Ready for More of the Same
Notice the same stays the same seemingly forever. The stage was set with the evolution that brought us to the human-monkey state, this human monkey who refers to himself as MAN, or in his intellectual sense, Homo sapien--very few Homo sapiens have ever heard this name, however--it's a name preserved for use in our ivory towers. Man is the same today as he was yesterday and the day before yesterday. Man is the same all over the world. Even though a man is speaking in a rare language only understood by a very few people, he is still speaking everyday language: "Hi, Hugh, how you doin'?" "Just fine, Lugh, how the hell are you doin'? And how's that cute wife of yours...I intended to knock her out and drag her off to my cave but you, you son of a bitch, you beat me to her."
I regularly read www.languagehat.com, a site filled with linguistic discussion by some of the sharpest minds in the business. A recent post on L Hat's site dealt with the subject, "Have Americans Ruined English?" The linguistic responses to this post were all primarily concerned with yes Americans have butchered the real English language, blah, blah, blah. Mostly answers only a linguist (there are sociolinguists, you know--me trumpeting about how all of these thinkers are in fact Sociologists, my favorite human-monkey invention, a biased opinion, of course, since I tout myself as a Sociologist, though non-practicing in the active and up-to-date sense). THOUGH, the whole premise of this post is that all, including Sociology and Linguistics, are still the same, the same goals, the same intentions, the same research methods, the same taught elementals--producing the same ole-same ole--yes, perhaps a modified same ole-same ole, perhaps a same ole-same ole moved on to a higher plane, but still it's the same ole-same ole.
All animals have language. My neighbor has two cats that he sometimes allows to kick the kinks out of their apartment-confined activities by letting them tumble about out in our small but spacious hallway. One of the cats knows me from when he was a big kitten and always comes directly to me corresponding with me in terms of rubbing his head against me, in terms of purring heavily in friendship; the damn cat knows me as a friend. The other cat, however, who I've never touched or talked to, avoids me, is standoffish, though I try and get her to come to me, she relinquishes her getting petted to the cat who knows me--and who when the other cat seems to be coming to me, blocks her path and tells her in an easily understood way that I am his friend and not hers. We have developed a language consisting of words, of sounds, of touch, of even me turning the key in my door lock and this cat knows that sound and runs to my door to wait until I come out--and then he's ready for a little conversation with me.
Did you ever notice that most animals know the meaning of the word "No"--in English, French, Spanish, etc., but then no seems to be a common sound that means what it means to all animals including Homo sapiens. Like when chimpanzees (our next of kin) have a conflict, there's always one big mama who puts a stop to it with firm looks and shrieks that mean NO to the offenders.
Another thing this cat knows are my hand signals. Like most cats and dogs understand the sign language that means "Come here"--or they know the whistle that means the same thing--or in some animals, the hand signal combined with the words "Come here" are easily understood by most animals I have a friend who has a parrot--and even parrots understand "No" and hand signals signaling them to fly down and perch on a finger, or hand signals and sounds telling them it's time to eat. All animals know what "It's time to eat" means, too, no matter how it's phrased: in sound, or whistle, or words.
I looked up "animal linguistics" in Wikipedia (you may love or hate Jimmy Wales, but he pulled off a cool move by shutting down Wikipedia sites for 12 hours--and the SOPA and PIPA bills were thrown off the table as a result--for the moment, the Internet is still left wide open--it's like a huge world-wide bulletin board)--and here's what I found:
"With linguists, the interest of animal communication systems lies in their similarities to and differences from human language:
- Human languages are characterized for having a double articulation (in the characterization of French linguist André Martinet). It means that complex linguistic expressions can be broken down in meaningful elements (such as morphemes and words), which in turn are composed of smallest phonetic elements that affect meaning, called phonemes. Animal signals, however, do not exhibit this dual structure.
- In general, animal utterances are responses to external stimuli, and do not refer to matters removed in time and space. Matters of relevance at a distance, such as distant food sources, tend to be indicated to other individuals by body language instead, for example wolf activity before a hunt, or the information conveyed in honeybee dance language. It is therefore unclear to what extent utterances are automatic responses and to what extent deliberate intent plays a part.
- Human language is largely learned culturally, while animal communication systems are known largely by instinct.
- In contrast to human language, animal communication systems are usually not able to express conceptual generalizations. (Cetaceans and some primates may be notable exceptions).
- Human languages combine elements to produce new messages (a property known as creativity). One factor in this is that much human language growth is based upon conceptual ideas and hypothetical structures, both being far greater capabilities in humans than animals. This appears far less common in animal communication systems, although current research into animal culture is still an ongoing process with many new discoveries."
As a writer--hell, I can easily communicate with other animals--even put words in their mouths if I want to--like writing a children's book narrated by an English-speaking bear perhaps. Writers can use language any damn way they please, as long as it's, shall I dare say, entertaining. It's all about being entertaining. Getting parrots to speak human words is done because it's entertaining when these birds do seem to be understanding and speaking OUR language. Writers must be entertaining--the language they use or abuse in being entertaining in terms of correct usage is irrelevant in a work of fiction. Conversation--the first definition--the second definition having to do with sexual intercourse--which, by the way, has its own form of language--in all animals not just humans. All animals growl and groan with pleasure as they have sex. Humans have a knack of using scurrilous words from their language to add more spice to the action.
And action it is, too. Action is entertaining. Action. Acting. The Act. Act One. A play in 4 Acts. Act yourself. Act like a lady. Act your age. Your actions speak louder than words. Actors. And actors are entertainers.
I'm back to reading Somerset Maugham's wonderful little book, The Summing Up, and I'm in the part where Brother Maugham is talking about his time as a produced playwright and his relationship with the actors and actresses who recreated his written plays onto the stage in a reality setting. In writing about actors and how hard it is to pin them down as to who they are in terms of who they really are--you know, like Maugham says, actors seem to be a conglomeration of all the parts they've ever studied for or succeeded in performing. And, then, in a typical Maugham way, he boils actors and actresses down to the nitty-gritty by writing: "Make-believe is their reality, and the public, which is at once their material and their judge, is also their dupe. Because make-believe is their reality they can look upon reality as make-believe" (Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up, chapter 31, last paragraph).
I've never had any trouble writing dialog--though I never tried to write a play. I was tempted way back when Tennessee Williams wrote Camino Real (1953) and later In a Bar in a Tokyo Hotel, where one critic wrote that Tennessee was "fracturing language" to fit his characters's actions, or where the play is leading its characters--up to the final scene--and then BOOM, the audience is shocked and left stunned. That's what I began to like about Tennessee's play writing.
And as to the language of Camino Real, here's a reply from the main woman character in the play, Marguerite (Camile like)--(thanks to www.sheilaomalley.com/)--and I think this is great writing:
"MARGUERITE. Oh Jacques, we’re used to each other, we’re a pair of captive hawks caught in the same cage, and so we’ve grown used to each other. That’s what passes for love at this dim, shadowy end of the Camino Real … What are we sure of? Not even of our existence, dear comforting friend! And whom can we ask the questions that torment us? “What is this place?” “Where are we?” — a fat old man who gives sly hints that only bewilder us more, a fake of a Gypsy squinting at cards and tea leaves. What else are we offered? The never-broken procession of little events that assure us that we and strangers about us are still going on! Where? Why? and the perch that we hold is unstable! We’re threatend with eviction, for this is a port of entry and departure, there are no permanent guests! And where else have we to go when we leave here? Bide-a-While? “Ritz Men Only”? Or under that ominous arch into Terra Incognita? We’re lonely. We’re frightened. We hear the Streetcleaners’ piping not far away. So now and then, although we’ve wounded each other time and again — we stretch out hands to each other in the dark that we can’t escape from — we huddle together for some dim-communal comfort — and that’s what passes for love on this terminal stretch of the road that used to be royal. What is it, this feeling between us? When you feel my exhausted weight against your shoulder — when I clasp your anxious old hawk’s head to my breast, what is it we feel in whatever is left of our hearts? Something, yes, something — delicate, unreal, bloodless! The sort of violets that could grow on the moon, or in the crevices of those far away mountains, fertilized by the droppings of carrion birds. Those birds are familiar to us. Their shadows inhabit the plaza. I’ve heard them flapping their wings like old charwomen beating worn-out carpets with grey brooms … But tenderness, the violets in the mountains — can’t break the rocks!"
for The Daily Growler
A Little Taste of American Art:
Leonore Knight, Pen and Ink Illustration of GOP Elephant, circa pre-1900 (that's William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt in the handbasket). Little is known about Knight other than she was an illustration artist for the Los Angeles Herald in the 1920's - 1940's. I first heard of her when I bought an autograph item of Betty Roche's, Duke Ellington's vocalist from the mid-forties up into the fifties, very famous for her versions of Ellington's and Billy Strayhorn's Take the A Train--on her own with the Savoy Sultans and later on the famous version by the Ellington Ork released in the early fifties. Betty's autograph was with regards to Leonore Knight whose address at the time, 1944, was in Hollywood. I have learned from dealer descriptions that Leonore Knight sent out autograph requests via return mail to many Hollywood celebrities (a photograph of Hattie McDaniels signed to Leonore recently sold at auction for $1600) and entertainers. Recently on eBay, a lot of several of Leonore Knight's pen and ink drawings was offered for $699. The above illustration is from that eBay auction.