I keep on looking for instances of prescriptivism or metalinguistic comments on prescriptive issues in English literature. My call for examples in English Today recently did not produce any more examples unfortunately. The solution? Keep on reading, and even rereading. This summer will go down in my books as my David Lodge summer (last year it was books about classical ballet, the year before that all the Dutch Indian novels by Couperus). And look what I found.
It all started with a site visit of a well-known Dutch consultancy in Utrecht in April this year, which reminded me of David Lodge’s Nice Work, which I then reread. How little things have changed in academic life since the mid-1980s! Not a reason for optimism, I’m afraid. I next read Thinks … and am now half-way through Deaf sentence. Where I found a reference to prescriptivism, and even Lynne Truss’s Eats Shoots and Leaves!
The protagonist is a linguist this time (not, indeed, someone who knows languages, as recently-turned-deaf Desmond Bates informs his GP, p. 20), who tries to keep on good terms with his step-son-in-law Peter. Peter is rather in awe of Desmond, “because he thinks you must be silently criticising his English all the time because you’re a Professor of Linguistics”, Desmond’s wife Fred explains. Happens to us all all the time! This made Desmond laugh, “because modern linguistics is almost excessively non-prescriptive”. But his wife was right, he has to admit, since “Peter is from a working-class background, speaks with a perceptible local accent and uses the occasional dialect word”. AND loves “Lynne Truss’s bestselling book on the apostrophe”, which Desmond had hoped to introduce him to, but which Peter uses “as a kind of bible”. Great, thanks, David Lodge, I’ll just keep on rereading and hope to find more.
And if anyone has any more such examples for me, I’d be very grateful!
But to end with a question: Deaf sentence is brilliantly dedicated to all those who translated David Lodge’s novels in the past. With the challenge added to translate the title of this particularly one. Has anyone come across any translations of the novel, or did the challenge prove too great?