Jabberwocky and Bandersnatch
[ Issue 3 ]

Jabberwocky and Bandersnatch keep Emily Bronto occupied for hours

Permit Bikwil to reveal the delights of Jabberwocky and Bandersnatch

Jabberwocky and Bandersnatch

In Issue 3 Harlish Goop reveals how his name arose — a discussion that leads nicely to Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky poem.  How, he asks does some sort of meaning emerge from those classic first two lines?  

More to the point: can the idea be extended to the creation of Bikwil's own artificial language?  

Of course it can: it's called Bandersnatch.

Our ongoing pre-circum-modernist, ambi-sub-constructionist narrative

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A Word in Your Pink Shell-like — Harlish Goop


I have received several enquiries as to the derivation, if any, of my name. Well, not unexpectedly, it has its origin in language study. Here is the reference: H.A. Gleeson, Jr., An Introduction to Descriptive Linguistics (1956).

On page 134 of that work, Gleason invents the following unforgettable sentence as an example of syntactic markers in English that allow understanding (albeit vague) of such an utterance:

The iggle squigs trazed wombly in the harlish goop.

Three of those markers are obvious when you think about it: the word order, the use of common words such as “the” and “in” and the endings “-le”, “-s”, “-ed”, “-ly” and “-ish”.

Many of you, I hope, will have already discerned a resemblance to a far more famous piece of nonsense writing. So renowned is it that Horace Rumpole is always quoting from it, Terry Gilliam made it into a movie and it has been translated at least six times into French, as well as into 22 other languages.

I refer to none other than the Jabberwocky poem (from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There).

Incidentally, apart from your predictable languages like German, Italian and Russian, those 22 translations include versions in — wait for it — Choctaw, Esperanto, Latin and Welsh, plus, would you believe, Klingon.

Carroll’s poem has even been resorted to, not exactly as Gleason does with his “iggle squigs” sentence to teach syntax itself in a linguistics course, but in somewhat related vein for a hefty textbook (500 pages) on logic — Francis Watanabe Hauer’s Critical Thinking, An Introduction to Reasoning (1989). Here Hauer devotes 100 pages to the importance of language in the context of logical thinking, spending no less than two pages on a discussion of how some sort of meaning emerges from those classic first two lines of Jabberwocky:

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.

Traces of this linguistic device are to be found — almost always in proper names — throughout much English language science fiction. Well-known examples occur in the Star Wars movies (e.g. Jabba the Hutt) and in Frank Herbert’s Dune books (e.g. the Shadout Mapes).

And while we’re at it let’s put our hands together for the cream of the crop, Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This series has given us not only marvellous names like Zaphod Beeblebrox, Slartibartfast, Eccentrica Gallumbits and Oolon Colluphid, but also such portmanteau word treasures as:
octopodic physucturalists

Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster
Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Strenuous Garfighters of Stug
Great Binding Fiefdoms of Saxaquine.
All of which somewhat academic introduction leads nicely to the hidden agenda of today’s topic.

Does the technique of inventing words and phrases in this way have a name? Could it be extended into a language? And what would we call such a language — Jabberwocky (or just Jabberwock), Jujub, Tumtum? I like the sound of Bandersnatch myself, but if any reader knows of an “official” name, I’ll bow to your expertise.

Bandersnatch even has potential as a universal language, don’t you think? In my view it possesses three basic characteristics (not all of them linguistic) that make it an excellent candidate for such a role:
It is easy enough for a child to learn, thus giving it a slight edge over Etruscan;
It is more musical than golf, thus making it more suitable for bath-time; and
It is surely more laughable than quantum physics, thus affording it a happier future than Schrödinger's Cat, say — not to be confused with the Cheshire Cat, of course.

Why don’t we try a language creation experiment along these lines in Bikwil? Let me insist right away, however, that the outcome of this verbal amusement, while certainly in the Carroll spirit of fun, is not intended to be a parody of Jabberwocky. Yes, there have been parodies, but I’ve never dared seek them out, because for me that timeless masterpiece stands alone and should be left alone.

Below lurks the brief yet haunting opening of a proposed communal adventure epic in Bandersnatch. Invitations are now extended to all Bikwil linguists for contributions towards our ongoing pre-circum-modernist, ambi-sub-constructionist narrative. We’ll restrict them to one paglet (four or five paragraphs) every few issues because any more may become just a smidgin tedious.

Now, while I have your undivided attention, I want to quickly insert here some advice to you Sydneysiders re a wordy event coming up in November. This is the 1997 Style Council, which this year returns home to New South Wales.

Style Council is an annual conference on Australian style and usage, intended as a forum where people with an interest in Australian English can discuss aspects of language of current importance. As well as the amateur linguist, this would include professional editors, publishers, journalists, broadcasters, teachers, lexicographers and software designers. Previous Style Councils have more than proved their worth in promoting intelligent consideration of English in Australia and in shaping linguistic standards and conventions.

Attendance in Sydney usually reaches around 100.

Taking place under the auspices of the Dictionary Research Centre at Macquarie University in Sydney, Style Council is run jointly by the Centre and The Macquarie Library Pty. Ltd.

This year's theme is The Language of the Media. While the programme is not yet finalised, there are likely to be papers on the ABC's Standing Committee on Spoken Language, film scripting, the language of advertising and of the Internet and the writing of film subtitles and autocues for TV.

I hope to bring you fuller details in the November issue, but just in case that won't give those who might want to attend enough time to register, I strongly suggest you contact the Style Council people on (02)9850 9807 or 8773.

The dates and place are known already, however.

When? The weekend of 22-23 November, plus an optional workshop on the preceding Friday afternoon on the new third edition of the Macquarie Dictionary.

Where? State Library of NSW, Macquarie St. Sydney.

Early-bird fees (prior to 31/10/97) will be about $220.

Finances permitting, I'll be there myself.

Anyway, to come back to language creation for a sec, just remember the Bandersnatch cardinal rule. Always read it aloud with gusto . . . or Harpo or Chico or Ringo or Margo or . . .

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