Archives for: July 2006, 16
Spoken language, like wine, has "mouthfeel", and I intend to here rattle on about it.
American English, my native tongue, feels elastic -- perhaps because I can stretch it every which way. And French, my second language, is mellifluous on the palate. German is lofty, and Italian is chewy.
My "Tertiaries" first:
German is serious and "meaningful"; it can go unctuous, like Beerenauslese, or gossamer, like Spätlese Trocken. There is a melancholy streak in German, providing the structure for bouquets ranging from gloomy to joyful, its consonantal breadth and multitudinous cases, declensions, and genders holding interest and keeping one alert and intrigued...or wearing one out!
Italian, on the other hand, is engaging of romantic energy, not dark and mysteriously passionate, which is more of a (castilian) Spanish tone, but a youthful and less serious "Dolce Vita" sort of attitude, with the glorious chewiness of perfect pasta. Italian is, indeed, a highly textured language; it whines and poses and acts out, rages, demands, and seduces.
Castilian Spanish plays for keeps. It slowly creeps over mountain ridges, like fingers of fog; whispering, but making ancient and irrevocable statements. Spanish vines are often very old, but they can produce exquisitely fine and quiet sherry, for instance, as well as Priorat from Priorat, from the deepest chthonic earth: Tortured, twisted wines, crucified (for you) on their stakes, and yet: smooth, even gentle, kind...hushed...dry.
I have minimal experience SPEAKING, as opposed to, say, reading, other (quaternary?) languages, but I find one to be like dark coffee and another like pilsner, when I trip them across the tongue.
It's English and French which are hardest for me to describe, perhaps because of my fluency. It's tempting to say "French is like Champagne", but it isn't, really. There's a certain frontal consonantalness, yes, but those R's keep pulling one back to an ultrasuede soaveté more akin to a Viognier. The overall impression of the spoken language is, I think, elegant à la Bourgogne...(but the country can be Funny, like Beaujolais: Jolly. Some of the pinks and Loire chenins deliver this, but usually there's something UltraFine even there). The exquisite nuancedness of French is actually best related to a different palate altogether, that for experiencing fine perfume, leaving materiality almost entirely....
As I come to know a given language better and better, I distinguish its many regional dialects. Thus I'm rendered incapable of nailing down only one overall "mouthfeel" for that language. That's the problem with French. A small country (the size of Texas), with "infinite variety", not to mention its numerous "offshore" accents!
Speaking of variety, American English can be jazzy and snappy like CocaCola; it can be happy and down-home like a cuppa chowder. I don't know if American English has -yet!- the depth, the sheer maturity to be compared to wine. The language feels "youthful" (and the country invented phony chipped-oak flavoring methods to mimic barrel-aged winemaking. Cute, huh?). American English is the Imperial, global language of our day. And it's marketed to be drunk young: Go figure.
While British English(es) can be redolent of resinous Port or antique single malt Scotch (when deliciously pronounced), or swingier, like a pubby sort of brew, or even downright cream-y, American English is like punch, or (orange pekoe) tea...
For all that, it has no pretension, as a language. Though immature regionally, its venerable origins give it complexity that may very well be unequalled, at least in the Western World and perhaps globally. When those roots and its world role are factored in, we come up with something almost plaintive, wistful, Celtic, beneath the apparent soda pop - something more like Rain and the rolling, surging immensity of Ocean.