Sunday, October 19, 2008

The rocky road to modern Ireland

Books, Inq., run by my former colleague Frank Wilson, points the way to a newspaper article full of interesting insights about Irish English, even if some of these come from John Banville, not beloved of all in the Irish crime-writing community.

I especially liked the article's observation that, while ordinary Irish people may not have Seán Ó Faoláin or James Joyce at their fingertips, they speak with a fluency rare in the author's own city of Toronto:
"I'll be accused of stereotyping to say it, but everyone not only answered in full sentences, but those sentences almost inevitably turned into paragraphs, and those paragraphs had structure, plot, characters, jokes, well-constructed self-deprecations and not a single `um,' `er' or `like.'"
The man is right. I'm recently back from a trip to Ireland, where no one ever missed the chance to turn the most ordinary, quotidian interaction into a story or a joke or a little play:

Me: "Is that a Belfast train?"

Conductor: "Do you want it to be a Belfast train?"

Me:
"Yes."

Conductor:
"It's a Belfast train."
My other discovery was that Peter Lennon's 1967 documentary Rocky Road To Dublin is available whole and free on YouTube. I found this by accident when searching for clips of the song of the same name, and all I can say is that it's easy to see why the film was banned in the Republic of Ireland for so long:

"We were told that we were the sons and daughters of revolutionary heroes and that our role now was to be one of gratitude, well-behaved gratitude. To criticize the society our old guerrilla fighters had built up was to be a traitor. We were to keep quiet, and they, like jolly but tough old uncles, would take care of us. What they expected from us now was a new kind of heroism, heroic obedience."
This is electrifying stuff and will lurk in my mind as I read any current Irish crime fiction that takes even a glancing look at the current state of its country.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

Labels: , , ,

36 Comments:

Blogger Loren Eaton said...

"Um" is one of those banal, American tics that I despise. I despise it all the more because despite a minor in communications that involved several public-speaking classes, I can't seem to banish it from my own diction.

October 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder if Americans are more prone to tics like that than other people are. If so, I wonder why.

"Like" is the one that gets me. What's grating is that the like-users are growing up and still using "like." I once read a suggestion that frequent use of "like" is a hedge, a sign that the speaker lacks confidence in what he or see is saying. If that's the case, why not shut up instead?

October 19, 2008  
Blogger Dana King said...

Peter,
Since when has not knowing what he's talking about ever caused an American to shut up?

October 20, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, come on. There must be a few.

October 20, 2008  
Anonymous marco said...

I remember some years ago (early nineties probably) I was watching an interview of some band (English or American I don't remember) on a MTV-like channel.
After a while my father,who had never studied English,began to say:
"iùnou,iùnou,non fanno che dire iùnou"
(youknow,youknow,they only say youknow)

Ciao,
Marco

October 20, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I had this conversation back in the 90's:

Me: "Is this the bus to Belfast?"
Driver: "Technically speaking yes, but I'm in a bit of a funny mood today."
Me: "Where could we end up?"
Driver: "Oh, I don't know, Spain?"
Me: "What about the Irish Sea?"
Driver: "Ach, geography was never my strong suit."

October 20, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, your father demonstrated a sharp ear. I made this post to honor speech patterns and linguistic habits of a country I had visited, but I am delighted to be able to denigrate the speech patterns and linguistic habits of the country where I live.

October 21, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I posted about trains, but I have a lingering affection for Ulster Bus and its drivers, too, including the one who seemed to know every school kid he picked up in Cookstown, I think it was, and could imitate Donald Duck at least as well as most of them.

October 21, 2008  
Anonymous marco said...

To be honest,there's much to be said about current Italian linguistic habits as well.
A few comedians for instance have done hilarious impersonations of modern day teens with their sms-internet-tv influenced language.

Ciao,
Marco

October 21, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd love to see some examples. I suppose Italian teens have their equivalents of "How r u?" and the like.

October 21, 2008  
Anonymous marco said...

Empty fillers like cioè (literally "that is" ),anglicisms (some say Italy is the European country where anglicisms are most used,though in my experience Germany is a serious contender) including internet-speak
(omg,lol) sms-abbreviations (tvb=ti voglio bene-I love you/I'm fond of you),vernacular idioms,the list goes on.

Ciao,
Marco

October 21, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Do Italians also say "alora" all the time when they need to take a pause or don't want to stop talking?

I'd probably get a kick out of tvb, at least at first, because of its novelty.

October 21, 2008  
Anonymous marco said...

allora/alora
Yes,but there are a lot of local variations in speech mannerisms,and uses go in and out of fashion.
In fact even the comedians I mentioned tend to focus on various regional stereotypes (p.e.the Roman coatto,which you may have met) b/c often phrases,idioms and interjections,while recognizable,are by no means homogeneous.

October 21, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Allora struck me as a verbal tic, the sort of thing someone would say who was talking faster than he was thinking and was suddenly at a loss when he ran out of words.

I once had a boring, pompous professor who did this sort of thing all the time. A friend and I would sit in class and keep track of the number of times he said "so to speak." This was a lot more exciting than taking notes in class.

October 21, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

In the 70's and 80's Ulsterbus was run by a German called Werner Heubeck, rather like Werner Von Braun and, erm, Gunter Grass, he was an enthusiastic Nazi who changed his tune after the War. Heubeck was an eccentric who on many occasions carried unexploded bombs off hijacked buses, he offered to drive the buses himself in "no go" areas and became something of a TV celebrity.

Several drivers I know look back on the Heubeck era as the "glory days of Ulsterbus."

October 21, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Er, I'd hate to think his political background is why Ulsterbus's buses seem to run on time.

October 22, 2008  
Anonymous marco said...

rather like Werner Von Braun and, erm, Gunter Grass,he was an enthusiastic Nazi who changed his tune after the War.

You forgot our beloved German Sh...Pastor.
Btw,Peter,Adrian says you should try the Giallo Maker if you haven't already

October 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. At least one of the Giallo Maker's synopses is interesting enough to form the basis of a real story. And I was delighted to discover that one of the (presumably) fictitious authors that was Carlo Plagiarino. One wonders if an author named Plagiarino commits plagiarismo.

October 22, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I should have resisted my temptation to get in another dig at Gunter Grass and said Werner Heisenberg instead. Three Werners would have scanned so much better. Oh yeah and the prison guard James Garner befriends in the Great Escape - Werner.

October 22, 2008  
Anonymous marco said...

One wonders if an author named Plagiarino commits plagiarismo.

I'm very fond of Antonio Michelangeloni,and I find Romano Pecorino expecially delicious.

Ciao,
Marco

October 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, are you certain about Heisenberg?

October 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I found Antonio Michelangeloni after I posted my comment. I would have wrinkled my nose at Romano Pecorino, since I'm not much of a cheese eater.

October 22, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

WH, unrepentant Nazi. Did you ever see Copenhagen? That bent over backwards to be generous to WH's reputation. Bohr's family tell a different story of that encounter. "Heisenberg's War" is a pretty good book too. I reviewed it for the Barnes and Noble instore flier so I know of which I speak. Very good reputation those instore fliers, third only to the NYRB and the TLS.

October 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've just browsed an interesting article about Heisenberg from a publication called Physics World, which discusses the man's reputation. Perhaps I shall comment once I've read more. For now, my knowledge of Heisenberg does not extend much beyond the principle that enabled the little joke in my last reply to you.

I have not seen Copenhagen either, but I shall prick up my ears if a production comes around. If nothing else, a bit more knowledge of Heisenberg's life and activities might rescue post-Einstein physics from the giddy mist of Eastern bushwa in which it seems to be enveloped, if one can judge from popular books on the subject.

October 22, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Ha, ha. Cant I believe I missed that. In my defence it was rather early in the morning here for quantum mechanics humour. I suppose a pollster with a physics minor could write an Onion story with the headline "Is This McCain's Dead Cat Bounce? Or Is The Cat in Quantum Entangled State That We Wont Discover Until We Open The Box?"

I probably would have missed

October 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I keep thinking that Lilian Jackson Braun should write a mystery in which Erwin Schrödinger figures prominently. She could call it The Cat Who Wasn’t Dead or The Cat Who Made Schrödinger Say, WTF?

October 22, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I always wanted to see a, er, cat fight, between LJB and Sneaky Pie Brown

October 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think Barbara Bush's dog could kick both their asses.

The Sneaky Pie Brown thing really surprised me. I've never read Rita Mae Brown, but I figured from the time of Rubyfruit Jungle that she must be pretty ground-breaking and therefore pretty cool. But then she not only writes cat mysteries, she not only gives the cat a co-byline, but she gives it the most nauseating, cloyingly cute name in the history of nauseating, cloyingly cute literary animal names. I am half-convinced the whole thing is some post-modern gesture that I cannot understand.

October 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My favorite yet from the Giallo Maker:

Black Cat on the Velvet Tapestry

Directed by
Fulvio Lucci

An English woman is found dismembered. A blind student is implicated in the crime. After discovering an old painting, she finds herself faced with the decision to betray her own mother.


These whimsical bogus gialli do make one realize how strongly dismemberment and mutilation figure in current crime fiction.

October 23, 2008  
Anonymous marco said...

Schrödinger has unleashed zombie cats unto the unsuspecting world.
Neither alive nor dead,they'll continue to haunt the pages of cat-themed mysteries until they remain confined in a box in their entangled state.
Both Lilian Jackson Braun and Rita Mae Brown are fronts for the zombie cat conspiracy,headed by zombie Wernher von Braun.

Peter, gialli here means a particular type of mystery/horror/slasher movies:

from wikipedia:

These films, particularly such 1970s classics by directors like Dario Argento or Mario Bava, are only defined as "gialli" in the English language usage of the term; they are not called such in Italy, where they are usually described as thrillers instead. This stems from the fact that in Italian the Argento and Bava movies were defined as "giallo-thrillers" or "giallo-horrors"; in the Italian tongue the coupling of the two words, meant as substantives, had to indicate the public the salient characteristics of the new genre where the search for a murder culprit (hence "giallo") was interspersed with shocking and grandguignolesque events (hence "thriller" and "horror"). English-speaking people, instead, following the use of their native grammar, took "giallo" as an adjective to "thriller" and "horror", hence appropriating the term in their own language while being only partially aware of its broader meaning in Italian.

This one is very good:

Your Face is as Still as the Calm Surface of the Lake, But Your Heart is a Killer with Bloodstained Lips

Directed by
Nanni Nonni

A blind child is found dead (presumably a suicide) near the house of the village witch. A young dancer seems to know a little too much about the the crime. When another person is found murdered, she discovers too late that the perpetrator has been close to her all the time.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I learned a bit about the tangled meanings of "giallo" when I was doing research for a post I may put up in the next day or so. In any case, the coupling of the substantives in the Italian usage indicates a blend of crime and horror that does not exist in English and American fiction, though it may be related to certain strains of current crime writing, namely the ones where killers maim their victims in especially flamboyant or significant ways.

The Zombie Cats of Erwin Schrödinger would pose an interesting existential question, or maybe just a pointless semantic one: Can one ascribe to Schrödinger zombies the state of undeadness if one cannot say for sure what state they're in? Perhaps questions like these may help us understant why zombie movies enjoy wider popularity than quantum physics.

October 23, 2008  
Anonymous marco said...

a blend of crime and horror that does not exist in English and American fiction

You,surprise me,Peter.
What about the Jacobean Revenge Plays,(and Hamlet and Macbeth,to a lesser extent) with their mix of murder most foul, poisoned skulls, spectral apparitions, incest, insanity...

Btw,my current confirmation words are the mysterious apicarie and maticant.

Ciao
Marco

October 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've written often about Shakespeare as crime fiction, particularly about Hamlet and Macbeth, so I did not mean that the combination had no history in English literature. I meant there was no established genre that combined horror with crime and detection in current English-language fiction, as far as I know.

Those confirmation words, the second especially, pass the test of sounding as if they could be real words. Perhaps my current one does so as well: cousses.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here is my first post in that vein, easily digestible evidence that I acknowledge Shakespeare's willingness to get down with murder, stabbings, witches and ghosts.

October 23, 2008  
Anonymous marco said...

I particularly like Prince Runs Amok; Many Feared Dead .
And the line With its Scottish setting, Macbeth is sure to please fans of Ian Rankin. makes for an ideal blurb.

torye cousses maticant in the apicarie.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You know, reading Shakespeare with tongue slightly in cheek that way was great fun. It made the Bard come alive, you might say.

Some good sign-in words there, and appropriate for a comment with Scottish references. They sound like Robert Burns getting drunk and trying to speak Latin.

October 23, 2008  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home