Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Everywhere man is born free and everywhere man is snark’d

We return to our Snark Hunt, tanned, rested & ready after imbibing deeply of the heady Carrollian brew that was on tap at the LCSNA Spring 2010 meeting at Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum. Sad to say, there were no Snark-specific events at the meeting, although the thrill of seeing one of the rejected 1st-press-run examples of Alice in Wonderland made up for that somewhat.

However, there was one guest, Dr. Maria Tatar, whose remarks are worth expanding upon here. Dr. Tatar is a professor of Germanic literature at Harvard and more to the point, she has a penchant for publicly speaking Nonsense in a refreshingly clearheaded and perceptive way. She noted that the logical inadequacies of language provide plenty of juicy opportunities for a bit of what the language boffins call Nonsense, or in the vulgate, "running amuck with the mother tongue."

Apparently it’s all good, clean fun when done by the likes of the Admirable Carroll and practically guaranteed to produce a healthy bumper crop of cucumber-laden child-philosophers in the salad season, as Prof. Neddy Seagoon (Dept. Of Lurgi Studies, University of Blauflasche-am-Rhein) once put it.

Naturally, the moment Dr. Tatar mentioned mucking about with words, this artist roused himself from his usual stupor into a less unusual stupor, the sort of thing which any Snark Hunter would instantly recognize as a sort of slobbering approximation of Deep Thought. This business of making words do that which they are not wont to do is quite frankly, their own fault and they have no one to blame for it but themselves.

Let us, for the sake of argument, pugnaciously dear reader, imagine a language which means exactly what it says, a language so perfectly designed that it can describe everything accurately. Such a language would be 100% nonsense-proof and for good reason, it would have to be a perfect and precise replica of the entire world itself and hence incapable of ever meaning anything but what it claims to mean. Such a language would in fact be a one-to-one scale model of the world, along the lines of the Other Professor’s map in Sylvie and Bruno, a map which could easily be mistaken for the world itself since there could be no detectable difference between them.

Wordsy things which perfectly resemble one another are called puns by the Illuminati and so we see that our conlang (which we’ll call YouSpeak) must be in all respects a pun upon the entire world itself.

All of which brings us to one of the most infamous stanzels of The Hunting of the Snark, the infamous Bellman’s Map as seen above. Despite sniggers and sneers in certain cartographic quarters, this map is possessed of a considerable navigational, semiotic and even metaphysical Juju.

This is a drawing of a map itself depicting a world inhabited by certain protestants who are themselves contemplating that very map. Their assertion that the map is a blank is obviously true and the legend upon the map, "you are always here" is also an obvious truth. Both qualities of the map are contradictory yet both are patently true. In this sense of shared form and divergent meanings, the map is a perfect example of YouSpeak for whilst it perfectly describes the entire world it overlaps, it is also a genuine pun of the highest water.

As an added bonus for my more easily discombobulated readers, I’ve taken pains to ensure that the map’s legend is in the French language, the most homophonous and pun-ridden language known to man and hence, the closest we’ll ever get to YouSpeak in these sadly postlapsarian times.

Take that, GermanSpeak, with your granular lexicon, regular grammar and delayed-gratification syntax — we are fashionably lost in French and loving it!