Jon English

Jon English

Why I am writing a post about that amazingly talented, beautiful and genuinely nice man Jon English? Well, because of all of the above, because he’s one of the few Australian performers ever to successfully combine a career in music, television and stage, and because he unknowingly played a part in my life.

You can read about Jon’s life in Wikipedia and remember him on a Facebook page.

When I was a teenager I auditioned for a musical. Jon English was in charge of the auditions. I was starstruck. My singing voice came out sounding like a strangled squeak. I will always remember how kind he was to me. “We’re looking for a rock singer. You’d be best as a folk singer.” What a gentleman, not to crush my youthful hopes, as he could have done so easily!

I went on to sing in two folk bands.

Jon’s performances in Jesus Christ Superstar were electrifying. It’s a pity there isn’t a better quality video of them available online.

I would like to ask the universe in general two questions:

The album “Paris” was so good that it was nominated for two ARIA Awards, winning Best Original Soundtrack, Cast or Show Album. It was also nominated for Best Adult Contemporary Album.

So come on ARIA, give Jon the recognition he deserves!

Words can cast a spell

What is it about welsh?

Cardiff Castle in Wales

Warning: do not read any further unless you are interested in deeply geeky stuff.

Words. I’ve always been fascinated by them. It’s not just the meanings they convey, but the sound of words, and the way they look written down.

Certain languages have an added appeal for me because they sound amazing when spoken, they look mysterious and exciting when written down, and they are bafflingly unlike my own mother tongue – the language you, the reader, presumably knows also, if you’re able to decipher this post.

Such a language is Welsh. It’s “a Celtic language of the Brittonic subgroup that is native to the Welsh people,” says Wikipedia. “Welsh evolved from Common Brittonic, the Celtic language spoken by the ancient Celtic Britons.”

Up till now, the only languages I’ve been familiar with (aside from Pig Latin, Elvish and Klingon) are English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, and a smattering of Russian.

Language families

Google says there are 48 language families, and they are are at the root of all human languages.

Those I’ve mentioned above all descend from the ancient and widespread Indo-European language family.

The Indo-European family is divided into several branches, of which there are eight with languages still alive today and another nine that are now extinct.

English and German are descended from the Germanic branch, Russian from the Balto-Slavic, French, Italian and Spanish are from the Italic (they have another sub-group, called “Romance“) and Welsh from the Celtic.

The Celtic branch is very distinct. It’s divided into two sub-groups: the Goidelic (or Gaelic) languages and the Brythonic (or Brittonic) languages. I’m intrigued by both of these sub-groups but decided to focus on Welsh due to time constraints. (Oh and Wales has dragons, too, which is a bonus.)

J R R Tolkien and the Welsh language

It was listening to a Welsh song that inspired me to start learning the language. That, and the fact that my literary hero J R R Tolkien was also inspired by Welsh. As a boy, he used to see Welsh place-names painted on coal trucks from South Wales that clattered along on a railway line adjoining his childhood garden in King’s Heath, Birmingham.

I should have said Welsh has always attracted me. By its style and sound more than any other, ever though I first only saw it on coal trucks, I always wanted to know what it was about.

~ J R R Tolkien

The mystery and beauty of the Welsh written language inspired him to create his own languages. He, too, was spellbound by it. On an early train journey into Wales, he spotted the name “Ebbw” and ‘just couldn’t get over it. Not long after I started inventing my own languages.’”

The spell cast by the song

Back to that song, “Yma O Hyd” (translating as “Still Here”). It’s a nationalist song, filled with passion, opening with the drumming of an acoustic guitar and the molten silver notes of a harp. Then in comes the mellow voice of the song’s composer, Dafydd Iwan. I make it a rule to avoid commenting on politics, and it was not the meaning of the song that entranced me (I had no idea what it meant) but the beauty of the language and the melody. As far as I was concerned, the song could have been about anything or nothing. To me it was magical.

For a start, right there in the third line is the word “flynyddoedd”. Gob-smacking. What a word! Completely unpronounceable, obviously, though Dafydd was somehow managing to sing it with no problems. I was tempted never to translate this beauty into English, in case it lost its magic by meaning something mundane like “beige” or “carpet-slippers”, but eventually I did. To its credit, it means “years”. This is a concept that’s majestic enough to suit such a word.

Anyway, what’s with all the “d”s and “y”s in “flynyddoedd”? Not to mention all the “w”s that inundate the rest of the Welsh language? I wonder if it’s something to do with ancient writing systems, and rune-derived characters we’ve lost over the last few thousand flynyddoedd?

The missing letters of the alphabet

eth

The wonderful Youtuber Rob Words published a video called LOST LETTERS OF THE ALPHABET: 9 letters we stopped using. If English hadn’t dropped all those letters, we could be using them to write Welsh.

“dd” for example is just a pale replacement for “eth”. Eth (uppercase: Ð, lowercase: ð) was a letter used in Old English. The sound is the “th” sound in “those”, “these” and “they”. If we brought eth back we could write “flynyddoedd” as “flynyðoeð”. That would make it look even more Elvish and magical.

Barred U

The “Barred U” ʉ isn’t a missing rune, but it’s a symbol used in the International Phonetic Alphabet to indicate the sound “oo” as in “goose”. This would be very useful in writing Welsh, because currently the letter “w” is used to represent that sound.

On the other hand, using “w” for “oo” does increase the mystery and allure of the language. Take, for example, a word like “cwrw”. Written down, it looks impenetrable, esoteric, marvellous. It also sounds glorious, “cooroo”… the sound of the wind blowing through the boughs of pine trees at the edge of the ocean . . . cʉrʉ . . .

In fact the word simply means “beer”, which is nice, but a bit prosaic.

I vote we bring back the Old English runes wynn, Ƿ ƿ, thorn þ (the softer “th” sound in “thorn”) and eth ð.

Welsh vowels – some of the other mysteries

Youtuber Gwyneth Angharad teaches us about Welsh vowels. As well as pronouncing “w” as “oo”, you pronounce “u” as “i”.
“Y” is mostly pronounced like schwa, the a vowel sound denoted by the IPA symbol ⟨ə⟩. Gwyneth describes this as “the lazy sound you have at the beginning of ‘alive’ or ‘about’.” Depending on where it is in a word, “y” can also sound like “i”. . .

It’s not easy learning Welsh!

Some of my favourite Welsh words

If Tolkien wasn’t inspired by the Welsh word for “The Netherlands” I’d be very surprised. It sounds as if it comes straight from Middle-Earth: “yr Iseldiroedd” (or Iseldiroeð if you use “eth”). So much more attractive than the English version!

Another magnificently Tolkienesque Welsh word is “hiraeth”. This is one of those special words whose meaning actually matches the haunting melodiousness of its sound.

“Hiraeth,” says Wikipedia, “is a Welsh word that has no direct English translation. The University of Wales, Lampeter, likens it to a homesickness tinged with grief and sadness over the lost or departed, especially in the context of Wales and Welsh culture. It is a mixture of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness or an earnest desire for the Wales of the past.”

It sounds exactly like the “langothe” from the BITTERBYNDE trilogy.

Are there any languages that you particularly love for their sound and style?

Cecilia

I don’t know whether to be delighted or scared. . .

Chatbot?

Delighted or scared? I think I’m a bit of both.

I’m also in awe.

Just now I asked an AI chatbot if it could “write in the style of Cecilia Dart-Thornton.”

It replied:

Certainly, I can try my best to write in the style of Cecilia Dart-Thornton. Here is a sample passage:

Amidst the misty vale, where the ancient trees swayed to a rhythm known only to the winds, there stood a solitary figure. Her raven-black hair cascaded down her back like a waterfall, and her eyes shone like emeralds in the pale light of dawn. She wore a gown of shimmering white, its fabric as soft as a swan’s down, and carried in her hand a staff of polished ash. She was the Lady of the Forest, a guardian of the wild, and her presence filled the air with a sense of wonder and magic.

As she walked, the leaves rustled under her feet, and the birds chirped a sweet melody. She paused by a pool of crystal-clear water and looked into its depths. There, she saw the reflection of a young girl with a heart full of hope and a spirit unbroken by the world’s harshness. It was a sight that brought a smile to her lips, for she knew that the girl would one day be a warrior of light, a beacon of hope in a world filled with darkness. And with that thought, she lifted her staff and continued on her journey, her heart filled with a sense of purpose and a deep love for all that was wild and free.

Oh, my.

Is that how robots think I write? Of course AI is only in its infancy. . . it’s done its best. . . and to be fair I think it’s captured the general theme and ambience of my fantasy stories.

I blush at the idea the bot thinks my prose is THAT purple, however. 🙂 There are way too many adjectives, even for my liking. And there’s no way I’d every write “amidst the misty vale” because that doesn’t really make sense to me.

The bot rightly included references to emeralds and swans. . . and long hair . . . and love of nature . . . and pools in forests. . . and female protagonists. . . and journeys . . . it’s got a lot right, but this piece has a flavour that isn’t mine. (Obviously, because it isn’t mine). To me, it sounds rather immature and saccharine. But hey, it’s pretty good, regardless!

And of course, this is a bot-in-training. Doubtless given another year or two, it’ll improve out of sight, and I’ll be out of a job.

That’s the scary part!

The delightful part is that such amazing technology exists. I hope people use it for Good, and bring a beacon of hope to a world filled with darkness. . . .

The shapes of letters

The Shapes of Letters

The Letter A
For me, the shapes of letters of the alphabet have deeper meanings than merely the sounds they symbolise. Is this perhaps a characteristic of synaesthesia?

In particular, for me, initial letters seem to carry associations.

The capital letters A and V for example, with their chevron shapes, remind me of arrowheads or lanceolate leaves, or the streamlined wings of a raptor. They are associated with strength and vigour.

M is motherly, reliable, nurturing. Z is “out there”, alien and wild, exciting and almost certainly dangerous.

The letter I, both upper case and lower case, is light, golden, elfin.  How much have I been influenced by Tolkien’s perfect creation of names? I did read The Lord of the Rings at an early age, so perhaps marvellous “I” and “L” studded elvish names/words such as Galadriel, Laurelindorenan, Glorfindel and Simbelmynë sank into my childish imagination and gave rise to those associations.

The sixth century monks who created illuminated manuscripts must also have felt that initial letters were important. Those specific initials in an illuminated manuscript, were known as initiums. Those monks lavished their art, their paints, their costly gold leaf upon those initiums.

Hundreds of years later, William Morris included some of the most glorious initiums in his books, printed by the Kelmscott Press.  He had 40 custom-designed initial letters specially block-cut for use in his books.

The letter A featured in this post is from the Goudy Initialen font. American Frederic W. Goudy designed these floriated initials in the early 1900’s, and they are among my favourites.

Do the shapes of letters hold other meanings for you too?

Do you have synaesthesia?

synaesthesiaWhat’s a synaesthete?

World Wide Words says, “This word is moderately common in the psychological and artistic fields. It refers to a person who has some kind of cross-wiring in the brain, so that things which ought to be perceived by one sense are instead felt in another. The most common form is for language, sounds and tastes to be sensed as colours.” The term synaesthesia was coined at the end of the nineteenth century by Sir Francis Galton.

I think I might be slightly synaesthetic, but I’m not certain. For me, certain numerals and letters have always been associated with certain colours. The numeral 7, for example, is a beautiful, solid sky-blue, while lower-case “i” is golden-yellow. Not all numerals and letters have a colour, which makes me wonder whether I have true synaesthesia. Perhaps, when I was learning the alphabet in my first year at school, the teacher coloured the number 7 in blue and the letter i in yellow, and this memory engraved itself deeply into my receptive child-mind. . . Or perhaps it’s because “seven” rhymes with “heaven” and the heavens are blue? Or because a lower-case “i” (for me) resembles a chamomile flower?

Something in my mind thinks that some names have colours. “Goldilocks” is of course yellow, for many reasons. My own first name is bright yellow, probably because it contains two “i”s.  “Susan” is blue. “Charlotte” is red, but then, it does almost rhyme with “scarlet”.  “Dominic” is a rich, glossy black.

Wikipedia says,
“Awareness of synesthetic perceptions varies from person to person.
In one common form of synesthesia, known as grapheme–color synesthesia or color–graphemic synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored.
In spatial-sequence, or number form synesthesia, numbers, months of the year, or days of the week elicit precise locations in space (for example, 1980 may be “farther away” than 1990), or may appear as a three-dimensional map (clockwise or counterclockwise). Synesthetic associations can occur in any combination and any number of senses or cognitive pathways.”

It has become popular, almost a fad, for people to claim they’re synaesthetic. If they’re not, how can the truth be proven?
In fact, scientists at the American Psychological Association have been trying to do just that, using questionnaires, as well as processes called “positron-emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging”.  Synaesthesia is real, but you don’t have to believe everyone who claims to have it!

I’ve heard of a professional musician whose synaesthesia linked sounds and smells. She avoided playing the note Middle C whenever possible, because for her it had a foul odour!

There are many fascinating articles about synaesthesia ion the Internet, for example:

Catalyst Synaesthesia

Chocolate smells pink and stripy

A taste for words and sounds

Hearing Colors, Tasting Shapes

Do you think you might have synaesthesia?