Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Go forth masked

On the Mother Tongue

"...For at times, when I listen to the words of English that emerge from my mouth, I have a disquieting sense that the one I hear is not the one I call myself. Rather, it is as though some other person (but who?) were being imitated, followed, even mimicked. Larvatus prodeo. [Descartes - "Go forth masked"]

Perhaps it is so that all languages are, finally, foreign languages, alien to our animal being. But in a way that is precisely inarticulate, inarticulable, English does not feel to me like a resting place, a home. It just happens to be a language over whose resources I have achieved some mastery.

My case can certainly not be unique. Among middle-class Indians, for example, there must be many who have done their schooling in English, who routinely speak English in the workplace and at home (throwing in the odd local locution for colouring), who command other languages only imperfectly, yet who, as they listen to themselves speak or as they read what they have written, have the uneasy feeling that there is something false going on."

Page 195. Diary of a Bad Year
J.M.Coetzee (Nobel Prize for Literature, 2003)

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