Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Code

Marie-Josée Croze in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

"The jumbled appearance of my chorus line stems not from chance but from cunning calculation. More than an alphabet, it is a hit parade in which each letter is placed according to the frequency of its use in the French Language. That is why E dances proudly out in front, while W labors to hold on to last place. B resents being pushed back next to V, and haughty Jwhich begins so many sentences in Frenchis amazed to find itself so near the rear of the pack. Roly-poly G is annoyed to have to trade places with H, while T and U, the tender components of tu, rejoice that they have not been separated. All this reshuffling has a purpose: to make it easier for those who wish to communicate with me."

"It is a simple enough system. You read off the alphabet (ESA version, not ABC) until, with a blink of my eye, I stop you at the letter to be noted. The maneuver is repeated for the letters that follow, so that fairly soon you have a whole word, and then fragments of more or less intelligible sentences. That, at least, is the theory. In reality, all does not go well for some visitors. Because of nervousness, impatience, or obtuseness, performances vary in the handling of the code (which is what we call this method for transcribing my thoughts). Crossword fans and Scrabble players have a head start. Girls manage better than boys. By dint of practice, some of them know the code by heart and no longer even turn to our special notebookthe one containing the order of the letters and in which all my words are set down like the Delphic oracle's."

-- Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly