Wednesday, March 16, 2005

LRC pick
Rhyme and reason
By Camille Paglia, a smart (though not always right) and funny lady I’ve heard speak and have met

While my parents spoke English at home, my early childhood in the small factory town of Endicott in upstate New York was spent among speakers of sometimes mutually unintelligible Italian dialects. Unlike melodious Tuscan or literary Italian, rural Italian from the central and southern provinces is brusque, assertive, and consonant-laden, with guttural accents and dropped final vowels.
Tuscan and literary Italian are Latin that’s had a few drinks. The rural dialects as described here sound like Latin as a Germanic invader might try to speak it, which is historically what happened!

What fascinated me about English was what I later recognised as its hybrid etymology: blunt Anglo-Saxon concreteness, sleek Norman French urbanity, and polysyllabic Greco-Roman abstraction.
A clanking Germanic language with an infusion of French vocabulary and on top of that lots of Latin and a few Greek words.

The initial mixture of English with French words is Middle English (Chaucer for example), which we can read: ‘Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote/The Droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote’. Before that there was the English of Beowulf, which we can’t understand untranslated: ‘Beowulf mathelode, bearn Ecgtheowes’.

If the Normans hadn’t invaded, English would resemble Dutch today.

No comments:

Post a comment

Leave comment