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Use Of Language In A Clockwork Orange

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Examination of the Use of Language in "A Clockwork Orange"

The created patch-work language of Nadsat in the novel, A Clockwork Orange, satirizes the social classes and gang life of Anthony Burgess's futuristic society. The most prominent of these tools being his use of a completely new language and the depiction of family life from the eyes of a fifteen year old English hoodlum. Burgess effectively broke arcane traditions when he wrote A Clockwork Orange by blending two forms of effective speech into the vocabulary of the narrator and protagonist, Alex. Burgess, through his character Alex, uses the common or "proper" method of vernacular in certain situations, while uses his own inventive slang-language called "Nadsat" for others. Many experts believe that the use of these two types of language and the switching from one to another indicates a social commentary that Burgess is attempting to convey. Burgess also uses the device of the pseudo, or surrogate, family to reflect on Alex's deep rooted desire to have some place where he can feel safe and whole.

The use of language, or that is to say the effective use of language, is a widely utilized and commonly called upon tool of literary device. People generally grasp that language is an essential component when one is trying to convey something in the form of a novel, but most people do not understand the full sense that the use of language can convey. While developing this new language to write the novel, A Clockwork Orange, Burgess looked mainly to the Russian language. Don D'Ammassa states in St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, 4th ed:

"Burgess developed and incorporated an entirely new slang to enhance the story's atmosphere. It is loosely based on Russian, but is thoroughly logical and sounds "right," providing an even greater texture to the work. Although some editions include a glossary to explain the various words, this was an unnecessary concession to lazy readers; the sense is apparent, and the ease with which the reader adjusts to the new speech patterns is a testimony to the author's skill." (St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, 4th ed 1)

Burgess doesn't just throw together some imaginative if not sloppy language from fantasy, no. Burgess's actual goal in creating the semi-Slavic slang used by Alex and his droogs, or fellow hoodlums, is much more interesting. Burgess himself commented:

"As the book was supposed to be about brainwashing, it was appropriate that the text itself should be a brainwashing device. The reader would be brainwashed into learning minimal Russian. The novel was to be an exercise in linguistic programming, with the exoticisms gradually clarified by context: I would resist to the limit any publisher's demand that a glossary be provided. " (You've Had Your Time 38)

Burgess believed that adding a glossary to help define the slang used in A Clockwork Orange would have somehow cheapened it, and it most certainly would have. He evens admits to brainwashing his readers just for the sake of what he called an "exercise in linguistic programming." Without even realizing it, the readers of A Clockwork Orange were Burgess' guinea pigs. It was, however, a successful experiment. Burgess achieved the sense that he was trying to convey, and readers understood the language without too much difficulty. That is, of course, until the book was published in America. Roger Craik comments on this linguistic phenomina in his critical essay on A Clockwork Orange.

"Nevertheless, when the first American edition of A Clockwork Orange was published in 1963, it had not only a glossary but an afterword by Stanley Edgar Hyman. The glossary confirms the preponderance of Slavic-based or more particularly Russian-based coinages, and the afterword still stands as the most comprehensive discussion of nadsat. Even though Hyman surprisingly confesses himself unable to read Burgess's book without compiling a glossary (179), he is alive to Burgess's linguistic ingenuity in anglicizing "khorosho (good or well) as 'horrorshow'; liudi (people) as 'lewdies'; militsia (military or police) as 'millicents'; odinock (lonesome) as 'oddy knocky'" (Hyman 179-80). He is less sure with the "gypsy talk," helpful with the rhyming slang--"luscious glory" for "hair" (rhyming with "upper story) and "pretty polly" for "money" (rhyming slang with "lolly" of obscure origin)--and observant with the amputations (such as "guff" for "guffaw," "sarky" for "sarcastic," and "sinny" for "cinema"), although his glossing "pee and em" as "pop and mom" does scant justice to Burgess's skill in demoticizing

the nineteenth century and faintly upper-class papa and mama" (Hyman 180).

Stanley Edger Hyman, in his efforts to add a glossary and afterword, may not have effectively cheapened the novel, but it certainly takes something away from its meaning when every single word that was meant to be understood through context is highlighted, boldfaced, and slapped with a Webster's-safe dictionary definition. Reading Burgess's A Clockwork Orange is a deceptively easy task when compared to reading the likes of Shakespeare or Marlowe. A good amount of the work involved in reading Burgess' famous novel is the use of contextual perception. One word expressed one way can convey no sense of what its meaning is, but when used in another fashion it becomes decipherable. In the introduction to Stanley Edgar Hyman's Nadsat dictionary, he says:

"At first the vocabulary seems incomprehensible: "you could peet it with vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom or one or two other veshches." Then the reader, even if he knows no Russian, discovers that some of the meaning is clear from context: "to tolchock some old veck in an alley and viddy him swim in his blood." Other words are intelligible after a second context: when Alex kicks a fallen enemy on the "gulliver" it might be any part of the body, but when a glass of beer is served with a gulliver, "gulliver" is head. (Life is easier, of course, for those who know the Russian word golova.)" ( A Clockwork Orange, preface)

So it can be easily said that reading this work by Burgess is not that great of a task, even with the language barrier. When people speak of learning a second language, a comment that is often made is that you can spend years studying a language from a book, but nothing will prepare your mind better for assimilating another language than to be thrown



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