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Friday, December 23, 2011

New Worlds And Words

Some months ago I was describing the volume of my recent reading to an old friend. He asked me "What's that doing for you?"  I  recall being taken aback by his provocative question but don't recall exactly how I responded. How would you answer? Then a little while following that conversation, I met Little Bee.

"I do not know if you have a word for this kind of singing".

That sentence is from "Little Bee", a 2008 novel by Chris Cleave. The context: The eponymous narrator, a refugee from Nigeria, is trying to describe to readers the sound of a woman singing. The singing woman is attempting to console a mother who lost her daughter during an escape from the chaos that ensued in Nigeria after huge oil reserves were discovered by the multi-national oil companies. Little Bee has a word for the singing from her native language (Ibo) and she also speaks perfect English, the official language of Nigeria. But she can't find a parallel word in English to describe the singing she is hearing.

The passage in "Little Bee" that included that sentence helped me formulate a partial answer to my friend's provocative question. Reading introduces me to worlds and words I might not have otherwise encountered. And to paraphrase Little Bee, I do not know if there is a word for this kind of magic. What would you call it?         

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