Armando Iannucci writes his first novel

About a privatised language

Armando Iannucci is writing his debut novel, a satirical fantasy about a for-profit language.

Iannucci, who is currently filming the fourth series of The Thick of It, began writing Tongue International in the Nineties, but abandoned it several years later.

But now publishers Little, Brown have confirmed that the book is approaching completion, though ‘this year seems unlikely’.

In the novel, people are charged for the privilege of speaking and writing the fictional language, which becomes the lingua franca of business and government after skilful marketing by its creators.

In a recent profile in The New Yorker, Iannucci explained that ‘you can’t quite express as much as you normally express, but it’s popular, so everyone can understand. But it does mean that people’s thought processes become a little constricted.’

In the original synopsis, ‘the language becomes a dominant idiom of international communication, even though it has several basic design weaknesses –  as the vocabulary grows, users have to hold certain objects in their hand to indicate shifting levels of emphasis. The company corners the market in manufacturing these objects, as well as clip-on pouches to hold them which people are obliged to wear at all times.

‘More and more people discover that it is easier to work things out in their sleep (where natural language reverts) and economies are crippled as captains of industry try to get as much sleep as possible. ‘

The plot also has the company negotiate a schools monopoly, while rebel campaigners ‘sabotage broadcasts and heckle politicians with English’.

Iannucci has previously published compilations of his newspaper columns, and he co-wrote tie-in books for The Thick Of It and Alan Partridge, including last year’s acclaimed spoof autobiography I, Partridge.

On Fry’s Planet Word on BBC Two last year, Iannicci discussed shifts in language with Stephen Fry. He said: ‘Over the last 20 years, maybe from Major and Blair onwards, there’s been a withdrawal of the active in political language. If for example, a politician says something offensive, he or she won’t say ‘I apologise for causing offence. They will say ‘I apologise if offence was caused’. Because then that shifts the blame onto you for being bloody offended in the first place, rather than the politician.’

Elsewhere in the programme, Iannucci addressed reactions to The Thick of It’s baroque swearing:

‘I got letters from 84-year-old-ladies saying that they found Malcolm Tucker’s language positively Shakespearean

‘For the new series, I was told if I wanted up to three cunts, I would have to get the fuck rate under 100 per episode. And I remember saying we’ve only got plans for one cunt this episode, so am I allowed to go beyond a hundred fucks per ep?’

Iannucci’s Americanpolitical comedy Veep starts on HBO next month

Published: 30 Mar 2012

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