David Lodge, linguistics and the treatment of library books…

Yesterday, the Lonely Librarian went to the English Bookshop and bought David Lodge’s latest novel Deaf Sentence. David Lodge is one of the few contemporary authors LoL reads (with a special passion for the Victorians, the Gothic and detective stories of the 1920s and 1930s, her tastes in literature, art etc. stop at about the outbreak of WW2). But David Lodge she loves. Because his novels are hilariously funny. David Lodge used to be a Professor of English and LoL got hooked to his novels after reading Nice Work many years ago, even before she became a student of English. His main characters often are professors, lecturers, etc. of English. In his latest novel, the main character, Desmond Bates, is a retired Professor of Linguistics. Now LoL has read English as a major, and although she had to do both Linguistics and Literature, she has always preferred Linguistics (unlike about almost all of her friends and fellow students). Not that she doesn’t like Literature. On the contrary, she couldn’t live without it. She just doesn’t like to endlessly dissect and over-analyse it the way it is usually done at University). So she enjoys coming across sentences in a novel like

‘F’ is called a labiodental fricative because you produce it by bringing your top teeth into contact with your bottom lip and allowing some air to escape between them (19).

There was a time, almost 10 years ago, when LoL would have been able to give that kind of information about any letter in any language (although she has to admit that was only for a very short time – spanning about the couple of days, the day of, and the couple of days after her phonetics and phonology exam). But she actually quite liked phonetics and phonology (again unlike about everybody else in her course). The phonetic alphabet especially, she found quite fascinating. When you have text written in the our normal alphabet, you can get an idea about the meaning of it by just scanning the words. This is not possible with a text written in the phonetic alphabet. Usually, unless they are very short, recurring words, one doesn’t even recognise a single word by just looking at it. Only when reading the word, one phonetic symbol after the other, and preferably aloud, the meaning of the word unfolds. It is a bit like unwrapping a birthday present. And there is the additional benefit that, at least when strictly adhering to the rules, one ends up pronouncing the word in the best possible RP (or whatever variety used), which, as a non-native speaker, one would probably never be able to do otherwise.

But the special field of Desmond Bates isn’t phonetics but discourse analysis. Which was another of LoL’s favourites back at Uni. So she was pleased to meet old “friends” again in the novel, such as Austin and his types of speech acts (locution, illocution and perlocution) and Searle (commissive, declarative, directive, expressive and representative, etc). LoL has always found it very interesting, how communication works and how information is conveyed, which is probably one of the many reasons why she became a librarian.

Also, she feels very sympathetic to Desmond Bates’ feelings about the treatment of library books. When faced with a library book heavily marked with turquoise highlighter pen, he remarks to the librarian:

It seems to me extraordinary that anyone educated enough to have access to a university library should do this to a book (105).

He then goes on to suggest to the shoulder shrugging librarian how to best deal with these kind of miscreants:

’But you must have a record of all the borrowers of a given book on your computer,’ I said. ‘Can’t you call them all in, one by one, and question them? The vandals might not confess, but they wouldn’t do it again.’ He looked at me as if he thought I was unhinged. Well, perhaps I am a bit, on this subject. To me the treatment of books is a test of civilised behaviour (106).

Well, wouldn’t we all like to do something like this from time to time?

LoL has spent the entire morning reading the novel and is now faced with a difficult decision. Should she go on reading it for the rest of the day or should she put it down and turn to Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, which she wanted to finished before going to London in about one week’s time, because it is one of the books on the reading list for the LRBS course. But as there isn’t really any chance of finishing Eisenstein (still 300 pages to go) anyway, she might as well finish Lodge…:-).

Lit: Lodge, David. Deaf Sentence. A Novel. London: Harvill Secker, 2008. ISBN: 978-1-846-55168-0.

One response to “David Lodge, linguistics and the treatment of library books…

  1. Schön zu lesen, daß es etwas Neues von David Lodge gibt. Ich lese ihn auch gerne.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s