‘What’s going to be then, eh?’
There was me, tht is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry. The Korova Milkbar was a milk-plus pesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like, things changing so skhorry these days and everybody were quick to forget, newspapaers not being read much neither.
Some of you will recognise these opening sentences – Stanley Kubric made them inmortal, although they were first written in a novella by Arthur Burges, A Clockwork Orange.
Burges wanted his teenage narrator to speak like real teenagers do. I’m sure you will remember that your rebel years came with a fancy and special way to communicate. The abbreviations we used to write to each other texts, emails, chats… At the time I thought it was the coolest thing, and they were million of them, so you ended up with this line that didn’t look like Spanish or English any more, and that was the best thing of all. Nowadays, of course, I stopped using them because I care about language. I’m a writer.
Why was Burges so interested in language? Well, because he had to convince his readers that A Clockwork Orange is set in the future. World-building is the key to get readers’ attention… But, how to make a city from the future believable? You describe the landscape, the buildings… but with globalisation is getting quite challenging. Think about cities you know, are not they almost the same? Cities copy things from one another – Tokyo has an Eiffel Tower, Madrid an Egiptian Temple… – and are often built in a similar way and with similar spaces. How can you know you are in a foreign city?
That’s easy, Close your eyes and open your ears.
Language. Cities might look the same, but as soon as we see different people speaking in different languages we know we are in another country.
Burges knew that language was an indispensable feature of his futuristic world. He could have copied the way teenagers talked around him, but that would have outdated in a few years – or even months. And believe me, you don’t want to put anything that goes off quickly in a novella. Literature is all about making things that matter last, not the opposite. So he decided to invent his own dialect based in Russian – a language non-related to English and he called it Nadsat. Why Russian? Burges had gone on holidays to the URSS and perhaps he decided to give further use to his Russian-English dictionary…
It’s true that for the first few pages I was completely lost because of this particular vocabulary. But I already knew the majority of the terms by heart when I finished. Sometimes it’s by context, other by repetition. The system Burges invented to insert these weird terms into his character’s speech is good, because the novella is still a classic.
Inventing a complet new language? That’s way more difficult, although it has already been done, you can ask Tolkien about it…
Have you read A Clockwork Orange? Or watched the film? Did you ever wanted to create your own language for your character?