Today’s sermon: ‘English words are slippery…’

English words are slippery, leaning on each other and on unspoken presences, on ghosts, for their meanings. Latin is so tightly woven that it barely needs punctuation, the relationships between words so clear that the order in which they come doesn’t matter. Life would be easier if we spoke Latin.

Aubrey says that social life in Ancient Rome was at least as complicated as in nineteenth-century Manchester. He says that no language is proof against what is not said, that people lie and, more interestingly, keep silent, in every tongue on earth, including Greek which is even more highly inflected than Latin. Anyway, the ghosts in English are what makes it interesting, those Viking and Norman presences floating about in our sentences and our poetry.

from Bodies of Light (Granta), pg 104, which I’ve just read and reviewed for Fiction Uncovered.

“People lie and, more interestingly, keep silent, in every tongue on earth.” I love that. I love the idea that silence is different in different languages, because what is absent is different – what is absent is the meanings of the words left unspoken. Of course, there are different types of silence, and you might say that some silences achieve a kind of trans- or superlingual equivalence or identity, but still… but, still.

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