coromandal


thicker on the ground
December 15, 2010, 5:03 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

You can use a strict linear process to first establish ideas and employ them to rigorously design something, or you can skip the ideation phase and use accretion and reaction to make something.  The final products will be noticeably different because the ideas and processes are different.

That’s the first idea.  The second is that if the things you are making are major world languages, the speakers of the different tongues will be different.  An ouroboros:  the culture, its people, make the language; and the language makes the people.

The bilingual Luc Sante claims that French is efficient, elegant, delimited, a purring engine.  And English is a ramble of accrued elements no doubt taken over time from different cultures.

He claims French word games are windows into the Freudian mind, and deftly used by Surrealists to inculcate the culture with popular ideas of psychology and philosophy.  He says that even a French child can join the life of French society — its richness, manipulations, cruelty and taboo.  Wit, pun, idiom and games are French stock in trade that help them to suffer the repressions of the Church.

Here is the excerpt from Luc Sante:

French-speaking children are schooled in puns from the start. Of course, this could be said of speakers of English and maybe every other language as well-that’s what riddles are for. For example, I date my true immersion in English from the moment I understood the humor of Q: When is a boy not a boy? A: When he turns into a store. But puns lie much thicker on the ground in French, in large part because the language is so much more rigorous and willfully delimited than the sprawling mass of English, an elegantly efficient two-stroke engine to the latter’s uncontainable Rube Goldberg mechanism. French does not necessarily have fewer sounds than English, but the protocols governing their order and frequency make their appearances predictable-hence the profusion of sound-alike phrases and sentences, which fueled Surrealism and ensure the ongoing appeal of Freudian and post-Freudian ideas in the French-speaking world: Les dents, la bouche. Laid dans la bouche. Les dents la bouchent. L’aidant la bouche. Etc. These phrases, which sound exactly alike, respectively mean “the teeth, the mouth;” “ugly in the mouth;” “the teeth choke her;” “helping her chokes her.” You don’t need to have been psychoanalyzed by Jacques Lacan to see from these examples how language can assist thought in swiftly tunneling from the mundane to the taboo. Children are instinctively aware of this, even and perhaps especially if they are being raised Catholic and are thus trained in the finer points of repression.

-Luc Sante, French Without Tears


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