Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The compounding of errors.

In the Penn Club guests are invited to sit at the long communal table if they wish to engage in conversation. Feeling oddly brave last week (probably through complete lack of sleep) I took my place in the middle - and I am glad that I did so because I had a very interesting conversation with a man who was investigating the work of Robert Lewis Stevenson in the British Library.

He told me that every edition of a classic work is different. The first transcription contains errors and these are repeated, and new errors included, with each new edition that is made so that gradually the American versions, say, become less and less like the English versions.

We started to think of similes - like the way language itself evolves, he said, or perhaps the mistakes in the replication of DNA in cells until a new species forms. However, in the case of a book, of course, it is possible to go back to the original manuscript and start again (which is what he was doing).

Tonight I think about something I have often thought about - how interesting it would be to go back to listen to that first pure language of man. I suspect I would hear a grunt beginning with 'muh' and a child reaching out to be fed. The word for 'Mother' must be a universal uttering of life.


Blogger Kay Cooke said...

Yes I'm sure you've got it right. Am enjoying your Wegener book. Very much. You are some writer!

Thu Jan 25, 05:55:00 am  
Blogger Anne S said...

Clare, this entry got me thinking about communication and language, not human, I must admit.

It has been said that cats do not miouw to each other the same as they do to their human companions.

I've always thought, having owned cats for many years that they are actually saying "Hullo" when they greet you. The miouw is like a phonetic copy of your greeting to them - them same rise and fall of the syllables.

I may be anthropomorphising of course, but it is uncanny all the same

Thu Jan 25, 09:29:00 am  
Blogger Jan said...

Cats also use their eyes to convey language. There's the narrowing, the widening, the adoring stare, the furious glare...
And their sounds: Kato can do "Cat Food" ( a definite squawk with stress on "food") and Mook says " Welcome" when evI come home..
And, as Anne S says, they certainly Talk Amongst Themselves.

Thu Jan 25, 10:16:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks very much CB - so delighted you're enjoying it!

And Anne S - that is interesting about cats 'speaking'. I can quite believe it - and would be interested to hear. It's quite an endearing idea, really isn't it? I've never had one myself (I'm allergic to them) but they do fascinate me. I remember seeing that Desmond Morris had written some good books on cat behaviour - I've always been meaning to have a look. The only contribution I can make to this though is that my mother's cat would always go out of the room whenever my autistic nephew entered. He obviously could sense that this human was different and that difference must have disturbed him enough to leave his comfortable warm place and try and find a new one elsewhere.

Jan: They're always so quiet when I see them - I expect they've just been fed. I'll have to see them hungry one day - sounds amazing.

Thu Jan 25, 10:43:00 am  
Blogger Anne S said...

One of my cats says "me you" or "me" which I repeat to her whereupon she gives me one of her looks. The other cat sort of growls out a greeting, but then again he's an oriental and they are out of the ordinary as far as cats go, but it's a greeting of sorts.

They do also communicate very effectively by body language. Our old cat Oscar loved his home comforts and used to pointedly look at the heater, then look at you, then look at the heater again. We'd always turn on the heater, just for him, as a result.

Fri Jan 26, 09:18:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anne S: Me-You! - I love it. Maybe that's what Mi-ow really means - it's just that some are more articulate than others. The idea of your cat just looking at the heater and making you put it on makes me smile - there's something very regal about that.

Fri Jan 26, 11:58:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stevenson would have liked that finish, I think... (And I like Stevenson. & Dudman.)

Fri Jan 26, 01:09:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember when they found that Quagga DNA? I think they would love to make a new Quagga from it, but they haven't managed it yet. Reversibility is a fascinating topic.

Fri Jan 26, 09:22:00 pm  

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