Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Missing pronouns and prepositions

Yesterday's Toronto Star has a review of Chuck Palahniuk's latest book, Pygmy. Mudhar claims, "one thing is missing from his latest narrative: pronouns like 'I' and most prepositions." Leaving aside the question of whether pronouns and prepositions constitute one thing or not, are they indeed missing?

Well, you can get the first 30 pages of the book here and see for yourself. The writing is obviously nonstandard.
"Fellow operatives already pass immigrant control, exit through secure doors and to embrace own other host family people. Operative Tibor, agent 23; operative Magda, agent 36; operative Ling, agent 19. All violate United States secure port of entry having success."
Quoted material, however, appears to be standard English, so we'll generously assume that Mudhar means that these elements are missing only outside of dialog.

Well, on the first page, we get me used three times and that's it for pronouns. Certainly less than usual for fiction, but not entirely missing. The only other pronoun I could dig up (outside of dialog) was one instance of them.

Prepositions are more common though. The first 30 pages inclde all of the top 10 prepositions (of, in, to, for, with, on, at, from, for, about) except about.

"Really, the genesis of Pygmy's language was to try to make an entire language out of a small number of largely inappropriate words. And the rules were no definite article `the,' no conjunctions and there had to be very specific redundancies, like `colour red,' `arm limb' and `baby puppy,'... There were just very specific logical rules." Palahniuk is quoted as saying.

I find only one instance of is, one of were, and two of am and no apostrophes at all. The article a is used twice and the five times. And there are lots of conjunctions; and, but, and or are all there. So, despite Palahniuk's claims of logical rules, really it just seems like a half-baked gimmick.

But then what's the point of going to all the trouble to construct an entire language around broken English anyhow? Nobody would actually be anal enough to check if you're being consistent about it, would they?


Nick said...

I'm trying to figure out how this works—the whole broken English thing. I hope you can answer it. I didn't quite understand the article.

Brett said...

I don't really get it either. I guess you'd really have to read the book to figure it out. My point is, he says he makes up rules, but then he obviously doesn't follow them, so it seems like he's just farting around with whatever strikes his fancy. That's fine, as long as you don't pretend otherwise.

GAC said...

Your link to the first 30 pages is broken. From your small sample it would seem that he's going for some sort of pidgin or creole -- possibly with a Chinese substrate but I may just be seeing that because of my familiarity with Chinese. Hard to tell more without a larger sample.

Brett said...

Link now fixed. Sorry about that!