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Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University
Updated: 2 hours 24 min ago

Tizhe Lizanguage bizof Lizovers: Carny Latin Reincarnated

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 14:58

While I processed a collection of correspondence between two lovers, a handful of letters stuck out. Martha Simpson, then Martha Eleanor Booker, a young African American woman working on her teaching degree at Elizabeth City Teachers College, had a penchant for writing in code. Paul Simpson, her love interest, did not share the same inclination, but did indulge her in his responses. As I read through the letters, the code used in three of them piqued my curiosity. My search revealed that the code used seems to be a form of carnival Pig Latin, also known as Czarny, Z-Latin, or Carny (Hautzinger 30).

Martha first sneaks in her secret code at the closing of a letter from January 10, 1951, with a little taunt, “Ha, ha, I bet you can’t read it.” Paul’s response to this letter, dated January 13, 1951, briefly acknowledges that he, indeed, could read her secret language with the opening line “Dizear Cizheré,” before continuing his letter unencumbered by the extra z’s.

But Martha doesn’t give up.  She continues the code in a response from January 17, 1951, written half in this “z-language,” eventually switching back to conventional English.

Martha’s next letter clearly was not on pink paper (did you catch that one?), but she did keep on with her code. The secret language was formed by inserting iz after the first consonant, and if there was no consonant present, beginning the word with biz. In linguistic circles, this is known as iz-infixation and has been linked to rap and hip-hop music. Examples include Frankie Smith’s 1981 hits Double Dutch Bus and Slang Thang (or Slizang Thizang), both of which boast the iz-infix in their lyrics. More recent examples include work by Snoop Dogg and Kanye West (Viau 1). But these letters come decades before the iz-infix made it big in music, and the question remains: Where did this secret language come from?

We think the answer is this: carnival slang. Published accounts of Carny go back to 1926 (Russell and Murray 401), well before Martha was writing to Paul. It was a language immersed in the subculture of the carnival, intended to distinguish between outsiders and the true Carnies, given the questionable legality of the carnival. Sarah Hautzinger describes it as a dialect that “rearranges English to make it unintelligible to the unenlightened ear” (32). In Czarny, “a Z-sound is inserted after the first consonant, and if the word begins with a vowel, before the vowel sound, in the first syllable only” (32). This certainly seems a lot like the iz-infixes found in the letters between Martha and Paul. Rumor has it that this carny talk found its way into popular culture years later.

Whether or not their secret language was descended from Z-Latin, the coded (and uncoded) correspondence between Martha and Paul D. Simpson provides an interesting read. Recently acquired by the Rubenstein, these roughly 300 letters detail the love, life, and struggles of a young African American couple on their way to becoming teachers.

For more information on the Martha and Paul D. Simpson Papers, check out the collection guide.

For further reading on Carny Latin and the iz-infix, see:

Hautzinger, Sarah. “Carnival Speech: Making the Jump.” Journal of American Culture, 13: 29–33, 1990. Web. 16 December 2014.

Russell, Carol L. and Thomas E. Murray. “The Life and Death of Carnie.” American Speech, Vol. 79 No. 4: 400-416, 2004. Web. 16 December 2014.

Viau, Joshua. “Introducing English [IZ]-Infixation: Snoop Dogg and bey-[IZ]-ond.” 2006 LSA Summer Meeting, 24 June 2006. Web.  16 December 2014.

Post contributed by Janice Hansen, a Ph.D. student in Germanic Languages &  Literature and Technical Services intern at The Rubenstein. 

The post Tizhe Lizanguage bizof Lizovers: Carny Latin Reincarnated appeared first on The Devil's Tale.

Now Accepting Applications for our 2014-2015 Travel Grants

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 17:35

Researchers! The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is now accepting applications for our 2014-2015 travel grants.

The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture,  the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, and the History of Medicine Collections will award up to $1,000 per recipient to fund travel and other expenses related to visiting the Rubenstein Library. The Rubenstein also offers the Eleanore and Harold Jantz Fellowship, a $1500 award for researchers whose work would benefit from use of the Jantz Collections.

The grants are open to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, independent scholars, artists, and activists who live more than 100 miles from Durham, NC and whose research projects would benefit from access to collections held by one of the centers.

Please note that the Rubenstein Library will be closed to the public from July 1st, 2015 through August 23rd, 2015, while we relocate to our newly renovated space. These dates are subject to change.

More details—and the grant application—may be found on our grants website. Recipients will be announced in April 2015.

The post Now Accepting Applications for our 2014-2015 Travel Grants appeared first on The Devil's Tale.

Stanley Nelson Documentary Film Series

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 15:00

The Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel Visiting Filmmaker Series will be sponsoring screenings of four films directed by Stanley Nelson prior to his visit to Duke on October 16-18. Co-sponsors of the series are the Archive of Documentary Arts, Franklin Research Center, Screen/Society and the Program in Arts of the Moving Image. Voter registration will be available before and after the screenings. Each screening begins at 7:00pm and is free and open to the public.

 

Date: Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Location: Richard White Lecture Hall, Duke University East Campus

Film: The Murder of Emmett Till

Introduction by Mike Wiley, past Lehman Brady Visiting Joint Chair Professor in Documentary Studies and American Studies at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

 

Date: Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Location: Griffith Theatre, Duke University West Campus

Film: Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple

 

 

 Date: Thursday, October 2, 2014

Location: Hayti Heritage Center, 804 Old Fayetteville St, Durham, NC 27701

Film: A Place of Our Own

 

 

Date: Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Location: Durham Public Library, Main Branch, 300 Roxboro Street, Durham, NC 27701

Film: Freedom Summer

Discussion will be lead by SNCC veteran and Visiting Activist Scholar, Charlie Cobb

 

Post contributed by John B. Gartrell, director John Hope Franklin Research Center

The post Stanley Nelson Documentary Film Series appeared first on The Devil's Tale.

Rubenstein Library to Welcome Visiting Filmmaker and Artist in October

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 15:00

In October, the Rubenstein Library will host the third Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel Visiting Filmmaker and the inaugural Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel Visiting Artist.

 

Stanley Nelson

This year’s filmmaker is award-winning director/producer, Stanley Nelson. Nelson is the director and/or producer of over a dozen documentary films, principally highlighting the life and history of African Americans. His most recent release is the acclaimed Freedom Summer, and this past summer he was recognized as a 2013 National Humanities Award winner. Nelson will visit Duke’s campus from October 16-18 and will engage in a public conversation with Dr. Diamonstein-Spielvogel on his career and work at the Nasher Museum of Art on October 17 at 6:00 pm, reception to follow.

 

 

Steve Roden

As the inaugural Diamonstein-Spielvogel Visiting Artist, internationally known sound and visual artist, Steve Roden will participate in a three-week residency in the Rubenstein Library from October 13-30. Roden’s residency will include extensive research in the Rubenstein Library collections to inform his process of artistic creation. Roden will also engage in two public events during his visit. On October 18 at 6:30 pm, he will present an overview of his work entitled “Ragpicker” at the Full Frame Theater at American Tobacco Campus. And on October 23 at 5:00 pm, he will share his experiences working in the Rubenstein Library at the Center for Documentary Studies.

 

All of these events will be free and open to the public and are made possible through the generous support of Dr. Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel. They are additionally co-sponsored by the Archive of Documentary Arts, Center for Documentary Studies, Franklin Research Center, Program of Arts of the Moving Image and Master of Fine Arts and Experimental and Documentary Arts Program.

 

More details to come soon.

 

Post contributed by John B. Gartrell, director, Franklin Research Center

The post Rubenstein Library to Welcome Visiting Filmmaker and Artist in October appeared first on The Devil's Tale.