Nadsat is a fictional register or argot used by the teenage gang members in Anthony Burgess's dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange. Burgess was a linguist and he used this background to depict his characters as speaking a form of Russian-influenced English.[1] The name comes from the Russian suffix equivalent of -teen as in thirteen (-надцать, -nad·tsat). Nadsat was also used in Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of the book.

Created byAnthony Burgess
Setting and usageA Clockwork Orange (novel and film)
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-3None (mis)
"Quaint," said Dr. Brodsky, like smiling, "the dialect of the tribe. Do you know anything of its provenance, Branom?" "Odd bits of old rhyming slang," said Dr. Branom ... "A bit of gipsy talk, too. But most of the roots are Slav. Propaganda. Subliminal penetration."

Drs. Brodsky and Branom, A Clockwork Orange, page 114.

Description edit

Nadsat is a mode of speech used by the nadsat, members of the teen subculture in the novel A Clockwork Orange. The narrator and protagonist 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. As with many speakers of non-standard varieties of English, Alex is capable of speaking standard English when he wants to. It is not a written language: the sense that readers get is of a transcription of vernacular speech.

Nadsat is English with some borrowed words from Russian. It also contains influences from Cockney rhyming slang, the King James Bible, German, some words of unclear origin and some that Burgess invented. The word nadsat is the suffix of Russian numerals from 11 to 19 (-надцать). The suffix is an almost exact linguistic parallel to the English -teen and is derived from на, meaning 'on' and a shortened form of десять, the number ten. Droog is derived from the Welsh word drwg, meaning 'bad', 'naughty' or 'evil' and the Russian word друг, meaning a 'close friend'.[2] Some of the words are almost childish plays on English words, such as eggiweg ('egg') and appy polly loggy ('apology'), as well as regular English slang sod and snuff it. The word like and the expression the old are often used as fillers or discourse markers.

The original 1991 translation of Burgess's book into Russian solved the problem of how to illustrate the Nadsat words by using transliterated, slang English words in places where Burgess had used Russian ones – for example, droogs became фрэнды (frendy). Borrowed English words with Russian inflection were widely used in Russian slang, especially among Russian hippies in the 1970s–1980s.

Function edit

Burgess was a polyglot who loved language in all its forms.[3] However, he realized that if he used contemporary slang, the novel would very quickly become dated, owing to the way in which teenage language is constantly changing. He was therefore forced to invent his own vocabulary, and to set the book in an imaginary future. Burgess was later to point out that, ironically, some of the Nadsat words in the book had been appropriated by American teenagers, "and thus shoved [his] future into the discardable past."[4] His use of Nadsat was 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 was independent from the rest of society. In A Clockwork Orange, Alex's interrogators describe the source of his argot as "subliminal penetration".

Russian influences edit

Russian influences play the biggest role in Nadsat. Most of those Russian-influenced words are slightly anglicized loan-words, often maintaining the original Russian pronunciation.[5] One example is the Russian word lyudi, which is anglicized to lewdies, meaning 'people'.[6] Another Russian word is bábushka which is anglicized to baboochka, meaning 'grandmother', 'old woman'.[6] Some of the anglicised words are truncated, for example pony from ponimát’, 'to understand', or otherwise shortened, for example veck from čelovék, 'person, man' (though the anglicized word chelloveck is also used in the book).

A further means of constructing Nadsat words is the employment of homophones (known as folk etymology). For example, one Nadsat term which may seem like an English composition, horrorshow, actually stems from the Russian word for 'good'; khorosho, which sounds similar to horrorshow.[6][7] In this same manner many of the Russian loan-words become an English–Russian hybrid, with Russian origins, and English spellings and pronunciations.[8] A further example is the Russian word for 'head', golová, which sounds similar to Gulliver known from Gulliver’s Travels; Gulliver became the Nadsat expression for the concept 'head'.[6][7]

Many of Burgess's loanwords, such as devotchka ('girl') and droog ('friend') maintain both their relative spelling and meaning over the course of translation.[8]

Other influences edit

Additional words were borrowed from other languages: A (possibly Saudi-owned) hotel was named 'Al Idayyin, an Arabic-sounding variant on "Holiday Inn" Hotel chain, while also alluding to the name Aladdin.

Word derivation by common techniques edit

Nadsat's English slang is constructed with common language-formation techniques. Some words are blended, others clipped or compounded.[5] In Nadsat language a 'fit of laughter' becomes a guff (shortened version of guffawing); a 'skeleton key' becomes a polyclef ('many keys'); and the 'state jail' is blended to the staja, which has the double entendre stager, so that its prisoners got there by a staged act of corruption, as revenge by the state, an interpretation that would fit smoothly into the storyline. Many common English slang terms are simply shortened. A cancer stick, which is (or was) a common English-slang expression for a cigarette, is shortened to a cancer.[8]

Rhyming slang edit

This feature of Nadsat is derived from Cockney.

Charlie = 'chaplain'
Chaplain and Chaplin (from Charlie Chaplin) are homophones. Using the principles of rhyming slang Burgess uses Charlie Chaplin as a synonym for 'chaplain' and shortens it to Charlie.[9][better source needed]
Cutter = 'money'
Cutter rhymes with bread and butter, a wilful alteration of bread and honey 'money'.[5][7]
Pretty polly = 'money'
Another colloquial expression used to describe the concept 'money' is lolly. Lolly rhymes with pretty polly, which is the name of an English folk song and in the world of A Clockwork Orange becomes a new expression for 'money'.[9][better source needed]
Hound-and-horny = 'corny'
Twenty to one = 'fun'
Fun means 'gang violence' in the context of the story.[citation needed]

The language was also used in the film made by Kubrick.

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ Anthony Burgess, Language Made Plain and A Mouthful of Air.
  2. ^ Eric Partridge, et al., The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English; Wiktionary друг (Russian)
  3. ^ "[He] 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.
  4. ^ Anthony Burgess, 'Teenspeech', in Anthony Burgess, Homage to Qwert Yuiop London (Century Hutchinson) 1986, page 180.
  5. ^ a b c Oks, Marina; Christiane Bimberg (2009). "The Rebus of "Nadsat," or, A Key To A Clockwork Orange". Textual intricacies: essays on structure and intertextuality in nineteenth and twentieth century fiction in English. Trier: Wiss. Verl. Trier. pp. 37–56.
  6. ^ a b c d Jackson, Kevin (1999). "Real Horrorshow: A Short Lexicon Of Nadsat". Sight and Sound (9): 24–27.
  7. ^ a b c Evans, Robert O. (1971). "Nadsat: The Argot and its Implications in Anthony Burgess' 'A Clockwork Orange'". Journal of Modern Literature (1): 406–410.
  8. ^ a b c Watts, Selnon (2007). Understanding Nadsat Talk in Anthony Burgess' a Clockwork Orange.
  9. ^ a b Arnott, Luke (2009). The Slang of A Clockwork Orange. Retrieved 24 June 2015.

General bibliography edit

  • Aggeler, Geoffrey. "Pelagius and Augustine in the novels of Anthony Burgess". English Studies 55 (1974): 43–55. doi:10.1080/00138387408597602.
  • Burgess, Anthony (1990). You've Had Your Time: Being the Second Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess. New York: Grove Weidenfeld. ISBN 978-0-8021-1405-1. OCLC 806307724.
  • Gladsky, Rita K. "Schema Theory and Literary Texts: Anthony Burgess' Nadsat". Language Quarterly 30:1–2 (Winter–Spring 1992): 39–46.
  • Saragi, T.; Nation, I. S. Paul; Meister, G. F. (1978). "Vocabulary Learning and Reading". System. 6 (2): 72–78. doi:10.1016/0346-251X(78)90027-1.

External links edit