Society brings together experts like co-founder David J. Peterson, language consultant to Game of Thrones. Oh, by the way, people who invent languages are called conlangers, and I guess I’m now one.

I took the easy road in my twenty-second century world – inventing a Creole for a mostly depopulated Australia, and an English ‘underground’ dialect in a dystopian England. I anchored my creations in existing languages, and used linguistic theory to make them plausible.

My languages are mere fragments, nothing like Jasper Charlet’s extensively constructed Carite which even has its own opera Heyra. I have a skeleton vocabulary and basic grammatical rules, but no phonetics or phonology.

Orange Creole is named for the Australian town of Orange, where I located a climate refugee camp of speakers of Fijian, Fijian Hindi, Tongan and Vietnamese whose progeny created an English-based pidgin. This developed into a full Creole in the second generation.

Using Derek Bickerton’s Bioprogram Hypothesis, I was able to invent plausible basic grammatical features for a Creole. Vocabulary was adapted from the base languages and English, e.g. nowrotu ‘> an hour of two, meaning ‘in the near future’; the word for stomach – zazzy > Vietnamese.  Dạ dày.

Here’s an Orange Creole fragment: miyanim spisi yu ‘we are your fruit’, where miyanim (we excluding you) contrasts with miyanyu, (we including you), and spisi is derived from SPC, a brand of Australian canned fruit.

And here’s a bit of Arg, my English dialect spoken by a criminal underclass, which has developed progressivemodifiers ‘msorta, ‘mlike and ‘mkinda, as in we’msorta wait ‘we’re waiting’. My professional future gazing suggests that this is a plausible development.

Patria Nullius is starting its search for an agent right now, so Orange Creole and Arg are under wraps for a while (maybe a long while!). Meanwhile I’d be glad to hear from other linguist-novelists about how you deal with literary challenges. I promise a thread soon on how I incorporated an Arabic ‘feel’ into my Siranoush Trilogy.

Frozen creative muscles thaw after lockdown

The sun’s shining in Sydney, lockdown is over. I’ve eaten in restaurants, been shopping in real shops. The memories of Click n’Collect are fading fast.

After ten years of writing novels and a lifetime of reading them, I found myself emotionally stalled for eighteen months. My sense of humour disappeared. Writing seemed futile, irrelevant, pointless.

Three weeks into freedom, the urge to read and write fiction is back.

The pleasure of reading was the first to reappear. As vaccination rates soared in Sydney and a date for the end of lockdown was announced, I happened to be staying in an AirBnB with a well-stocked bookcase. I knocked off a Richard Flanagan a Christopher Koch and a Gwendoline Riley (my delicious first) in short order.

I knew all along that I had to keep my writing muscles in order, and I’d spent three months of confinement revamping my backlist, including unpublishing a debut novel that I now find mortifying. I regained my rights from the publisher of Cairo Mon Amour and made it the first book in The Siranoush Trilogy, followed by Bury me in Valletta, and rounded off with a new work The Sunset Assassin. I designed a new set of covers and independently published the trilogy in August 2021.

Meanwhile, the old urge to create was nudging. I had in my files the unfinished draft of a complex speculative-cum-dystopian novel Patria Nullius I’d been working on for six years. I’d pestered my writing critique group with it, putting it away for six months and then dragging it out again and again. The problem was the conclusion, or lack thereof. With the thawing of my spirit, the ending leapt out at me. I finished the ms. with a sense of satisfaction rather than despair.

I made myself a promise with Patria Nullius – that I’d spend a year trying to find an agent or publisher for it. I’ve been happy to independently publish my books in recent years, but there’s something special about this book. After six years of struggle, it deserves a chance! So Patria Nullius is now sitting in the slush pile of an Australian literary agent, no doubt one of many I’ll be querying in the next year. Here’s a brief synopsis:

Eminent Professor Susan Bridehead works for a university in New Canberra, an enclave of Oxford that houses the Australian government in exile, now evolved into a monarchy ruled by a mining dynasty. As she completes a flattering history of the dynasty, she works on a parallel story, typing on an antique Remington to avoid electronic surveillance. The story recalls her early life in a largely depopulated Australia and her marriage to Jude, a naive mystic. As Susan’s health falters, she struggles to finish the story of Jude and to reconcile herself with the ghastly prophecy that haunted him.*

The Sunset Assassin is set in Manly, my adopted home town. I set the novel in 1978, and loved the challenge of recreating the atmosphere and language I encountered four decades ago fresh from London. Manly’s an intriguing place with its famous Corso connecting the ferry wharf to the surf beach, and the back streets and alleys that the tourists tend not to penetrate – a setting perhaps for an Australian Brighton Rock.

And that’s where I’m headed with my next work – a historical thriller set in Manly. It’s still in the planning stage, and I’ll be submerged in the New South Wales State Library archives for a while yet.

Happy reading!

Stuart

*For the odd Thomas Hardy tragic, you might guess that this book is partly scaffolded by elements of Jude the Obscure.

YOU CAN FIND LINKS TO MY BOOKS HERE