In this week’s podcast, the granddaddy of British linguists David Crystal reflects on a life in language. Crystal is an inclusionist: he welcomes slang and textspeak, for example, into the English language. He believes that as it expands geographically, its vocabulary will also expand to include more expressions from outlying areas. Maybe I should do a story on how English will develop? If as Crystal believes, it will mutate into a series of localized Englishes, will a new standard global English emerge? Something similiar already seems to be happening to Arabic, with this rise of Al Jazeera and other pan-Arabic TV channels.
Crystal recalls that as a young academic he was contacted by a shoe company who placed an order with him for several nouns and adjectives. This is one of many wonderful stories that pour from Crystal’s pen in his autobiography. Also this week, the Moomins: mouthless Hippo-lookalikes that are the creation of the late Tove Jansson. In their native Finland, the Moomins as popular as Disney is in the United States. Finnish companies use them to sell everything from cookies to baby wipes. The Finnish news media sometimes refer to the country’s president as Moominmamma. There’s a Moomin museum, a summer theme park, and Moomins on Finland’s nation airline, Finnair. They’re popular overseas too. The Moomins have been translated into nearly 40 languages, and there is, almost inevitably, a Japanese anime.
I reported on Moominmania when I was in Finland a while back. The Finns, to my mind, have it all — Nokia, Marimekko, and the Moomins. OK, so they don’t have much sunlight in winter, and perhaps as a result they have an overbundance of thrash-metal bands. I visited Tove Jansson’s old studio in Helsinki — the place where she drew the comic strip, and also painted non-Moomin figures. It was in the studio that I met and interviewed Jansson’s niece Sophia Jansson. She told me that strange things happen to the Moomins when they are translated into Japanese, Cantonese or English.
Finally, we hear from a Lebanese man who has proclaimed himself Emperor of Nowheristan. Really.