Sunday, June 2, 2013
move camp, murry
So the accent in Bitin' Back, this insertion of Aboriginal words in English sentences, in Australia goes back to the primordial development of the nation's novel writing; the first book published by an Australian-born woman in Australia does it, I discovered when I read that book, Gertrude The Emigrant Girl: a Tale of Colonial Life (1857) by Louisa Atkinson, which knows it doesn't need to translate "murry" to let you know that it's an intensifier, a "very," when one character says a good farm is "murry big" and a different character, later, when they are confronting a bushfire, tells Gertrude that "the blackfellow move camp, murry quick" -- what else is it going to mean if it doesn't mean "very" -- I go through that process of automatic elimination and end up with an answer, the current of universal life meeting an obstacle there and adopting that alien form with a quick evolution. Swifter than evolution of bees or the animal eye.
(If intellect was flesh then it would be years before I understood, the evolution creeping forwards, diverting into a cul de sac, waiting for the birth of twins, mutations, new eggs, and cell-hiccoughs, before the answer would occur to me.)
When I found "murra" in Rosa Praed's The Romance of a Station (1889) I thought, "It could be the same thing again, an intensifier, with a different spelling:" "murra, make haste" says one character -- make a lot of haste -- Praed footnotes it with an asterisk but didn't need to -- the technique has been maintained, new words can be put into that machinery now, new meanings grasped by me (who has been taught how to see it), the narrator inserting "myall" in Bitin' Back, or "goona," a different language maybe (there are many, not a monolithic language-bloc, the characters living in different areas of the country) but the same habit, a human habit, this creation of an alloy, one language putting itself in another, neither one completely lost. "The boy," states the narrator of Bitin' Back, "look myall this mornin." And a character in We of the Never-Never (1908) by Jeannie Gunn makes a joke as he's waving a spear above his head: "Me myall-fellow."
And exists everywhere, that habit, n'est-ce pas, and has existed in other language combinations. I see it when I read the comments in the Lusaka Times of Zambia and someone writes, "I seriously think the police are doing a kama donchi kubeba on Sata," Sata being Michael Sata, the nation's president, born in 1937, once upon a time a cleaner employed by railway stations in London, now the leader of his nation by democratic vote, "life," wrote Elizabeth Grosz, "is a kind of opening up of matter to indeterminacy, a qualitative transformation of matter into the unexpected, the surprising, the never-seen-before," (Time Travels: Feminism, Nature, Power, thanks to Anthony@timesflow's links on Twitter) while Henri Bergson in Creative Evolution sees a constant transformational effect ongoing in all of nature, the same thing seen by Marcel Proust, going to Bergson's lectures then putting a fictional shape around his ideas in the Temps Perdu, and, "I'm glad you've read some Bergson and liked him," he writes in a letter to Georges de Lauris, dated April 1908; by that time the philosopher had been married to Proust's cousin Louise for nearly twenty years.
Nothing that happens has ever been done before, writes Bergson, the Australian word "murry" had never appeared next to "big" or "quick" before the foreign alphabet arrived, and the word "very" or other intensifier had never found itself replaced by the letters m-u-r-r-y, but here it is in 1857, replaced, and in 2013, a sensation in me like a tickle when I read it, a reaction to a phantom, the word that is there and isn't.