‘The exact use of words seems to me to be the most important thing in the world. We are, in the end, governed so much more by words than by deeds’. Words from Between St Dennis and St George: A Sketch of Three Civilisations (1915) by Ford Madox Ford (then Hueffer), quoted by Lucinda Borkett-Jones in her paper on Ford’s examination of ‘Kultur’ against ‘culture’, challenge the Languages and the First World War project. The period of the conflict, in all its cultural and geographical locations, has left us images, objects, scars, lasting political problems – many apparently with no hope of resolution, boundaries, nations made and unmade; we choose to examine how people were governed by words.
Today we have explored Achiel Van Walleghem’s carefully placed irony, T E Lawrence’s self-punishment through obscenity, the self-making of identity in Australian retention of war-slang, and the fluidities of language in the East Africa campaign, where language and affiliation in hostilities did not always coincide; and much more. Thoughts and concerns begin to connect: the basis of the constitution of nation-states, changing from religion to language during the nineteenth century, and made overt at the end of the war – how do they differ where religion is ritual mediated through language? What did people understand by the word ‘race’? How, if at all, should accent be transcribed – indeed can it ever be transcribed without the disparaging projection of social class or racism? Why is new slang never as good as old slang? Why irony as the outstanding voice of the war – why not outrage, or pity? How do we recognise commodification in the voice of the guidebook?
It has been an exhilarating day; thank you to all who spoke, listened and shared. More on Wednesday.
Meic Birtwistle on Welsh war-songs
Fiona Houston on propaganda
Cristina Ilea Rogojina on the war’s influence on the language of Romanian literature
Anne Sansom on the languages of the 144 micro-nations that were involved in the East Africa Campaign.
Lucinda Borkett-Jones on Ford Madox Ford.