Monday, June 17, 2019


The Destruction of Linguistic Subtleties

Alexander McCall Smith, Portuguese Irregular Verbs (New York: Anchor Books, 2005), p. 36:
The crudities of the modern world were simplifying or even destroying linguistic subtleties. Irregular verbs were becoming regular, the imperfect subjunctive was becoming the present subjunctive or, more frequently, disappearing altogether. Where previously there might have been four adjectives to describe a favoured hill, or the scent of new-mown hay, or the action of threading the warp of a loom, now there would only be one, or none. And as we lost the words, von Igelfeld thought, we lost the texture of the world that went with them.
Id., p. 99:
Von Igelfeld sat down in the reception room and picked up the first magazine he saw on the table before him. He paged through it, noticing the pictures of food and clothes. How strange, he thought — what sort of Zeitschrift is this? Do people really read about these matters? He turned a page and began to read something called the Timely Help column. Readers wrote in and asked advice over their problems. Von Igelfeld's eyes opened wide. Did people discuss such things in open print? How could anybody talk about things like that? He read a letter from a woman in Hamburg which quite took his breath away. Why did she marry him in the first place, if she knew that was what he was like? Such men should be in prison, thought von Igelfeld, although that was not what the readers' adviser suggested. She said that the woman should try to talk to her husband and persuade him to change his ways. Well! thought von Igelfeld. If I wrote that column I would give very different advice. In fact, I should pass such letters over to the police without delay.
Id., pp. 114-115:
In San Giovanni Cristotomo von Igelfeld was virtually by himself. He sat on a chair near a confessional, gazing up at the ceiling, letting the stress of the city drain out of his limbs. The sun filtered in through a high window, a dusty yellow shaft, the colour of butter. Von Igelfeld closed his eyes and thought: I'm in a house of God, but who is he? Where is he, this person he had always addressed as God but who had never spoken back to him, ever. He was not sure about the existence of God, but he had always been convinced that if he did exist, he would be the God of Mediterranean Christianity, not the cold, hard God of the Northern churches. But that, perhaps, was to draw too much comfort; he might even turn out to be the God of the quantum physicists, a final point implosion, or perhaps just a single particle, a tiny event. That would be terribly disappointing — if God were to prove to be an electron.

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