language Archive

Carefully Chosen Words: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Vladimir Nabokov

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One of my favorite little known facts about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is that she was a student in Vladimir Nabokov’s European Literature class at Cornell when she was an undergraduate in the 1950s. Nabokov’s influence is seen in many of Ginsburg’s writings.

Writing in a Non-Native Language: Choosing Whom to Love

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During my adolescence, I fell in love with a language before I fell in love with a human being. In high school, in India, a former colony of the British, I came to like – and then love – the English language. The first words I had learned as

Living Between Languages: Notes on Language and Loss

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I was seventeen years old when I started working at the front desk of a beach resort in my coastal city in Brazil and began to teach myself my first sentences in English. In the tourism industry, English was currency, and as such I wanted to earn it.

How One Publisher Sparked a Rebirth of Turkey’s Greek History

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On the flight back to Istanbul, I hold one of the first books put out by Istos Publishing in my hands. Out of the press’s slim, silver-colored bilingual Greek-Turkish edition of Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Ascetic (Ασκητική-Çileci), the publishing house’s logo pops out in gold, almost holographic. I turn the

Circumflexes and censorship: on the French spelling reform

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Behold: a diacritic has got an entire country in an uproar. And of course that country is France. Let’s rewind a bit: in 1990, the Académie Française, prestigious gatekeeper of all things French, proposes a spelling reform that generates countless pamphlets and petitions to “save the French language.” Ultimately

The Right Words

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For my daughter, who just turned two, language is plastic. She pokes it and stretches it to find out what it can do. Joyfully, she tells stories (only some of them true) about her day. She loves to list the parts she and the cat do and don’t have

A Gathering of Particulars: On Building a Word-Hoard

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It is fitting that the bowerbird roosts in the opening lines of Ted Hughes’s poem “A Literary Life,” for there is perhaps no better mascot for reader and writer both. The species is a known collector, spending the better part of the year building complicated huts from assorted novelties:

Language Could Kill You: Adichie, Code-Switching & the Biafran War

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Language plays a crucial role throughout Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novels, but nowhere is it more decisive than in the author’s second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun. Written against the backdrop of the Biafran War, two wealthy sisters return from England to a nation on the cusp of revolution

Laughs in Translation

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Recently, I was reading The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov’s antic retelling of the stories of Faust and Pontius Pilot. The novel follows—in part—the devil and his deranged retinue, including a bipedal cat and a naked woman, as they wreak havoc on Moscow. The edition I own, translated by

How to Write Indian Literature

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If you’re studying a nation’s literature, it’s best to know that nation’s language. English literature finds definition in its mother tongue, despite the linguistic leap from Shakespeare to Zadie Smith. American literature, whose myriad dialects are called upon by Walt Whitman, John Ashbery, and Nikki Giovanni, rests comfortably in