Friday, October 28, 2016

Speaking in Tongues, Speaking in Codes, Speaking in Riddles


We all speak in code at some point during the day, whether to others or to that curious complexity that is the Self.  Code is a secret language, meant to include some we consider elect and exclude those we feel somehow ill at ease with. Coded messages give us the assurance we are special, perhaps even to the point of being less vulnerable than we fear.

Those of us who write speak in code all the time, certainly when we write dialogue involving two or more characters from differing social strata, and almost always when a literary agent or editor tells us our characters conversations are becoming too chatty.

Ah. Thank you for calling that to my attention.

I needed that exchange to get in vital information.

Fuck you.

You'll see; I pay off on it--later.


The expression "code talker" came into being during World War II, when twenty-nine Native Americans from the Navajo nation were recruited to use their own language as written and verbal ways of transmitting  vital, tactical military information the Japanese would have little or no opportunity to make use of. Because of the origins of the Navajo language, the Japanese had almost zero probability of interpreting data in written or spoken form.

There have been other forms of code talking over the years, your own awareness of the process brought to life when your parents used Yiddish, Hungarian, and Polish to exchange information in your presence such as determining your bed or nap times or one parent informing the other you were of a particularly stubborn or cranky frame of mind.

Thus you learned words in these languages you might not have learned, including slang and foreign language word for certain body parts. You and your sister quickly learned and exploited a useful language known as Pig Latin, meaning you could turn the tables on your parents and communicate readily without fear of being understood.

In later years, you had Spanish, some Italian, and a smattering of French down, but these didn't count because a legitimate language is accessible; code languages need an initiation. There was also the Aup Language, an elitist code if ever there was one, in which the speaker inserts the syllable "aup" before every vowel, thus on letters from N-Triangle, the secret club you'd joined, post cards and enveloped letters bore the admonition, Wraupite saupoon. "What language is that?" Your mother once asked.

Indeed, shortly after graduation from the university and your precipitous decision to follow the carnival, you became aware of that code language, its use and construction made the more easy thanks to your earlier ventures into Ig-pay, tin-lay, and the language of aup. Carney language had one inserting "Diaz" before each new syllable, thus carney language would be spoken as key-izarney liazanguizage.  Rolls right off the tongue all these years later. As well, ig-pay tin-lay reminds you with a chuckle of my pay and my aunt's pay.

With due respect and admiration to the Navajo code talkers and all those fluent in what you will lump together as kiddie languages, you also respect the notion of the euphemism, which in simplistic form is a way to take the sting off an actual unfortunate or fearsome circumstance. 

Death becomes The Grim Reaper personified, die becomes passed, passed away, passed over, and, let's hear it for the Navajos, walked on. You are supposedly enjoying your Golden Years, and as an agreeable take on the famed Peter Sellers "That's not my dog," you can and have allowed that you were just bitten by man's best friend.


These vagrant musings were begun with the notion that one of your dearest friends ever was a Brit, you've edited some thirty books from a native of Lyme Regis, West Dorset, and average fifty weekly coffee meetings a year with him over the last twenty-five years. Another dear friend, although herself born in South Africa, was the oldest daughter of two Brits; she made regular visits to Santa Barbara, and you visited her and her son while in London.

A quick scan of your memory reveals only one Brit character and another, an Aussie, pretending to be a Brit, and, now that you have that memory going, a Brit posing as an Aussie. You've read any number--at least three hundred--novels written by Brits, mostly populated with British characters, and you have seen at conservative estimate one hundred English feature films and two hundred English television dramas.

Questioning yourself, you're also aware from reading, watching, and observation (plus discussions with Auden and Isherwood), and your favorite university instructor, true enough, was born in Shanghai to missionary parents, but went to Merton College, Oxford, from which he received his advanced degree, giving him more than a little touch of the Brit.

You are aware, from an outsider point of view, of the vast social fabric of the Brits. You take special pleasure in watching the way two Brits, meeting for the first time, will go about confirming each the other's social ranking. This is true as well of America and you do not doubt the intricacies of American ranking.  Example: You asked another dear friend why, in checking out the school part of the discovery pedigree of a stranger, Yale graduates tend not to say Yale, rather New Haven.  "When were you at (as opposed to in) New Haven?"

Because, your friend explained, "The Harvards speak of their school days as having been at Harvard, and we have no wish to sound like them."

British actors come to this country and regularly knock off American accents. Notable examples Dominic West portraying a Baltimore cop in The Wire, and Hugh Lurie, first and foremost as the eponymous House, and in more recent days, Chance, both Yanks.

The effect of this is the challenge some aspect of you has given some other aspect: Write a plausible Brit character.

Post a Comment