The Stories We Tell: Some Thoughts on Narratives

Loads can and has been said about narratives, with books and academic journals devoted exclusively to the topic. I’ve been thinking about the utilitarian side of narratives. In Gaia Vince’s Transcendence: How Humans Evolved through Fire, Language, Beauty, and Time, the power of stories is seen as the creator of languages and communities. This is familiar territory in anthropology and linguistics (I’m thinking Labov (1969), Prince (1988), Hardy (2005) and the writings of Margaret Mead and Mary Douglas). What I found more illuminating was this anecdote:

“In a 1944 study in the United States, 34 college students were shown a short animation in which two triangles and a circle moved across the screen and a rectangle remained stationary at the side. When asked what they saw, 33 of the 34 students anthropomorphized the shapes and created a narrative: The circle was ‘worried’, the ‘little triangle’ was an ‘innocent young thing’, the big triangle was ‘blinded by rage and frustration’. Only one student recorded that all he saw were geometric shapes on a screen.”

Vince explains this as the brain devising narratives with actors and story patterns where none exist in order to make sense of things. I do wonder to what extent this is cognitive and innate or behavioural and learned given that so much of our learning in early childhood involves anthropomorphizing animals and objects.

On the flipside of this, researchers across a range of disciplines have used storytelling to encourage subjects to talk about their experiences. One of my former students researched the attitudes of Saudi women in higher education by asking them to fill in a narrative for which my student researcher provided the frame. This proved far more fruitful than interviews, where these women gave brief answers and appeared reluctant to speak about their workplace and culture.

Arguably, some of the appeal of Twitter (excluding the years when it was hijacked by a US president) and other social media is the way that they provide a stage for people to tell the stories of their lives. Sociolinguist Ruth Page covers this in her book Stories in Social Media: Identity and Interaction. Having studied these online communications as a linguist myself, I find interesting the use of common knowledge and public discourse in these often highly elliptical narratives, especially those limited by the number of characters allowed. That is, what isn’t said is as important as what is. Since understanding and communicating with stories appears to be human, perhaps too is the need use ellipsis, creating gaps in stories that we know our audience can fill.

Given the ubiquity and usefulness of storytelling, it’s a shame the word ‘narrative’ has recently taken on a negative connotation as an arm of propaganda. This politician or that group creating its own narratives which the media – mainstream and social – start to follow and build upon. Do I need to give examples? Nope, I’ll let you fill in the gaps.

Reflections on translation

1 – Among my favourite mistranslations are Welsh signs that have been translated by English-speaking officials in their efforts to retain bilingualism in Wales. One sign written as Rhybudd: Gweithwyr yn ffrwydro, which in Welsh means ‘Warning: Blasting in progress’ was translated as ‘Warning: Workers are exploding.’

2 – Recently, there was quite an uproar over whether a white translator should be allowed to translate the work of a black writer. Dutch writer and winner of the International Book Prize Marieke Lucas Rijneveld was tasked with translating Amanda Gorman’s presidential inauguration poem into Dutch. The most vociferous attacks came from activist-journalist Janice Deul, who said it was ‘incomprehensible’ that a white person had been chosen for the job. If sharing an identity grouping is necessary between writer and translator, Deul missed out the fact that Rijneveld was born female and identifies as non-binary, making ‘them’ even less qualified. In this way of thinking, Rijneveld should have gained some points for being a poet and in their 20s, like Gorman. Nevertheless, it didn’t take long for the publisher to cave in at the thought of a boycott and lost book sales to pull Rijneveld from the assignment and issue an apology for the poor choice of translator. I share in the sentiments of Gorman’s Spanish translator, Nuria Barrios, who described Deul’s victory as a ‘catastrophic…victory of identitarian discourse over creative freedom.’ 

3 – Apparently, historians had deliberately mistranslated – or perhaps creatively translated – love letters sent by Frederic Chopin to his many men ‘friends’ in order to make the composer appear straight. According to one German source (er, which has been translated into English), many of the translations from were fraught with consistent ‘errors,’ such as male pronouns in Polish being translated as female in the target language.

4 – In Nice, there’s a restaurant with a bilingual menu that lists the French salade aux avocats in English as salad with lawyers. Bon appétit.

5 – Language documentation involves the preservation of dying languages, mostly indigenous languages that have lost out to conquests and the globalisation of the world’s leading lingua francas, such as English, French, Spanish and Arabic. I was pleased to read about a linguist who has been translating newspapers dating back to the 1890s from Hamaii, the dying native language of Hawaii, into English. Even though the original project was about documenting the language and the culture of the pre-American Hawaiians, a by-product has been the discovery of a treasure trove of meteorological and geographical information. Climatologists are now using these digitalised translations to help predict earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and other potential disasters.

6 – George Steiner once said, ‘Without translation, we would be living in provinces bordering on silence.’

Mars, Venus, Men, Women – An assignment I’d like to forget

One of the strangest writing assignments I’ve ever had involved adapting  The Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus Book of Days into an abridged reader for students of the English language. Based on the 1990s best-selling pop psychology book by John Gray, this book contained  365 ‘inspirations to enrich your relationships’ (according to the jacket blurb). 

The premise of the original book was that by nature men and women are  psychologically and behaviourally different and that heterosexual couples should respect these differences. Along with spreading the idea that men and women ‘speak different languages,’ it reinforced gender stereotypes, saying that men need to fix and do things, leaving women to  talk about emotions. As Victorian and cringeworthy as that sounds, it had an audience at the time and has since sold over 15 million copies. 

As for the sexes speaking different languages, this anecdotal claim has been thrashed to death by sociolinguists, who have studied large groups of people and concluded that the perception of language difference between the sexes is far greater than the reality. An excellent debunking of Gray’s work appeared in Deborah Cameron’s 2007 book The Myth of Mars and Venus: Do Men and Women Really Speak Different Languages?

Today, we can confidently say that gender differences are more nurture than nature. In her book Inferior: The True Power of Women and the Science That Shows It, Angela Saini cites several studies of mathematical ability, intelligence, motor skills and almost every other measure showing consistently that men and women are not so different after all. (Sorry, dear reader, I know I have referred to this book before – it’s a treasure trove of information and insights.) Another good read on this topic is Gina Rippon’s The Gendered Brain: The New Neuroscience That Shatters The Myth Of The Female Brain, where  the author, a cognitive neursoscientist, reviews the lamentable history of sex-difference research that has been riddled with innumeracy, misinterpretation, publication bias and dodgy statistics. 

But there I was back in 2003 rolling my eyes while typing ‘men are like rubber bands’ and ‘women are like waves.’ Thankfully, I was halfway through my assignment when the marketing department at Penguin Books decided to pull the project and not publish the EFL version of Gray’s book of days after all. I never found out what was behind Penguin’s decision. I wonder if they were concerned about the emerging scandal, where John Gray’s credentials were questioned – he’s not a scientist or trained psychologist and apparently holds a mail-order doctorate. Or perhaps Penguin had a crystal ball and knew that engendered thinking was going to be challenged, further diminishing this variety of self-help tome . As much as I don’t wish to dwell on this silly assignment, I’m glad I can look back on it from the vantage point of a more informed world when it comes to men and women (even though we still have a way to go). In the end, I was doubly blessed – not only was I freed from reading and having to rewrite this piffle, but I had already been paid a flat rate for the entire assignment and was able to keep it.

Some Favourite Words of 2020

Not pandemic or woke or clickbait or any of the over-used words that made it to the top of lexicographers’ lists this year. My favourite words of 2020 are those words that have entered my consciousness and left a footprint. Here are just a few.

Princessation – This neologism describes the process of making a girl or young woman feel like a princess, encouraging femininity. I ran into it while reading about a recent study conducted by the Fawcett Society on the dangers in exposing children to gender stereotyping. While the act of princessation has been going on for centuries, the naming of this process is significant. It efficiently sums up behaviours and words and colours them with a negative tint. I think we are making progress.

Blursday – One of these pandemic-inspired words, it refers to the feeling of one day blurring into the next. Working without our usual timetables and having a paucity of choice, doing much of the same thing from the same rooms day in and day out, many of us have no idea what day of the week it is.

Dietrologia – It’s an Italian loanword that pops up now and again in English. I stumbled across it in a short story by Paul Theroux, published in The New Yorker. Dictionary definitions say it refers to hidden motivations behind some action or understood reality. In Italian it’s often used in political journalism and when talking about conspiracy theories. What I find interesting about this word is how it is used in Italian, sometimes on its own, other times with fare (to make). Along with denoting conspiracy theories, it also means ‘second-guessing,’ ‘raking up old history’ or for telling someone their logic is ‘backwards.’ These multiple uses pack conspiracy theories with the connotations they often deserve.

Murderable – I ran into this self-explanatory and nasty word this past month in an article in The Guardian about the reporting of fatal domestic abuse. The author of this piece claimed that some newspapers referred to victims of fatal domestic abuse as ‘murderable,’ which of course sounds horrible and is not surprising given the high prevalence of misogyny in our society. I was going to write about this word, making the point that it nearly always refers to women – an educated guess.  Yet, after I searched two corpora of written British English, I only found two places where this word was used.  In 1920 D.H. Lawrence (some credit him with coining the word) used it in Women in Love: ‘And a man who is murderable is a man who in a profound if hidden lust desires to be murdered.’  The other place this word appeared was in The Guardian article where I found it in the first place. I also searched a couple of websites of the UK’s most popular tabloid papers – nothing.  ‘Murderable’ could be one of those words that is usually spoken and rarely written. As a result of this little research activity, this word appears on my list not to make a feminist point but rather as an example of false expectations and assumptions – especially when it comes to language.

And finally – goldfinch – I’ve never seen one, nor could I identify one, until this year when they started to appear in our town and even in our garden. Thanks to Covid-induced lockdowns, fewer cars and less human activity have allowed fauna to thrive and explore places they might not usually go.  This word and the beautiful little creature that it denotes will always remind me ironically of this otherwise dismal year.

Thoughts and Translations on the French Laïcité

I love a good mistranslation as much as the next person, but some mistranslations are not funny. Worse, they can be dangerous.

After the barbarous death of history teacher Samuel Paty, French president Emanuel Macron supported the teacher’s right to teach students about freedom of speech using the infamous Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Mohammed. Among those to express their discontent with the French president were the international English-speaking press, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and the UK’s Financial Times. I’m not alone in thinking this has to do in part with the translation of French into English. In condemning terrorists, Macron spoke against ‘séparatisme islamiste’ in France which has been translated as an attack on ‘Islamists’, a negatively loaded word referring to extremist and violent supporters of Islam. What Macron meant would be more accurately translated as ‘Islamic separatism,’ which is seen as harmful to integration. To put this more into the French context, for decades debates about séparatismes religieux have been about the Catholic faith and the fact that Catholicism hasn’t been the country’s official religion since the laïcité was put into law in 1905. The laïcité is mainly about individual rights to freedom of speech and religion in a secular state, a government not run by any single religion.

As with many mistranslations, cultural differences are at play. In countries like America, discrimination of minority groups, such as Muslim people, puts the media and well-meaning left-wing thinkers on hyper-alert for anti-Muslim racism. I’m not saying racism against Muslims doesn’t exist in France – of course it does. However, according to a recent survey by the National Institute of Demographic Studies, most Muslims in France feel socially and culturally integrated. Other studies also support these findings. As someone with a second home in France, I don’t find this surprising.

Interesting too that it appears most of the Muslims who were angered by Macron’s speech linking terrorism and separatism, live outside of France in non-French speaking countries, where  the president’s words were translated into Arabic and Turkish. Since I don’t speak either Arabic or Turkish, I’ll step aside from this part of the debate. Plenty of polyglot scholars in the French media in recent weeks who have raised this issue of mistranslation are doing this work for me.

In fact, there has been so much published and podcasted about these misunderstandings of the laïcité and mistranslations in France, I wasn’t going to bother writing about it. That is, until a couple of nights ago when Channel 4 News (UK) ran a story about Muslims in France being discriminated against by new integration measures proposed as laws. A French speaker mentioned the laïcité, and it was translated into English as ‘secularism.’ While secularism is part of the principle of the laïcité, keeping church and state separate, the first definition of secularism is typically ‘indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations’ (Merriam-Webster English Dictionary) – which is not laïcité.  As much as I am a devotee of Channel 4, I think on this occasion their liberal slant (which I usually lap up) may have played a role in both the reporting and translation.

Whether these translations involve English, Arabic or other languages, given social sensitivities and political tensions, I do wonder the extent to which these mistranslations are triggered by some sort of unconscious bias. Seeing this in the Channel 4 report has made me wonder about my own.

Vignettes on Learning

From our present day tribulations – pandemic, climate change and the populism that has made both worse, along with creating a more unstable world – an underling theme emerges. In a word – education. Lack of education or deliberate blocks to education have played a role in creating these problems.

By education, I don’t mean only formal education, but also informal, those things that are systematically self-taught. At its most basic education is about the practice of learning in order to acquire knowledge and develop critical thinking skills. As conspiracy theories and bizarre twists of logic accumulate, knowledge and critical thinking appear to be in short supply.

*****

A friend asked me, ‘How was it going as a councillor?’ Like a lot of people, she was surprised that I even ran for the District Council. People see me as more of a political activist than a politician, more literature and language than government. I answered, ‘It’s okay. I’m learning things and I enjoy that.’

*****

Tara Westover’s brilliant autobiography Educated shows the power of learning and education. Growing up in a survivalist Mormon family in Idaho, Westover was home schooled in a limited way, a casual use of old textbooks and outside reading restricted to the Bible and the Book of Mormon.  She discovered that she had some musical talent and enjoyed performing in the local amateur drama group but knew that she wouldn’t be able to do anything with this talent without going to a college or university. One of her older brothers, a traitor to the family, had taught himself using SAT preparatory books and eventually ended up with a score sufficient enough for university. Tara followed suit, informally educating herself to pass the exam and start her formal education at Brigham Young University.

While this speaks to the power of informal education, it was formal education that proved to be life-changing. It not only exposed Westover to different ways of thinking outside of her family’s strict conservativism, oppression of women and paranoia about all government institutions, it also made her think differently at an emotional level. She realised that her dominating father was probably bipolar and that the physical and verbal abuse she had suffered at the hands of family members was wrong and reflected their sicknesses.  Being aware of her own learning, she describes reaching these insights: ‘I had begun to understand that we [she and her siblings] had lent our voices to a discourse whose sole purpose was to dehumanize and brutalize others—because nurturing that discourse was easier, because retaining power always feels like the way forward.’ 

*****

When I was in my twenties, I read Indries Shah’s Learning How to Learn. This primer of Sufism explores learning as a way of developing psychological well-being, an openness to the education of life.  He also flipped this idea on its head to show that there is a reciprocal relationship here – psychological well-being, to which I add emotional intelligence, enables us to learn.

*****

During the first Covid lockdown, I decided to enrol in a MOOC (massive open online course) in a field outside of the humanities disciplines that have shaped my professional life. The course was about bees and the environment. And if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, I did it in French. I soon discovered that the words I didn’t know in French were nearly the same in English, such as apidae and anemogame. My next MOOC was called Les Racines des Mots Scientifiques – in French, where I learned mostly Greek.

European Language Day

Yesterday marked the seventeenth year of European Language Day, first started by the EU and the Council of Europe to promote language diversity across the continent. There are some 200 languages spoken in Europe. If this figure seems a bit high, it’s because it includes some 60 regional and minority languages, such as Manx (the Celtic language spoken on the Isle of Man),  Aragonese (a Romance language spoken in the Pyrenees region of Spain) and Maltese (a Semitic language based on Sicilian Arabic).

I’ve been studying foreign languages since I was about seven and fortunate to be placed in French classes in my primary school – a state school no less. Classes only met once a week, and I can’t say that I learned much as we mostly played games and sang folk and Christmas songs. Yet, there were things that I absorbed then which I still draw from today, retaining the original childhood context like a backdrop to a stage. In addition to French, over the years, I’ve studied Italian (naturally) and Spanish and have dipped into Danish, Korean and Arabic. Much to my shame, I can’t say that I’m fluent in any of these languages, being more of a theoretical English language linguist than a polyglot.

European Language Day is one of these awareness days which is about encouraging people to study European languages and to celebrate the diversity of languages and cultures across Europe. At first glance, this appears innocuous – and perhaps it was five years ago. But with Brexit and the rise of populism, xenophobic rhetoric has been empowered and multiculturalism and world citizenship have been relegated to being little more than liberal snowflake ideas.

Having said this, I’m encouraged by today’s vote in Switzerland to retain free movement between their country and the EU. A welcomed nationalists’ defeat.

I’m also hopeful that interest in foreign languages, and therefore other cultures, will not succumb to populist trends thanks to the Corona Virus. This pandemic has been a boon to language learning apps, such as Duolingo, Babel and my personal favourite Memrise. Although the way governments, as in the UK and the US, have handle the pandemic has sharpened the divide between rich and poor and between competing countries, the lockdown pastime of language learning could in its own subtle ways lead us towards more unity and cultural tolerance.

On that positive note – and arguably a snowdrift of wokeness – bonne soirée, buona serata…

He, Lord Cromwell

Of the Hilary Mantel trilogy, the first book is still my favourite, but now only by a whisker, having just finished The Mirror and the Light.  Of course, Wolf Hall has the advantage of being the first, the freshness of introducing the world of the text. Some might object to my ranking of these books, something film critics do all the time when faced with sequels, but it’s worth pointing out that the first film in a series is often the best received – notable exceptions including Godfather 2 and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

Thinking about all three books in this way is useful from a writer’s perspective. While all three were immensely satisfying to read, I was less taken by the second book, Bring up the Bodies, mainly because I found it a bit soapy. Its main story was the demise of Anne Boleyn, her affairs – real and created by others. This second novel covers the shortest period of time of the trilogy, the king’s 3-year marriage to Boleyn, and was still a hefty tome. The pacing may have suffered. Wolf Hall takes us from Thomas Cromwell’s childhood through his stint as a soldier and working for Cardinal Wolsey up to his time as counsel to Henry VIII to the end of the king’s first marriage. The Mirror and the Light starts in the immediate aftermath of Anne’s beheading and continues through his brief marriages to Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves. Over these four years, we follow Cromwell’s illustrious career expanding with ever new and important titles, while dealing with the lingering presence of the beheaded queen, the fraught interval between the king’s marriages, the religious revolts across the country and the rising clashes with the pope and other powers in Europe. This final novel also gives the impression of covering a greater time span in its references to persons and events from the earlier books.

Like the first two instalments, The Mirror and the Light uses the same dry sense of humour that comes out in the observations of the ridiculous self-serving characters and the system of aristocracy and the caustic wit of Thomas Cromwell. The anti-hero’s wry sense of irony and gift with language comes out not only when he speaks, but also in his internal dialogue (mostly free indirect thought, for you literary stylisticians).

On the topic of language, this is the highlight of reading anything by Mantel. While there are many quotable gems from The Mirror and the Light, I’ll share with you a couple of examples.

‘But the law is not an instrument to find out truth. It is there to create a fiction that will help us move past atrocious acts and face our future. It seems there is no mercy in this world, but a kind of haphazard justice: men pay for crimes, but not necessarily their own.’

On a lighter note, one of the chapters opens with this:

‘”My lord?” a boy says. “A gravedigger is here.” He looks up from his papers. “Tell him to come back for me in ten years.’” 

If this were a film review, I’ve just given you some clips, coming attractions that don’t give anything away. Staying with the analogy, let’s talk awards and prizes. Although The Mirror and the Light is well-deserving of a Booker Prize, Mantel already has her Bookers for the first two of the trilogy. Like Oscars, sometimes, it’s not about bestowing prizes on the best, but allowing others to win. 

Surviving Political Conventions

While it would be a stretch to say I found the US Democratic convention inspiring,  what is more important is that I – and millions of others – found the Republican convention laughable and ludicrous in its touting of flagrant falsehoods and scientifically improbable promises.

It’s easy to assume that this divide in style between these two political conventions has been brought on by the character of Tr**p, but there has long been some of this distinction between the two parties. Robert Reich, recently wrote in The Guardian: ‘The Democratic party is basically a governing party, organized around developing and implementing public policies. The Republican party has become an attack party, organized around developing and implementing political vitriol. Democrats legislate. Republicans fulminate.’

While I agree with this, the Democrats’ convention replaced a lot of their typical policy speak with some battle talk. This time the Democrats appeared to have followed the advice of Churchill who once said, ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste.’ While I hesitate to call the coronavirus pandemic a ‘good’ crisis, it’s a crisis, which has laid bare the failures of populist-led governments across the world. Many of the speakers at the Democrats’ convention highlighted Tr**p’s disastrous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Other crises where brought into the mix, reminding people that this president pulled America out of the Paris Climate agreement and continues to create division through racist immigration policies and support of institutional racism in America’s police forces. True, these points against the Tr**p Party (formerly the Republican Party) have been said countless times before but often embedded in the jokey monologues of Steven Colbert, Seth Meyers and the like or in the sarcasm of news columnists both sides of the Atlantic. It was refreshing to hear these criticisms in measured tones without the laughs (these are serious issues after all) from Democratic politicians and dignitaries, one after the other, showing signs of unity. I was also pleased – and like many breathed a sigh of relief – when it was all over and Joe Biden had not committed any lapsus linguae.

Speaking of language, the Tr**p Party convention produced more than its share of linguistic wonders. Here are just a couple of my favourites. Senator Tim Scott warned that Biden and Harris will turn America into a ‘socialist utopia.’ Clearly the senator doesn’t understand that utopias are good things. Coming from the Greek ou, meaning not, and topos, meaning place, utopia literally means ‘no place’ and by extension, thanks to Sir Thomas More who might be spinning in his sepulchre, means ‘an ideal place.’

In the final speech of the convention, the tweeter in chief accepted his party’s nomination by saying, ‘I profoundly accept this nomination.’ His speech writers must have known that Tr**p, the self-described ‘stable genius,’ could not humbly accept anything. Other high collocates for the word accept, include graciously and gladly, neither of which suits the fiery tongue of this presidential vulgarian. Having thrown out these other words, I imagine the speech writers going for a presidentially serious tone and following a thesaurus thread from serious to deep, ending up at profound. At least they had the grammatical wherewithal to add an –ly to make profound an adverb even if the resulting phrase – like this president – makes little sense.

Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight

Having read The English Patient many years ago, I approached Ondaatje’s Warlight with an expectation of escapism, but not in the sense of escaping to mysterious places or futuristic backdrops. Quite the opposite. Warlight is set during the second world war and in the decade or so following it, periods of time much exploited by writers. Living in England, I’ve seen so many war films, series and documentaries on British television, it seems to be one of my remembered past lives. With this familiarity, I was gripped in the world of home front secret services and their accomplices drawn from some of the seedier elements of society.

This comfortable escapism also came about as it is set mostly in Suffolk, a county which shares part of its border with Cambridgeshire, where I live, and extends on to the North Sea coast. The villages and the coastline even today hold a feeling of remoteness embedded in the past. During the war, this coastal area was under constant fear of attack by the Germans, and while they were being secretly patrol by residents, the road signs had been removed in order to confuse any invading forces. I cannot imagine the sense of solidarity it must have brought to the local population, a shared purpose which the UK, even in the time of Covid-19 is lacking. While neighbours and friends are helping each other, the constant controversy over the easing and re-establishing of lockdown and the inconsistent messaging have stripped away any national unity. Perhaps Britain in the time of Warlight has filled a void for this reader.

The narrator in this story, Nathaniel, was 14-years old at the time his parents left him and his sister so that they could continue their work for the British government in Singapore. It is through his perspective that we experience these years and the emotions of being left in the care of their domestic servant and his group of criminal associates. Their activities appear to be in one line of work, but Nathaniel discovers later they were something else altogether, involving the defence of the home front. When his mother reappears, he is on the verge of becoming a young man and she is unwilling to reveal what she was doing for the government or the circumstances surrounding her now estranged husband. With some difficulty and amateur detective work, Nathaniel puts together some of the pieces of his mother’s life with what he has learned about the other characters.

Ondaatje gives his narrator the means to reflect on his ability to create these stories. He explains to the reader, ‘I know how to fill in a story from a grain of sand or a fragment of discovered truth. In retrospect the grains of sand had always been there.’

A great deal has been written in linguistics about how we create and present stories, both fictional and real. Reading this book, I was reminded of these constructs and the power of stories in our personal lives. They are not just about communicating ideas or entertaining a listener or reader. As Nathaniel explains, ‘We order our lives with barely held stories. As if we have been lost in a confusing landscape, gathering what was invisible and unspoken.’ For a casual summer read, this was escapism, but for this linguist, Warlight proved to be much more.