From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Nadsat is a constructed language used by the teenagers in Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange. It is based on English with many Russian influences. It was invented by Burgess, who in addition to being a novelist was also a linguist.[1] It is a transliteration of the Russian suffix equivalent to -'teen' (ru:надцать).

In 1978, Saragi, Nation and Meister performed a much cited study of vocabulary learning that used Nadsat and A Clockwork Orange. They reported that subjects, who had only been given a few days to read the book, and not been warned of a vocabulary test, scored an average of 67%, worst case 50% and best 96%.


[edit] Description

Nadsat is a mode of speech used by the nadsat, members of the teen subculture in the novel A Clockwork Orange. The anti-hero and narrator of the book, Alex, uses it, in first-person style, to relate the story to the reader. He also uses it to communicate with other characters in the novel, such as his droogs, parents, victims, and any authority-figures with whom he comes in contact. It is not a written language: the sense that we have of the novel is of a transcription of vernacular speech, rather than an implementation of a published, bona-fide dialect.

Nadsat is basically English, with some transliterated words from Russian. It also contains influences from Cockney rhyming slang and the King James Bible, some words of unclear origin, and some that Burgess invented. The word nadsat itself is the suffix of Russian numerals from 11 to 19 (-надцать). The suffix slurs the Russian words for 'on ten'—for example, 'one-on-ten,' 'two-on-ten,' (одиннадцать, двенадцать) and so on—and thus forms an almost exact linguistic parallel to the English '-teen.' Some of the words are also almost childish English such as eggiweg (egg) and appy polly loggy (apology), as well as regular English slang sod and snuff it. The word like is often inserted arbitrarily into phrases.

Nadsat is in fact not so much a language as a register or argot. The words are inflected after English patterns regardless of the language from which they may have originated. Alex is capable of speaking standard English when he wants to; Nadsat is really a lexicon of "extra" words which Alex uses to describe the world as he sees and experiences it.

Nadsat words are all concrete or semi-abstract: to discuss philosophy Alex would probably have to shift into a more standardised form of English. The fact that a teen language has no abstract words is perhaps Burgess' reflection on the shallowness of the juvenile delinquent's thought processes.

At least one translation of Burgess' book into Russian solved the problem of how to illustrate the Nadsat words—by using transliterated, slang English words in places where Burgess used Russian ones. This solution was however imperfect, as it lacked the original abstractness. Borrowed English words with Russian inflection were widely used in Russian slang, especially among Russian hippies. Another translation used original English spelling of Nadsat.

[edit] Function of Nadsat

Burgess, a polyglot who loved language in all its forms, was aware that linguistic slang was of a constantly changing nature.[2]. Burgess knew that if he used modes of speech that were contemporarily in use, the novel would very quickly become dated. His use of Nadsat was essentially pragmatic; he needed his narrator to have a unique voice that would remain ageless while reinforcing Alex's indifference to his society's norms, and to suggest that youth subculture existed independently of the rest of society. In A Clockwork Orange, Alex's interrogators dismiss his argot as "subliminal penetration."

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Anthony Burgess, Language Made Plain and A Mouthful of Air.
  2. ^ "Yes, [Anthony] Burgess loved to scatter polyglot obscurities like potholes throughout his more than 50 novels and dozens of nonfiction works. He could leap gaily from Welsh to French to Malay to Yiddish in one breath." Henry Kisor, Chicago Sun-Times 24 August, 1997.

[edit] Bibliography

  • Aggeler, Geoffrey. "Pelagius and Augustine in the novels of Anthony Burgess". English Studies 55 (1974): 43–55.
  • Evans, Robert O. "Nadsat: The Argot and Its Implications in Anthony Burgess' 'A Clockwork Orange'". Journal of Modern Literature 1 (1971): 406–410.
  • Gladsky, Rita K. "Schema Theory and Literary Texts: Anthony Burgess' Nadsat". Language Quarterly 30 (1992): 39–46.
  • Saragi, T., I.S. Paul Nation and G.F. Meister. "Vocabulary learning and reading". System 6 (1978): 72–78.

[edit] External links

Personal tools