PEARTREE LIFE: Experiencing Languages

Literature Time: Nonsense Language in Alice in Wonderland

One of the greatest pieces of literature is undoubtedly Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The book from 1865 follows the dreamy stories and adventures of a young girl in a fantastic world called the Wonderland.

While to this day, Carroll’s stories still enchant children and adults alike he had originally written the books for the children of his friends, the Liddell family. Taking parts of the children’s characters and their own ideas, Carroll created an absurd yet fascinating world of its own where our society’s conventions are out of place.

This makes for many interesting encounters where Alice is seen as the odd one out in Wonderland. Some of these problems happen through language as the language in Wonderland is used differently than in our world.
We have put together some of them below.
Can you make out the differences and misunderstandings?

What is the “nonsense language”? 
“Alice felt dreadfully puzzled.
The Hatter’s remark seemed to have no meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English.
‘I don’t quite understand,’ she said, as politely as she could.“

The Jabberwocky
Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!

And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
He chortled in his joy.

Carroll uses sounds instead of words to get the meaning across. Some of the newly formed words are portmanteau words which are made from other words. Many expressions here are actually a play on words.

The not-so-good English
“'Curiouser and curiouser!' cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English) […]”
It should be ‘more and more curious’ but this shows how surprised Alice was in this situation and yet we still understand what it means.

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About Peartree Languages

Peartree Languages is a language school located in Cardiff.


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