Monday, June 15, 2009

In the end it all comes down to language.

Book page. Photograph by me.

"Language. Language, language, language. In the end it all comes down to language. I write to you today on this subject [...] because, well, it’s a subject worth thinking about at any time and because fewer things interest me quite so much.

There are so many questions and issues jostling, tumbling and colliding in my mind that I can barely list them. Is language the father of thought? There’s one. Somebody once said, “How can I tell you what I think until I’ve heard what I’m going to say?” Is language being degraded, is it not what it was? Is there a right way to express yourself and a wrong? Grammar, does that exist, or is it a pedantic imposition, a kind of unnatural mixture of strangulation and straightening, like pleaching, pollarding and training pear-trees against a wall? Can we translate from one tongue into another without irreparable loss? And many, many more.

“Language is the universal whore that I must make into a virgin,” wrote Karl Kraus or somebody so like him that it makes no odds. One of my favourite remarks. T. S. Eliot said much the same thing in a different way: “to purify the dialect of the tribe”. But is there a “higher language”, a purer language, a proper language, a right language? Is language a whore, used, bruised and abused by every john in the street … is the idea of purifying the dialect of the tribe a poetic ideal or nonsensical snobbery?"
-- continue reading here

I re-read this text recently (by Stephen Fry, from his blog - posted in Nov 2008) and thoroughly enjoyed it - perhaps more so than the first time I read it.

Nothing is indeed more worth thinking about at any time than language - and nothing is quite so interesting. Hopefully the text will intrigue you, interest you, but mostly just be as enjoyable to read and ponder over as I thought it was.


josephine said...

hmmm, just some light things to ponder! i'm obsessed with languages, too. if i had my way, i'd be fluent in at least five languages. one of my favorite sites a few years ago was ethnologue, which shows you maps of regions and the dialects spoken. and stephen fry's question about grammar reminds of a great essay i once read called "in praise of the humble comma," a very cool argument for comma usage.

Rare Autumn said...

glad you liked it!

i'm very interested in language, but not so much in languages (even though i am bilingual + speak other). when i did my ma in comparative literature and translation studies i just LOVED the translation part as it gave you the opportunity to really immerse yourself in a novel as well the 'actual' meaning of words and sentences and what they represent. might be the best thing in the world! (truly!)

...and i must say "in praise of the humble comma," sounds pretty good to me ;D