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L'avenir des langues - Bibliographie

Linguist adds spice to travel writing (book review)

Última actualización: 22 mar 2010
TheChronicleHerald.ca / BOOKS

Hooton: New face of fiction holds readers’ attention


Pilgrim in the Palace of Words: A Journey Through the 6,000 Languages of Earth by Glenn Dixon (Dundurn, 24.99)

There are 6,000 languages spoken on our planet, less than half than there was, but, dismayingly, much greater than 500, which is where Glenn Dixon thinks we are headed. This statistic holds true in North America alone. "Of the 300 aboriginal languages spoken in North America at the time of European settlement, 150 have disappeared completely."

Dixon is a socio-linguist, and after finishing his master’s degree, he embarked on a journey; he wanted to understand and explore how language intrinsically shapes individual societies. Lucky for us, Dixon is also storyteller, so Pilgrim in the Palace of Words is immensely appealing to anyone with a yearning to travel, an interest in the world’s diverse cultures and a love of words. And there is enough adventure to satisfy even the most critical of armchair travelers.

In Turkey, Dixon was attacked by dogs. In Belize, he encountered sharks in general, (they "look more like cruise missiles") and a reef shark in particular (with skin "a lot like sandpaper"). He learned never to camp under a coconut tree (duh!), and traveled the South Pacific on the "worst airline in the world."

But it is his understanding of linguistics that puts his observations about his travels into a perspective which, coupled with a healthy dollop of natural history, makes Pilgrim in the Palace of Words a travel book with a difference. It is entertaining, readable and thoughtful.

Be careful, Dixon says. When in another culture, "translations are dangerous things. Words aren’t always easily translated from one language into another. . . . When we try to translate (complex philosophical ideas) into English, we are often at a loss." For example, the Tibetan concept of suffering has not translated well. It is more like "hard to bear," or the "idea of dissatisfaction."

Too tired to read? Check out Dixon’s website, which is loaded with videos, podcasts and a slide show organized by book chapters. www.pilgrim-in-the-palace.com

Deloume Road by Matthew Hooton (Alfred Knopf Canada, $29.95)

When Knopf Canada launched The New Face of Fiction publishing program in 1996, it was looking for the best new fiction writers in Canada. The program was a resounding success and has launched the careers of many Canadian writers, including Ann-Marie MacDonald, Yann Martel and Dionne Brand. Matthew Hooton stands in illustrious company.

Hooton’s characters all live on Delhoume Road, a winding, isolated rural road on Vancouver Island. There is Sue Hwa, heavily pregnant, a young Korean immigrant widowed by the Gulf war. Her neighbour, aboriginal Al Henry, is an artist, haunted by his role in the Korean war. The Butcher, a Ukrainian immigrant, is saving every penny to bring his wife and daughter to Canada and desperately wants to fit in. And Matthew, Josh and Miles are just boys that summer.

In some ways, reading Deloume Road is like following blogs. The chapters are short, the characters many, and their narratives spill into the larger story which winds gently toward an ending that is hard to see coming. Occasionally, the multitude of characters is a little confusing, but the gentle, insistent sense of drama unfolding is compelling, and Hooton holds his readers’ attention to the very last page.

Matthew Hooton has worked as an editor and teacher in South Korea, and now lives in Victoria, B.C.

 

Corvus: A Life with Birds by Esther Woolfson (House of Anansi Press, $17.95)

Corvids, crows in particular, have had a bad rap over the centuries. Their carrion role during the Black Plague gave them a distinctly ghoulish reputation which has been hard to shake, and Alfred Hitchcock, in his acclaimed movie The Birds didn’t help matters any. And yet, "as with us all, human or bird, history has formed what corvids are."

Esther Woolfson’s new book, Corvus: A Life with Birds details her lifelong love affair with birds in general and corvids in particular. It all began when her daughter rescued Chicken, a fledging rook, who moved into the house and took over. She did, however, allow Woolfson to continue to use the corner of her study by the window.

Woolfson’s house becomes a sort of aviary. Spike the magpie, Ziki the crow, a parrot, budgies, and cockatiels roam the rooms. Her tales of their comic and oh so human behaviour is written with love and affection, and her view on birds’ rights conveniently rationalizes her complete failure to even marginally house-train just one of her avian companions.

"Nothing, we discovered, is as gracious as a corvid . . . rituals worthy of Japanese life. On meeting in the hall of a morning, we bow. She caws and I greet her. We bow again. She caws. I bow. She bows. I ask after her health. She caws. Eventually, we reach the kitchen."

Studies by Louis Lefebvre of McGill University show corvids to be the cleverest of birds, followed by falcons, hawks and woodpeckers. This merely underscores what Woolfson already knows. They respond to humour, fear, love and music. Chicken has a distinct dislike for the works of Benjamin Britten, Olivier Messaien and, to a lesser degree, the Pogues. She does, however, like Bach."

"Was Chicken once a dinosaur? A small dinosaur, a maniraptor, but a dinosaur nonetheless?" The disagreement about the lineage of birds continues, and Woolfson leaps into the fray. She has a keen eye for detail, and her writing carries a magical humour, whether relating the anecdotal or carefully outlining the evolution of birds and the mechanics of flight. It is in her ability to blend this science, the natural history and her household stories that makes Corvus very very hard to put down.

Esther Woolfson, of Scotland, has won prizes for her nature writing.

Judith Meyrick is a freelance writer who lives in Halifax.

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