Posts Tagged ‘VS_Ramachandran’

The Language of China Miéville’s Embassytown

24 September 2011

Embassytown by China Miéville, published 2011

I just finished the novel Embassytown by China Miéville. It was recommended and loaned to me by my friend Federico. It’s a good read; I recommend it.

Embassytown is science fiction. I found its strength to be the description of a faraway world, though there’s plenty of alien description, nothing is quite as fleshed out and compelling as the alien language, which is ultimately central to whole book.

The setting is a human outpost on a world call Arieka inhabited by the Ariekei or the “Hosts”. When humans initially make contact with Ariekei, communication is difficult.

Here’s an excerpt:

When the ACLers [Accelerated Contact Linguistics] and the crews came to Arieka, there started more than 250 kilohours of bewilderment. It wasn’t that the Host language is particularly difficult to understand, or changeable, or excessively various. There were startlingly few Hosts on Arieka, scattered around the one city, and all spoke the same language. With the linguists’ earware and drives it wasn’t hard to amass a database of sound-words (the newcomers thought of them as words, though where they divided one from the next the Ariekei might not recognize fissures.) The scholars made pretty quick sense of syntax. Like all exot languages it had its share of astonishments. But there was nothing so alien that it trumped the ACLers or their machines.  (more…)

Sondheim Rhyme: Sublime

20 August 2011

As I wrote about here, I’ve listening to a fair amount of Stephen Sondheim… and more you listen to Sondheim, the more his genius kind of sinks in. Like other great art, repeated listenings just get deeper and stronger. The first time I hear a Sondheim piece, I can get the basic gist, and I may like it – especially when it’s performed in a musical. I admit that, sometimes, hearing a piece for the first time, without knowing any of the plot that it hangs on and is completely integral to, it can be more difficult to appreciate. The first time I heard the soundtrack to Sunday in the Park with George, I didn’t get it… and now it seems like it’s part of the fiber of my being.

It’s repeated those listenings and viewings that deepen one’s appreciation for Sondheims work. It sounds deceptively simple… but then there are huge underlying complexities… both musically and in the rhymes. I am not a musician, so I can’t explain the musical textures (maybe watch this NY Times video to get a wonderful taste of it), but lately I’ve been thinking about the way Sondheim rhymes.

When my mom, the biggest Sondheim fan of my life, was in the hospital, I was thinking about her, cruising Youtube for Sondheim, I came across this 2010 PBS Newshour video:

Starting at minute 9 in the video, Sondheim talks about rhyming things based not just on sound but also spelling! This is something I’ve never thought of… isn’t rhyme just about sound? Isn’t that the definition? Sondheim says that he prefers rhymes that are spelled differently, because they surprise. The examples that he uses in the video is that “suffer” and “rougher” is a better or richer rhyme than “rougher” and “tougher.” The other example Sondheim cites is rhyming “journal” and “colonel.”  (more…)