Languages We Don’t Know We Know

February 11, 2009

A while back the Booktrust web site posted a lecture by Mozambican novelist Mia Couto, originally given in Edinburgh in July 2008. It is a beautiful and provocative — and sometimes hilarious — exploration of language, especially of the places where it falls short or interferes with communication, whether within languages or between them. “All of us aspire,” he says, “to return to that state in which we were so removed from a particular language that all languages were ours.” The whole thing is well worth reading — you definitely don’t want to miss the section in which Couto describes his attempts to interpret for baffled United Nations technicians and Mozambican islanders:

It’s because of the wild pigs.
What about the pigs?
It’s because they’re not quite pigs…
So what are they, then? They asked, certain that a creature couldn’t exist and at the same time not exist.
They are almost pigs. But they’re not complete pigs.



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