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No Metaphors Allowed: China Miéville’s Imagined Language

"The Garden of Eden" by Lucas Cranach der Ältere

For the Ariekei, who live on a distant  planet in China Miéville’s latest novel Embassytown,  speech is thought: “Without language for things that didn’t exist, they could hardly think them.”

In Miéville’s Ariekei language, there is no room for metaphor, no space between the thing – or the idea – and the word. As a result, the Ariekei have no concept of lying. Language is truth, rather than merely standing in for it. Quite the opposite of any human language.

The Ariekei’s form of communication is meant to echo the pre-language of  the Garden of Eden, before Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Miéville plays on the idea that language itself– human language –  represents the Fall. As Miéville says, maybe the adoption of language is “rather a good fall.” It’s a nice irony that the Ariekei have two mouths (as well as hooves and wings).

China Miéville

Miéville is – and I’m just learning this –  one of the leading lights of the so-called New Weird generation of fantasy writers. Some say it’s only a matter of time until he busts out of his genre and wins some general fiction prizes.

Also in the pod this week: A short discussion of the word blagging, popularized by the News International scandal;  why governments and aid agencies avoid using the word famine (more here). And, if you sing in French, don’t expect airtime in the Brussels metro (more here).

Listen via iTunes or here.

Photos:  Stuart Caie/Flickr, Wikipedia


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Twitter freedom, a zeitgeisty Chinese word, and Lakota immersion

rusbridgerQuestion: what happens when a court gags a newspaper? Answer: The gag sags, 140 characters at a time. That’s what happened this month when microbloggers tweeted what The Guardian couldn’t report. Plus, they tweeted that The Guardian couldn’t report that it couldn’t report, thus making this a “super-injunction“. The case invovled multinational oil company Trafigura, which has been accused of dumping  toxic waste at various sites in Ivory Coast. Trafigura secured a ruling in a British court enjoining The Guardian from reporting on the issue in the event that it come up in parliament. The issue did come up, and The Guardian duly didn’t report on it. But editor Alan Rushbridger (pictured) did let the blogosphere know that it was being gagged from reporting on a parliamentary matter. That’s when human rights activist Richard Wilson got to work online. He and then thousands of others microblogged about this. And low and behold the gag order was broken, and then lifted. Which goes to show that in the age of the social networking,  it’s much tougher to suppress speech. Or put another way, if a government or judiciary wants to suppress speech, it has to suppress the internet.

In the days after the twitter-outing of Trafigura’s gag order, many members of the British parliament voiced outrage over this attempt to block public access to parliamentary speech. Now Gordon Brown’s government is  moving to put a stop to the most egregious super-injunctions.

cou huoNext in the podcast, a group of Beijing and expat artists discover a Chinese word that seems to convey the state of China today. The word is 凑合 or in pinyin, cou huo. It means…well, it’s difficult to translate. But it conveys construction on-the-go, assembling something through improvisation, making do. It has both positive and negative attributes, and the artists explore both.  The exhibit traveled around Beijing in an appropriately makeshift tent, as artistically rendered above.

Finally, two segments on endangered languages. First an interview with French linguist Claude Hagège who’s written a book about the death of languages. Then a report on the near-death of the native American Lakota language;  its potential rebirth comes with an assist from a German rock star.

Listen in iTunes or here.

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