July 12, 2004

so his soul grows still and attentive....

Charlene saw a poem, The Tongues, by A.D.Hope posted on Alan Sullivan's blog, and liked it so much she sent me an e-mail from work to say "don't miss." Here's a small morsel of it....

...For the man who knows only one speech is an ox in a paradise orchard,
Munching on grass and ignoring the fruits of delectable flavor
That ripen upon its boughs and depend from the vines that adorn it.
The man who has only one tongue lives forever alone on an island
Shut in on himself by conventions he is only dimly aware of,
Like a beast whose mind is fenced by the narrow extent of its instincts.

But the man who thinks in two tongues wins his mind free of a bondage
Which a sole speech imposes on all his thinking and feeling;
Translate as he will, what is said in the one never matches the other
Precisely in ambience and reach, so his soul grows still and attentive,
Aware, beyond any one speech, of a metaphysics of meaning
Which teaches that not mere words but the heart is what must be translated.

For those mighty rivers of language that fashion the landscapes of time
Like the Amazon and the Danube, the Mississippi and Ganges
Though they set frontiers to nations, act as makers and bearers of spirit;
Growing in volume and power, they build the rich soils of tradition.
How could such marvellous gifts be cursed as the folly of Babel?...

The poet is writing about the Hittites, and their King Suppiluliumas, and the Indo-European family of languages. Take a look.

I've never encountered a good book on the relationships of human languages, (a complex and contentious subject, to say the least.) I'd love to find something both scholarly and accessible to the layman. Charlene and I were just yesterday looking at a chart of the language families we happen to have. (It's based on the work of J. Greenberg and M. Ruhlen of Stanford—needless to say other scholars see things differently.) There's a super-family called Dene-Caucasian that includes Mandarin and Cantonese, Chechen and Abkhaz, Tlingit, Navajo, Apache, Burushaski, Ket, and Basque!

And the Indo-European languages are included in the Eurasiatic superfamily, along with Finnish, Turkish, Korean, Japanese, Inuit and Aleut, and Kamchadal.

I can recommend a great book on just who those "Indo-Europeans" were: The Coming of the Greeks: Indo-European Conquests in the Aegean and the Near East, by Robert Drews.

Posted by John Weidner at July 12, 2004 7:30 PM
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