Friday, January 26, 2007

After Babble . . .

“Do languages wane, do their powers of shaping response atrophy? Are there linguistic reflexes which have slowed and lost vital exactitude? The danger in putting the question this way is obvious: to think of the life and death of language in organic, temporal terms may be an animist fiction . . . . In certain civilizations there come epochs in which syntax stiffens, in which the available resources of live perception and restatement wither. Words seem to go dead under the weight of sanctified usage; the frequence and sclerotic force of clichés, of unexamined similes, of worn tropes increases. Instead of acting as a living membrane, grammar and vocabulary become a barrier to new feeling. A civilization is imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches, or matches only at certain ritual, arbitrary points, the changing landscape of facts.”

(George Steiner, After Babel)

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