Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Grammar of Nonsense

Last night at a grammar presentation, I was asked to read an excerpt from Anthony Burgess's A Mouthful of Air. It began simply enough, but then I arrived here:

When I corkled the veriduct in morful wurtubs and, prexing the coroflock, chonted the furpool by crerlicoking the fark, wottled the duneflow by fonking the raketoppled purnlow and then asserticled the prert (in both slonces) through a clariform rarp of werthearkers.

Do I need I tell you what an exhausting sentence that is to sight-read? Try it...aloud!

Once home, I silently read and reread the sentence. Something is not right. I translated it and found the same problem. The first word seems to be the culprit. Eliminate when and all is well, unless, of course, I lack proficiency in the grammar of Nonsense.

My translation:

When I noticed the child in dirty overalls and, assuming the worst, beckoned the teacher by ringing the bell, called the principal by banging the office door and then led the students (in both classrooms) through a long list of questions.

I wonder if students can translate the sentence from Nonsense to English. Can they spot which words are verbs, nouns, and adjectives? What about participles? While they may not be able to explain the grammar, my hunch is that they can feel it.

If they need a little boost, they can do it in steps.

Step 1: Figure out the part of speech for each unrecognizable word.
Step 2: Rewrite the sentence with blanks, placing a clue (a part of speech) beneath each line.
Step 3: Read the result.

Try it yourself first and include your translation in the comments. Then let me see theirs!

And, if that is a hoot for you or your students, you may like playing around with Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" as well.

P.S. The idea for steps came from my daughter who saw what I was doing, shrugged her shoulders, and said, "It's like a mad lib, only there are a lot of blanks." Well, okay then.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...