Why do I experience a profound feeling when I read and understand old writings of my mother language?

By: | Post date: 2016-06-21 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Linguistics, Other Languages

Oh. This is a fascinating question, Kelvin. And Faleminderit to you, shoku!

I don’t get that feeling with Ancient Greek. I don’t get that feeling with Old, Middle, or Early Modern English. I do get a slight feeling of something with Early Modern Greek.

Allow me to speculate.

A lot of it is missing what you haven’t had. With Greek, we have had the glorious 3000 year history of the language pummelled into us. At least in my millieu growing up, that did not inspire yearning and beauty; it inspired annoyance. It was an imposition. To the extent that I like Ancient Greek writing at all, that came much later.

With English, Shakespeare is part of the ether all around you; there’s a joy to reading him, but it’s a joy of art, not of heritage. Beowulf and the Wanderer are recognisably not English; it’s hard to feel they’re in your language. Chaucer… maybe the closest to what you’re describing in English: recognising the echoes of the early version of your language—unfamiliar, because I wasn’t taught Middle English, but familiar, because it is identifiably English.

I felt that connection more strongly with Early Modern Greek; but ideologies of language always play a role in Greeks’ connection to their language. From a Demoticist perspective, with Early Modern Greek you see glimpses of what could have been, if it were not for the pedants: a pristine ideal of the true vernacular language. That’s a myth, of course: there’s no such thing as a pristine language, and the pinnacle of pristineness, the Cretan Renaissance, was a purist Demotic that quite artfully hid its own artifice. But it’s a seductive myth none the less.

My idle speculation—and tell me if you take offence:

Albanian hasn’t had a millennium or two of written tradition. It has maybe a couple of centuries of intense literary production. In Buzuku’s missal, you see a canonical text, with all the weight of 1500 years of religious tradition behind it, in a language you recognise as yours, but which is also archaic and unfamiliar. And you’re no naive reader, Kelvin, from your other answers here: you know Albanian dialect pretty damn well.

So the text feels to you like what you were missing, and what your neighbours have taken for granted. A complex, monumental, literary forebear.

You’re lucky. Because I open the New Testament in Koine, and just think “meh”.

You remind me of the contrast between my visit to London and my visits to Crete.

London is my dominant culture’s home. I went to London, and was agape at seeing the Globe and St Paul’s and St Clement’s and Big Ben. It felt wondrously like coming home. It felt like coming home, because I’d never been there before, yet I recognised so much.

As opposed to how I feel when I actually go home to Crete. “Meh, not this shit again.” 🙂

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