Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Hellenophilia came too late

Diafani diary 3. Language. Not exactly a technology but a mechanism which links humans and is second in importance only to the act of reproduction. Despite the problems different languages impose most of us would confirm the right of all countries, races and ethnic groups to speak their language of choice. Which is why Esperanto eventually turned out to be deader than Latin.

On the other hand there are the tongues which don’t employ an immediately recognisable alphabet. Take Greek.

For Anglo novices Greek has three tiers. In the first, triangles and toasting forks predominate. In the second these visual obscurities are rendered anglo-phonetically (stolee katadheeres). In the third tier we emerge into the sunlit uplands of what we know (= wetsuit).

The linguistic links with English are often distant, as above. But occasionally they are childishly simple. Speak sandoeets out loud and its meaning becomes clear – sandwich. Tost is even closer. Other words throw out seductive hints. Ask for the bill and the word logariasmos resurrects all sorts of academic memories.

I have arrived at Greek far too late in life. I have a 2% chance of making myself understood in German, a 27% chance in France and a 41% chance in the USA. My English comes and goes. Greek must be regarded as a lost cause and this must be its last reference on this blog. For Greek is dangerous. If there’d been a fire on September 20 at the airport at Rhodes (Rodos, an easy one) on our journey home we really couldn’t have wasted time pondering the significance of ΕΞΟΔΟΣ when its English equivalent, EXIT, sounds close enough to Greek anyway.

3 comments:

Avus said...

But ain't "Exit" itself, Latin?

Barrett Bonden said...

Or possibly Choctaw. I was envisaging myself sweaty, overloaded, wearied, a victim of the so-called cheap-flight phenomenon, unable - as the flames bore down - to call up the last remnants of my admittedly shaky hold on any language other than demotic English. You're right of course. And I'm reminded of all those thirties' novels about public schools where precious characters talk about exeats the translation of which I have never sought. At Bradford Grammar School we merely submitted to the cane, the ruler (held sideways) and the club.

Plutarch said...

On one of my two visits to Cyprus a number of years ago, I came away with a phrase which I only remember because it sounds like something else. "Cigar, cigar" is my recollected version, It means as I recall "slowly, slowly" or "take it easy". I wouldn't know how to write it, but the sentiment appeals.