Small Stations Essay

In this extraordinary account, Carys Evans-Corrales takes the reader on a cultural rollercoaster ride. As a child growing up in the Singapore, Malaysia and Jamaica of the 1950s and 1960s, the author came into contact with a host of languages and cultural influences, ranging from the Hainanese she spoke as a toddler to the Welsh counting song and English nursery rhymes she was taught by her mother to the Mandarin songs of Chinese children. In Kuala Lumpur, she came into contact with Malay, whose idioms delighted her, and in Kingston, Jamaica, with Jamaican patois, where she was shocked by the racially charged atmosphere. In Jamaica, she was introduced to Spanish, which conditioned her next move – to study Linguistics at York University in the UK, specializing in Spanish. This, in turn, led to a year abroad in Seville, where the author played the role of Andalusian novia, and, after completing her undergraduate degree, to a year of research in Salamanca. During this year, she was offered a job at the university in Santiago de Compostela, where she went in 1974, just as the Franco years were coming to an end and Galicia was recovering its language and identity. But it was in a move to America, in 1985, that the author finally acquired her own identity and laid the ghosts of her past to rest. The account of these years is littered with anecdotes about local people, school friends, linguistic conundrums and political backdrops, and offers a sweeping view of the second half of the twentieth century lived out on three continents.

How are English words connected? Is there a consistent set of rules by which words in the English language are connected not according to their etymology, their evolution over time, but according to their letters? These letters may be rearranged, read back to front, altered according to the laws of phonetics, their position in the alphabet, their physical appearance, their numerical value. So while the reverse of live is evil, we can count down from I to O and find love instead (as sin gives son). The ego, by taking a step back in the alphabet, can be turned into God. Using the laws of phonetics, we can realize that the true purpose of the self is to serve. In The Life of a Translator, Jonathan Dunne offers a clear, direct introduction to the ways in which English words can be connected according to their DNA, arguing that words have something to tell us about human life, but their meaning is hidden and must be deciphered (God is code). In this sense, language is similar to the environment. We think we see what is around us, but we are spiritually blind even after we have opened our eyes, and it is this spiritual blindness causing a crisis in the world because of how we treat our world, the environment, each other and, ultimately, ourselves.

This revolutionary book sets out to persuade the reader that the English language is not the result of years of haphazard evolution, a chaotic atom-like conglomeration of words, but a carefully planned whole in which each word has its place and is connected by a consistent set of rules. It is not a coincidence that earth is heart or soil is soul, for instance, or that salt makes us last (‘You are the salt of the earth’) but last is in fact lst. This book journeys from the Book of Genesis and Creation to Revelation and the Last Judgement through the English language, suggesting that language has something to tell us about the environment and that he who would be true to himself is inexorably pushed out on to the margins.