I like Michael Rosen’s
work for children (I use The Sad Book in my children’s literature course at the
university) and I’m always interested in what he has to say about language and
lit. So I was excited to read his book, Alphabetical.
What a fun,
interesting book! You can dip in and out and you can return to it, as there’s
so much to learn from it. Sometimes it’s a bit random, as though you’re getting
access to what’s going on in Rosen’s brain at any given moment. As he writes
about the alphabet, topics range over the Rosetta Stone, nonsense, jokes, umlauts
(he jokes about “adlauts”: umlauts used unnecessarily, especially in company
names), fonts, and much more.
Here’s a typical
example of how he gives history about each letter: “‘A’ starts its life in
around 1800 BCE. Turn our modern ‘A’ upside down and you can see something of
its original shape. Can you see an ox’s head with its horns sticking up in the
air? If so, you can see the remains of this letter’s original name, ‘ox’, or
‘aleph’ on the ancient Semitic languages. By the time the Phoenicians are using
it in around 1000 BCE it is lying on its side and looks more like a ‘K’.
Speed-writing seems to have taken the diagonals through the upright, making it
more like a horizontal form of our modern ‘A’ with the point on the left-hand
side.” (p. 2)
But often the chapters
go beyond the letter themselves. For example, K is for Korean and Rosen
discusses the singer of the popular song ‘Gangnam Style’ as a way into looking
at the Korean tongue. Korean is the “earliest known successful example of a
sudden, conscious, total transformation
of a country’s writing.” (p. 163) In 1446, the king of Korea created a
new alphabet (rather than using Chinese characters) because he was “saddened”
that the people of his country couldn’t make themselves understood in writing.
Rosen notes “I cannot think of anything in the world of alphabets more humane
than that.” (p. 164)
Of course I was
particularly interested in references to anything Scandinavian. Rosen mentions
how a runestone from 1362 was found in the US in 1898, which seemed to prove
that the Vikings had been in America. (p. 337) And he gives a list of some
English words from Old Norse, which entered the English language when the
Vikings came: “Anger, bag, bask, birth…rotten, rugged, run, skid…window, wing,
wrong.” (p. 341)
Basically, this is a
book can you return to many times. There’s so much information in it and it’s
This online translation agency is large, seems to pay fairly, and has received quite a bit of recognition. I have never worked with them, but they might be a useful company for people who are looking for freelance translation work.
This comedy sketch may be old news to some of you, but I only recently was introduced to it and it made me laugh. It’s about how difficult Danish can be to understand, even for Danes. I lived 20 minutes from Denmark for years, and I still would rather speak English to a Dane!
Originally from Chicago, I lived in southern Sweden for nearly 5.5 years, and moved to southern Wales in September 2006. I completed a Ph.D. translation studies in June 2009 at Swansea University, with a dissertation on the translation of children's literature.
Now I live in Norwich, England, where I am a lecturer at the University of East Anglia, and I also work as a translator, writer, and editor.
Contact me at bravenewwords (AT) gmail (DOT) com.