A Pan-English Dictionary (for readers of Harry Mathews’s The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium)

J.R.R. Tolkien’s not the only novelist who invented fictional languages! In Harry Mathews‘s early masterpiece, the epistolary novel The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium, newlyweds Zachary McCaltex and Twang Panattapam, separated by the Atlantic, exchange letters in which they “try to trace the whereabouts of a treasure supposedly lost off the coast of Florida in the sixteenth century, while navigating a relationship separated by an ocean as well as their different cultures.”

Twang, who hails “from the Southeast-Asian country of Pan-Nam,” peppers her letters with snatches of her native language, “Pan.” Fortunately for her husband and the reader, she also translates it on the spot. I’ve collected all of the Pan and its English equivalents in the hope it will be of interest; it’s all after the jump.

“Slow, you may take-on my tongue, like I your.”
—Tro-tsi Twang Panattapam McCaltex (p. 92)

Pan English
atra
atram
bukhaï
battazhum
dek
dhum
duvaï
ghanap
laï
Lao
lemö, lemu
lemum
lucrem
lucri
lucrim
ma
maï
mau
me
mem
mo
naï
nam
namma
Namma Ghaï
neng

nob
Nob-ma
pheu
phrap
pok
pop
pristwe, -i, -ei
sheenam
sheenö
slop
stheu
tharaï
theu
ticbaï

ticbaï laï

üin
uüaxe
uüax-m
vin
weï, wey
wuc, wun
think (pok atro: do not speak, but think)
I think
kind of brush; tree
prostitute, whore
in (?)
stink
long farewell, death
hour(s)
mud
Laotian
love
I love (nob-lemum: for that I love)
I eat (nob lucrim: I ate)
eat (nob lucri: to eat)
food
Being, being
now, for-this-moment; The Now
to be (?)
to be (nob-me: for to be, become)
be
be [imperative form]
so, thus
in, of
royal shrine
capital of Pan-Nam
nose; Buddha’s nose; beautiful thing [if the body isn’t mentioned]
[qualifier: for, have]
O Being (pok-ma: no being)
yours
sari-like outfit
not [negative]
over (?), on (?)
demon
I endure, I bear (it)
I shall bear
misery
entire (?)
without end, endless, forever
us, we
running from, turning against; in the face of, in front of; confronted with
in flight of mud [when used in Twang’s village] / confronted with mud [when used in the capital]
idea
retch
I vomit; man; what man makes; to make
cadaver, corpse
alas, sadness, woe; to laugh
to be similar, like (?)

Thus, letter 100, Twang’s penultimate letter to Zachary (p. 182), might be translated as:

7 Not Mud

Dear Beloved! Love body now vomits the demon. We are beautiful things, alas forever farewell. As all Laotians think, run from/confront now misery, thus: we shall endure eating eels in mud.

“Not Mud” I interpret to mean a particular month or stretch of time (i.e., “not during the rainy season”).

The real challenge in translating this letter is the fact that ticbaï means both “run from” and “confront”—obviously Mathews is being cheeky.

(Actually, the expression ticbaï lai offers some guidance: it means “fleeing from mud” when used in Twang’s village, but “confronting mud” when used in the nation’s capital. So it would seem that the word’s meaning depends on one’s power in relation to the obstacle—a mudslide can destroy a small village, but heavy rains are usually little more than an inconvenience in a large city. The question then becomes: where are Twang and Zachary situated in regards to the obstacles they face?)

[Readers will no doubt also want to see “The Cares of a Family Man” by Franz Kafka.]

2 thoughts on “A Pan-English Dictionary (for readers of Harry Mathews’s The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium)

  1. Pingback: A Guide to My Writing Here at Big Other « BIG OTHER

  2. Pingback: A Guide to My Writing Here at Big Other (reposted) « BIG OTHER

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