Monthly Archives: May 2018

Deviant Language

Screen Shot 2018-05-12 at 11.34.27 AMWhen I read aloud these seven stanzas of the “The Jabberwocky” from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, my brow furrows slightly and my mouth moves cautiously to sound out the rhyming of the words. Re-reading each verse, I’m less guarded and considerably swifter in the tongue. I feel more  linguistically unconstrained with each read. My understanding of the meaning of the verses the second and third times through, however, isn’t necessarily greater than the first. Yet the audible allure of the sounds demonstrably increases with repetition. To be sure, “it seems very pretty,” as Alice exclaimed upon hearing it, “but it’s rather hard to understand!” The appeal of jabberwocky language, I imagine, is not the intellectual stimulus it affords its reader-reciters. Rather, it is the separation of meaning and utterance, the divide between cognitive understanding and oral gesturing that makes this poem enthralling and fun. The simultaneous embodiment and de-cognition of Carroll’s jabberwocky gives his readers an experience with deviant language. That is to say, jabberwocky is special language, unlike much of the discourse with which we construct our lives, because it’s experienced on a visceral rather than an intellectual level. To subdue the instinctual urge to understand what’s being read and recited, and to perform fully the rhythm and rhyme of jabberwocky, is an exercise in flouting the laws of semantics. How does this irregular experience of reading and reciting make us feel? When I read nonsensical diction that’s mixed with recognizably sensible language – particularly when it’s read out loud – I naturally, though perhaps unconsciously, feel myself fall out of sync with the cultural conventions of logic, truth, commonsense, and authority. And it feels good.