Friday, 25 July 2008

Im Anfang war die Tat

There's a surprisingly lucid discussion in Gadjo Dilo's Transylvanian keep about tautology.

The issue seems to be whether such verbal redundancy is a sign of ignorance or the sort of speech defect that my father used to cure with a Lada battery and a gasmask.

No Good Boyo and his compatriot Sioba Siencyn - a professional moss-gatherer, I believe - have claimed a particular school of tautology for their pixie patrimony.

These "Welshisms", as they call them during mercifully infrequent forays into English, are marked by a florid declamatory style, often involving auxesis.

Examples they have shared with me include:

a police officer on the Radio 4 "Today" programme saying that the then-flooded village of Crickhowell was "an island, an island surrounded by water";

Mervyn Johns in the film Dead of Night referring to "a nightmare of horror";

another Welsh film character at some point bewailing a "hollow mockery"; and

a Cambrian colleague of Boyo's once causing a mass choking fit in London curryhouse by mentioning a "diametrically opposed opposite".

Anyone who has found themselves suddenly overwhelmed by a Welsh social gathering will notice that repetition is a national identifier both in speech and clothing - belts worn with braces (meaning "suspenders" for my American readers - Welsh denistry is a stranger to tools other than the pick and shovel) , cardigans with jackets and, among the ladies, wigs with hats.

The question to my mind is this: are these true tautological statements, or simply the cotton-gin mechanisms of the Welsh language as applied to the sleek machinery of modern English?


Gadjo Dilo said...

I'm no position to comment on the Welsh language, Mrs Boyo, as I succumbed irrevocably to the Rabelaisian pleasure of vowels a long time ago.

Until think of something even more pretentious to say on this subject, I'll only comment that I've heard modern linguists (of the Media Studies variety, admittedly) claim that "I never did nothing" is an intensified negation rather than a countermanded one. Here in Romania we say "Nici eu nu am", which transliterates as "Neither I have not" but means "Neither I have". This is not the language of Ovid and Pliny the Elder, surely.

Gadjo Dilo said...

P.S. My point was that saying the same thing twice could be considered to serve a purpose, though my argument was a little tangential.

Gyppo Byard said...

The English double negative has a long and noble history of use as an intensifier, and don't let nobody tell you otherwise!

The principle problem of English grammar is all down to the Normans, if you ask me (which you didn't, but I've never let that stop me before) - Anglo-Saxons were reduced to second-class citizens in their own country, and "proper grammar" confined to the realms of Latin and French, which work on a different basis. Thus lingering Saxonisms in English were misunderstood and poo-pooed by generation after generation of "educated" types who looked at English through the distorting lens of Latinate grammar. Double negatives is one example, the quite pointless rule that it is considered bad form to boldly split an infinitive is another. I mean, of course you can't split a French or Latin infinitive, they're single words. that doesn't mean that the English infinitive - a construction made for splitting - should never be splat.

I had that Noam Chomsky in the back of the cab once, guv'nor.

No Good Boyo said...

Hey! Welsh is the home both of the triple and also the treble negative (a triple voiced in counter-tenor), as well as the magnificent quadruple negative:

"Nad oes neb yn gwybod ffwc ddim am ddim!"

(Literally: "No one doesn't know nothing about nothing" - idiomatically meaning "We was all at home with a wife, officer").

English come over here with their fancy infinitives, taking our negatives... vowels they's welcome to.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Ah, delicious - I didn't know about such multiple negatives. A cute example I've just found is Torpenhow Hill, a place in Cumbria, whose name means "Hillhillhill Hill" in the various languages of the successive inhabitants. (However, I rather suspect that Mrs Boyo hopes for something less whimsical from us.)

I absolutely agree with Mr Gyppo comments. (And the word for today, children, is "splat".) I'm expecting a treatise on false quantity from him soon.

I had that H. W. Fowler in the back of my cab once.

Gyppo Byard said...

I'll spare you that, but I will note that, charmingly, Malay has three options for 'yes' and 'no' where English has but the two; the third one being a word which means "not as yet, but I can't rule it out for some point in the indeterminate future". When one is asked "Are you married?" when one is not, for instance, to answer "no" would be considered weird.

No Good Boyo said...

Welsh considers "yes" and "no" to be unsubtle and Saxon, and prefers endless circumlocution and repetition of verbs. Latin did the same, so we feel the Romans were in good company.

We do have equivalent words - "ie" and "na" - but use of them is a sign of being an infant or a learner. These two groups are the future of our language, and so we mock them fearlessly.

Mrs Pouncer said...

As Mr Pouncer has now been outed as a celebrated libel lawyer, I can exclusively reveal that he oft times advises his clients to use "someone said something" (to avoid text becoming actionable). On more than one occasion, however, litigants have insisted on "no-one said nothing" as being safer.

Gyppo Byard said...

He could always advise his clients to go with the "passive of avoided responsibility" construction - Things were said.

Mrs Boyo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mrs Boyo said...

Mrs Pouncer, gentlemen, Boyo,

I am impressed with the erudition of the comments on my post. This has convinced me that blogging serves a doubly useful purpose: not only do I impart my views to the world, but the world shares germane information with me.

From this "comment thread" alone I have learned that:

1. Ukrainians are right to think that Romanian is not so much a language as a Latin grammar read backwards;

2. The Norman Conquest spared Britain the dative case, thereby freeing its villeins to spread the contagions of parliamentary democracy and association football without any polysyllabic drag;

3. I have married into an Ealing Comedy construct;

4. Cumbria is but a vowel-shift away from the linguistic loop that is the Welsh language;

5. The world was right to confine the Malays, Welsh and English to one easily-identifiable Empire; and

6. There is another libel lawyer for my hirelings to hunt down and pacify.

[I had to delete my earlier comment on the advice of another libel lawyer. Like syringes, they are single-use only.]

Kevin Musgrove said...

One more point to your list, Mrs. Boyo:

7. The Welsh language is a schoolboy jape. It was invented by public schooldays in the high summers of Victorian England. Viewed objectively, it is naught but Dog Latin with an eccentric use of the alphabet to confuse the credulous. ygol, yglys, etc.

Once the joke got out of hand and became adopted by earnest men in bedsheets in Rhyl the perpetrators got a bit panicky and had to resort to chucking in bits of mutated French to make it look like a living language (redactorio, eiffeltowerio, leweekendio, etc.)

Mrs Boyo said...

Quite so, Mr Musgrove. The Welsh Language Board buys off historians and linquists who stumble on the truth with comfortable sinecures.

The persistent ones end up on those small islands off Pembrokeshire that you see from your yacht. They're not waving in greeting, I assure you.