#2 Wordplay

December 6 and 13, 2016 - 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Joshua T. Katz, Ph.D., Department of Classics and Program in Linguistics

Already young children delight in playing with words, and taking pleasure in the ludic side of language is part of many adults’ everyday experiences. This seminar is for you if your morning is not complete without the New York Times crossword, if you are known for your terrible puns, or if you’ve admired the perverse (?) virtuosity of Georges Perec’s 1969 French novel La Disparition (“The Disappearance”), which — like also Gilbert Adair’s English translation, A Void — lacks the letter e. All forms of linguistic expression involve constraints (this course description must be under 200 words, for example, and a Shakespearean sonnet must have 14 decasyllabic verses), but some of these are more difficult to manage, more remarkable, and just plain stranger than others. In our time together, we will consider in as hands-on a way as possible how people — poets, spelling bee contestants, Scrabble mavens, you — manipulate the sounds, writing systems, and other elements of English (and of other languages, too) for purposes that range from silly to serious and from purely aesthetic to unabashedly political.  Join in the fun and decide for yourself whether wordplay is a wry plod.