Posts Tagged ‘Language’

We next went to the School of Language, where three Professors sate in Consultation upon improving that of their own Country.

The first Project was to shorten Discourse, by cutting Polysyllables into one, and leaving out Verbs and Participles, because in reality all things imaginable are but Nouns.

The other was a Scheme for entirely abolishing all Words whatsoever; and this was urged as a great Advantage in point of Health as well as Brevity. For it is plain, that every Word we speak is in some degree a Diminution of our Lungs by Corrosion and consequently contributes to the shortening of our Lives. An Expedient was therefore offered, that since Words are only Names for Things, it would be more convenient for all Men to carry about them, such Things as were necessary to express the particular Business they are to discourse on. And this Invention would certainly have taken place, to the great Ease as well as Health of the Subject, if the Women in conjunction with the Vulgar and Illiterate had not threatened to raise a Rebellion, unless they might be allowed the Liberty to speak with their Tongues, after the manner of their Ancestors; such constant irreconcilable Enemies to Science are the common People. However, many of the most Learned and Wise adhere to the New Scheme of expressing themselves by Things, which hath only this Inconvenience attending it, that if a Man’s Business be very great, and of various kinds, he must be obliged in proportion to carry a great Bundle of Things upon his Back, unless he can afford one or two strong Servants to attend him.

Jonathan Swift: Travels into several Remote Nations of the World. By Lemuel Gulliver, first a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships, vol. 2, London 1726, p. 75-77.


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‘Lucy is our benefactor,’ says Petrus; and then, to Lucy: ‘You are our benefactor.’

A distasteful word, it seems to him, double-edged, souring the moment. Yet can Petrus be blamed? The language he draws on with such aplomb is, if he only knew it, tired, friable, eaten from the inside as if by termites. Only the monosyllables can still be relied on, and not even all of them.

What is to be done? Nothing that he, the one-time teacher of communications, can see. Nothing short of starting all over again with the ABC. By the time the big words come back reconstructed, purified, fit to be trusted once more, he will be long dead.

J. M. Coetzee: Disgrace, London 2000, p. 129.

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Gy hebt my, lieve Buren!
Uw toonstuk niet te sturen;
Ik zing niet gaarne op Duitsch;
Houdt, daar gy my door ‘t oor boort
Met uw afgrijslijk voorwoord,
Uw liedertafels thuis.
Verlost my van de daadzaak,
Waarover ik my kwaadmaak,
Gewis niet zonder grond!
En wijs, om my te grieven,
Niet heen naar de omloopsbrieven,
Die gy my onlangs zondt.
Och, dat de Nederlanden
Toch sporeloos verbanden
Wat voortgaat uit uw huis,
In plaats van door te voeren
Wat burgeren en boeren
Tot schande strekt of kruis.
Ons Neerduitsch was welluidend,
Zoo lang gy ‘t niet beduidend
Met valsche klanken schond;
Ons Neerduitsch was verstandig.
Zoo lang men ‘t niet onhandig
Verplooide naar uw mond;
Ons Neerduitsch zal slechts leven,
Zoo lang wy ‘t niet vergeven
Met vruchten van uw grond.

Nicolaas Beets: Germanismen, in: Korenbloemen. Nieuwe Gedichten, Haarlem 1853, p. 195-196.

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Words do have a magical effect – but not in the way that the magicians supposed, and not on the objects they were trying to influence. Words are magical in the way they affect the minds of those who use them. “A mere matter of words,” we say contemptuously, forgetting that words have power to mold men’s thinking, to canalize their feeling, to direct their willing and acting. Conduct and character are largely determined by the nature of the words we currently use to discuss ourselves and the world around us.

Aldous Huxley: Words and Their Meanings, Los Angeles 1940, p. 8.

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