On Fri, 20 Oct 2006, Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:
> In all your deliberations about (mono, bi-, multi-) lingualism, consider the
> following incompossible, contradictory propositions that are truly
> dialectical in their tenure and are sublated in actual human praxis:
> 1. We only ever speak one language.
> 2. We never speak only one language.
> (Derrida, 1998, p. 7)
> Derrida, J. (1998). Monolingualism of the Other; or, The prosthesis of
> origin. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
This reminds me of the following passage from Eco's NAME OF THE ROSE
(I'm only saying it "reminds me," not making any other claims about
This is from Day One, Sext (If it's the movie you remember - the narrator
here is the young Christian Slater character; he's writing about the
character played by Ron Perelman.))
As this story continues, I shall have to speak again, and at length, of
this creature and record his speech.
I confess I find it very difficult to do so because I could not say now,
as I could never understand then, what language he spoke. It was not
Latin, in which the lettered men of the monastery expressed themselves, it
was not the vulgar tongue of those parts, or any other I had ever heard. I
believe I have given a faint idea of his manner of speech, reporting just
now (as I remember them) the first words of his I heard.
When I learned later about his adventurous life and about the various
places where he had lived, putting down roots in none of them, I realized
Salvatore spoke all languages, and no language. Or, rather, he had
invented for himself a language which used the sinews of the languages to
which he had been exposed-and once I thought that his was, not the Adamic
language that a happy mankind had spoken, all united by a single tongue
from the origin of the world to the Tower of Babel, or one of the
languages that arose after the dire event of their division, but precisely
the Babelish language of the first-day after the divine chastisement, the
language of primeval confusion.
Nor, for that matter, could I call Salvatore's such a language, because in
every human language there are rules and every term signifies ad placitum
a thing, according to a law that does not change, for man cannot call the
dog once dog and once cat, or utter sounds to which a consensus of people
has not assigned a definite meaning, as would happen if someone said the
And yet, one way or another, I did understand what Salvatore meant, and so
did the others. Proof that he spoke not one, but all languages, none
correctly, taking words sometimes from one and sometimes from another. I
also noticed afterward that he might refer to something first in Latin and
later in Provencal, and I realized that he was not so much inventing his
own sentences as using the disiecta membra of other sentences, heard some
time in the past, according to the present situation and the things he
wanted to say, as if he could speak of a food, for instance, only with the
words of the people among whom he had eaten that food, and express his joy
only with sentences that he had heard uttered by joyful people the day
when he had similarly experienced joy. His speech was somehow like his
face, put together with pieces from other people's faces, or like some
precious reliquaries I have seen (silicet magnis componere parva, if I may
link diabolical things with the divine), fabricated from the shards of
other holy objects.
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