April 21, 2023

Translating Trades

         Welcome to the April A to Z Blog Challenge!  My theme this year is Relief Printed Alphabet Squared, an alphabet of alphabets illustrated with relief block prints.  Find the master list of participating blogs here.
        So far in this A to Z Challenge I’ve shared a sprinkling of non-English alphabets, including Italian, German, French, Latin, and Spanish.  Some of their words would have worked for an English alphabet, and some wouldn’t, however, today’s first alphabet is entirely about the fact that words start with different letters in different languages.  In A is for Bee: an Alphabet Book in Translation, T is for Octopus… or Tako, Tmanun, and Tintenfisch.  This is a subject I particularly enjoy, and I also enjoy the illustrations, even though they’re actually scratchboard rather 
than relief prints.  Still, it’s a medium with a very similar approach and look, and I do let it sneak into this blog on occasion.  I’ve chosen two more letters to share: A for Anu, Ari, Aamoo, Abelha, and J for Jaylam, Jaanalind, Jimina.  (In case you’re wondering how to say any of those words, the book includes a link to a web site where you can hear them!)  One other cool touch is that the letter itself is incorporated in some way into each illustration.
        A popular topic for alphabets over the years has been trades or occupations, and it can be particularly interesting to see how these have changed over the centuries.  In this alphabet from the middle of the nineteenth century T is for Tailor, but it also includes R for Rat Catcher, which you probably wouldn’t see in an alphabet from today.  (E for Exterminator or P for Pest Control, maybe, but I seriously doubt it would be one of the 26 at all.)  The one I find most interesting is U, because it depicts the Undertaker carrying the coffin all by himself with a tumpline!  (And of course Undertaker is another trade a modern alphabet probably wouldn't mention.)  You can see another letter from this alphabet back at K, plus previously posted Z.  There are also a couple of decorative letters without their pictures serving as the icons for C and M.
        I’ve got another alphabet of trades that dates to 100 years later in the mid-twentieth century.  This time T is for Teacher.  I chose Z for Zoo Keeper because I like the picture, but I also couldn’t resist including W for Writer “whose stories delight.”  What especially marks this alphabet as being a product of its time is that the Teacher and the Homemaker at H are the only occupations shown as women, and no people of color anywhere.  (For comparison, today’s other book of trades from 100 years earlier has only one woman, but she’s the queen!)  This is a particularly clever book, though, because in addition to the alphabet, it also introduces the numbers 1 through 26, and readers can count the appropriate objects in each illustration.
        Today’s moral is obviously that the way we look at the world is very much dependent on when and where we’re living.
        Riddle of the day: which letters are the worst noodges?  (On the other hand, if you have only one, it makes the best cuppa.)
        So, what do you want to be when you grow up?

[Pictures: Octopus, Bee, Ostrich, scratchboard illustrations by Ellen Heck from A is for Bee, 2022; 
Tailor, Undertaker, hand colored wood block prints from Pictured Alphabet, c.1857 (Images from University of Washington);
Teacher, Writer, Zoo Keeper, relief block prints by Mary Fidelis Todd from ABC and 123, 1955 (Images from plaindealing).]


Kristin said...

I like the print of the octopus and the idea of using words from different languages for the alphabet.

J.S. Pailly said...

"T is for Octopus" reminds me of a children's book I saw once called "P is for Pterodactyl."

Melanie Atherton Allen said...

I really like the concept behind "A is for Bee." That is neat. And I like the octopus!
I had to look up "tumpline." So, for me, today, T is for Tumpline, a weird strappy thing that goes round your head. Carrying a coffin like that seems like it would break your neck, though.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Very clever! I like the idea of pointing out different names in different languages.

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

I like those translation alphabet blocks -- especially the octopus!

Ronel visiting for T:
My Languishing TBR: T
Terrifying Trolls

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

James, you could actually make an alphabet of English words that really are all originally "foreign" words. Plus all those fun silent letters and weird spellings. A nightmare to learn, but so much fun to see their origins!

Melanie, the idea of the tumpline is that it puts the weight straight down the length of your spine (like carrying stuff on the top of your head) which supposedly is much more ergonomic than a backpack... I still can't imagine using it to carry a coffin, though!

Deborah Weber said...

Oh, I really love the alphabet in translation! What a clever idea, and my mind is reeling with possible alternative projects! Love the images for it as well. The Undertaker is fascinating as well. I'd love to see an image in this set of a Detective, which is the trade I would have chosen as a child. Maybe it would have been listed under H for "hawkshaw" which is from the 1800s.