Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ladle Red Rotten Hut

Can you guess what the title of this post means? Think well-known children's stories...

Enough suspense. It's Little Red Riding Hood, and at Exploratorium you can find an entire version of the story written in common English words that are near-homophones of the normal words. Here is the first paragraph:

Wants pawn term, dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage, honor itch offer lodge dock florist. Disk ladle gull orphan worry ladle cluck wetter putty ladle rat hut, an fur disk raisin pimple colder Ladle Rat Rotten Hut.
The translation of this would, of course, be "Once upon a time, there was a little girl..." and so forth. It's amazing how difficult it really is to interpret when you think too much about it. Much of this, of course, is because the words they use don't maintain the word boundaries of normal English. You have to sit back and sound the thing out to yourself. Fortunately, the website has a link to listen to the story in (the antiquated) RealPlayer format, too.

Here's a great line: "A nervous sausage bag ice!" (= "I never saw such big eyes!")

According to Exploratorium, this version of Little Red Riding Hood was written in 1940 by one H. L. Chace, a professor of French. He "wanted to show his students that intonation - that is, the melody of a language - is an integral part of its meaning."

So what do you think? Did he succeed?

[Addendum: This type of English has cleverly been termed "Anguish", and you can find more examples of Anguish in Chace's 1956 book "Anguish Languish" (i.e. English Language), the full text of which is here.]


Scott Abbott said...

Reminds me of Russel Hoban's novel "Riddley Walker," if I'm remembering correctly.

He invents an entire post-apocalyptic language like the beautiful "anguish" you cite, that the reader gradually reads him or herself into.