APHORISTIC ESSAY CONTRA TWO POPULAR LINGUISTIC HERESIES
1st January 2020
Unknown Medieval artist [Public domain]
I.) The Idea of Progress or Evolution Misapplied to Language.
Language, which we inherit from the distant past, is entropic.
In gainsaying of the religion of Progress —which can correctly be applied to technology— languages decline over time.
They coarsen to become weaker, slacker; more hollow, narrow, and shallow: at once more diffuse and more rigid.
Contrary, that is, to the evolutionary model, we can see, from attestations extant, that ancient languages are phonetically, lexically, and syntactically richer, more complex, more subtle and powerful, than their later forms. Inasmuch as the purpose of Language is expressivity, this represents linguistic impoverishment.
The ancients deified Speech: Thoth; Hermes; Vāc-Sarasvatī; Ogma; Woden. The Logos of Herakleitos, adapted by St John. Modern languages have progressively decayed from ancient tongues as recorded, and from prehistoric languages as philologically reconstructed.
For example: Proto-Indo-European was vastly more phonetically, verbally, and grammatically-rich than any of its descendants, than even Greek or Sanskrit. Modern English is verbally, in expressive semantic density, and syntactically, impoverished compared with Old English; Old English weaker compared to Indo-European, from which it derives by way of Proto-Germanic. At each remove the iteration is depleted; at each transmitted copy of the program the quality suffers and more garbling and bugs sneak in.
Not only is Modern English weaker than Old English, compare our contemporary language even with Victorian or Elizabethan. The prose of 17th-century recipe-books seems effortlessly beautiful; Victorian journalese is linguistically far richer than contemporary English. Most nowadays find it hard to cope with the diction and syntax even of the Victorian newspaper —with prose at least ostensibly intended for Victorian or Edwardian children.
Of course their greatest treasure is what the English know, care for and about, least.
Change is not always somehow change for the better: it is good and to be wished only when there is an alteration to that which is better.
It may even have been noticed, that things can easily, and often do, get worse.
Decay also is change.
“So give it to me straight, Doc: I’ve got cancer?”
“No, no, Mr Patient: you are suffering from Cell-Change.”
II.) The Erroneous Ideal of the Universal.
Another erroneous principle of which again the opposite is the truth, is the politically-motivated cacodoxy of the supposed ideal of the international universal language; of languages without borders: of a global poetry. Only those with no real knowledge and understanding of language and literature— and no proper respect for them— could commit and perpetuate this error.
It is related, due to misthinking in terms of a capital-letter abstraction “Language”, to the failure to perceive that any given language is a specific object per se, is in fact a language-tradition nested in a native cradle. Hence actual languages are not abstract interchangeable items.
Thus “translation” is no easy and simple matter.
Languages are not indifferently neutral empty vehicles into which some kind of independent ideational content is somehow inserted, and this notional content blithely and glibly shuffled from one vessel to another.
Just as languages decline rather than evolve over time, the crucial unfashionable principle here is, that a language is more meaningful, the more local it is.
The most meaningful, the most linguistic, language is the village dialect.
Meaning and vitality are rooted in the local, the specific, the concrete.
By an everyday miracle, we utter speech from our bodies using our breath with the organs we use for eating and for kissing.
The most meaningless, simplistic and debased form of language is the lingua franca: for example international “Business English”; the Officialese of bureaucratic, or pretentious academic, bumfodder; the wellnigh-indistinguishable salespitch slogans of contemporary political and commercial discourses. These are denatured and decultured Degradations of Tongues.
Languages, like all human things, become less meaningful the further they are removed from their roots. Languages are rooted things. The literatures made from languages are rooted things. Languages are expressions and repositories of national histories and traditions.
Languages in a sense are History and cultural traditions. Language is kissed into our mouths by our ancestors.
Hence ideological revisionist manipulation and mutilation of language is the attempt: to rewrite, ob-literate or obliviate History: and to control present social reality.
There can be no such thing as a richly meaningful, and therefore poetic, “international language”.
The ideological ideal of a no-borders language or literature is a heinous and pernicious fallacy. This notion of “progress” is contrary, and inimical, to literature; is anti-language, anti-cultural, indeed thoroughly culturally impoverishing and actually dehumanizing. The thinking of Orwellian Newspeak, it is as so many movements of this kind pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-progressive. It can only be based on ignorance, on a profound lack of understanding and a fundamental misconception of the very subjects its exponents claim to profess. If not, one might be inclined to suspect, on ulterior hostility.
A globalist great poetry, poetry sans frontières, deracinated from its national matrix, uprooted from its earth, is an impossibility.
Great poetry is in respect of this principle exactly like famous cheese or fine whisky.
Would these internationalists enjoy their Camembert if it were not real Camembert? Their red wine if it were not the product of its terroir? Who thinks the Camembert would become better fromage the less it is Camembert, the more it approaches the abstract and generalized Form of Universal Cheese?
It is specific provenance, diverse and distinctive character, which endow things with authenticity, and with life. It is upon Meaning that we live. An imposed utopian uniformity, the assassination of meaning, is Death.
Or would they desire and see no difference in artificial substitutes, in the ersatz— as in some denatured futuristic dystopia, floating in a spacecraft in our asexual boilersuits?
Why not replace the cheeses with your daily ration of Planetary-Standard Milk-Protein-Casein Lozenges, and the wine with your dose of Dyed Ethanol Capsules? “Just pop ’em, as pods!”
’Cos don’t they taste great!'
“Vat would be like so like sick and like cool man and like shit yeah” ?
Rahul Gupta, an Anglo-Indian born and raised in the North of England, holds a PhD in modern and mediæval poetics from the University of York. His poems and translations have appeared in Agenda, Acumen, Carillon, Eborakon, Equinox, and Molly Bloom, among other journals. His main enterprise is a reinterpretation of the Arthurian legends retold as an epic in “the most accomplished, imaginative and technically-correct alliterative verse in Modern English since Tolkien” (Tom Shippey), from which two excerpts have been published, in The Long Poem Magazine, Issue 15, May 2016, and, “one of the truly great mythic works of our time” (John Matthews) in The Temenos Academy Review, Issue 21, 2018. A volume of imitative verse-translations from Old English and Norse is forthcoming.