The Talking Dog and King’s Fellow May 25, 2012Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback
Horror upon horrors, today is tax day in the Beachcombing household. Somewhere in this study there are the various documents that justify Beach’s fiscal probity and he must now find them. The next twelve hours will be the most tedious of the year. Forgive then a small post as Beach plunges into the piles of paper. Here is a cute passage from R.W.Evans quoted by Jennifer Westwood in her wonderful Albion. Evans has been asked to gather evidence to settle two bets. (It goes without saying that Beach would far rather be doing this).
The first [bet] was as to whether so-and-so had ever been a fellow of King’s College; my researches disclosed that he had in fact once been an assistant teacher in an elementary school in King’s Road Chelsea. The second was as to a remarkable dog owned by a long-defunct classical fellow of another college; the beast had been taught to speak Latin and conversed in the most agreeable fashion with any superior person who would open the conversation by enquiring after the animal’s health. My researches showed that there was such a classical fellow attended in his old age by a servant called Airedale, who had picked up a few tags of dog-latin which, for the price of half-a-pint of beer he would recite.
Beach has long concentrated on ‘cobblers’, myth-making in history. However, he asks himself now how many of these misunderstandings are based on linguistic stupidities like this: ‘the disease of language’ of good old Max Müller. He would be extremely grateful for any extra examples, drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com and, reader, PLEASE have a better day than Beach is about to have…
9 June 2012: The Count is in fine form ‘A dog speaking short phrases in Latin isn’t actually that implausible – Alexander Graham Bell of all people achieved something very similar! The accounts of how Bell’s dog managed to say “How are you, grandma?”, or at least a reasonable approximation of it, are more detailed than the story you quote, and make it clear that while the dog made the basic sounds, Bell gave it a little help by gently pressing its throat. The technique can be seen on this old clip from That’s Life starring Prince the wonder-dog, who briefly became so famous that he made a record (not Purple Rain – that was another Prince altogether who isn’t even a dog). Of course, a dog who could form recognizable words with no human assistance at all would be much more remarkable. Cats, uncooperative beasts that they are, do not respond well to this method of training. However, they make up for it by being able to play the piano.’ Beach has no words. Thanks, Count!