Yes, that James A. Garfield. A while ago, The Conlanging Librarian posted some information on James A. Garfield. Well, something that many people don’t know about the man who would become the 20th President of the United States was that the courtship with his future wife, Lucretia “Crete” Rudolph, began (in a series of letters) as a back-and-forth discussion on the value of studying ancient languages and why the “diversity of languages was given”. You’ll now find relevant quotations from these letters, dating from January 1854, posted at The Conlanger’s Library in Quotations under Language and Specific Natural Languages. Enjoy!
Some quotations from Charles Darwin are now up in the Language section in honor of The Year of Darwin. There’s also a nice quote from poet Tim Seibles from his poem “Latin” which appears in Hammerlock.
The newest Magazine article isn’t new, but, if you haven’t seen it before, Wired had an article by Gavin Edwards in 1996 with a Klingon title and a subtitle of “Whether Klingon or Esperanto or C, articial languages exert a powerful hold over the human imagination”. See the link in TCL‘s Magazine section.
Okay, so it’s not conlanging, but this quote has stuck with me since I saw it on a t-shirt at Tekkoshocon several years ago:
“Not only does the English Language borrow words from other languages, it sometimes chases them down dark alleys, hits them over the head, and goes through their pockets”
Today, I remembered it again and decided to see if I could find a source. Turns out there’s several attributions. Many sites on the Internet attribute it to an Eddy Peters. For example, here, here, and here. “Eddy Peters” has no books in WorldCat and some sites give the quote as anonymous.
In digging around some more, I finally came across this posting by the author of the quote and this posting on the Linguist List providing even more background. And, so here is the original quote from James D. Nicoll:
“The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”
Personally, I like that better than the one attributed to Eddy Peters. I suppose the connection to conlangs is that conlangers, like the English language, liberate words, grammar, cases, and the flotsam and jetsam of language to acquire inspiration for their works. But (whereas English is characterized as a mugger in Mr. Nicoll’s), conlangers may be thought of as well-meaning pirates of the high seas of language. (And, pirates like Disney’s Jack Sparrow or Blackbeard…not nasty real-life pirates).
Yes, that James A. Garfield. I’m currently reading a biography of our 20th President. Why? First, he was born just a little over ten miles from where I live. Second, he was a fascinating individual and his Presidency (to me, at least) seems like it was a missed opportunity. “But what does he have to do with conlangs and languages?” Glad you asked. Check out the Quotations site of The Conlanger’s Library for a very favorable quote of Garfield’s concerning German. Yes, German, that language disparaged by Mark Twain. Garfield was also a scholar of “dead” languages and was a professor of Latin and Greek. His fiancee, Lucretia Randolph, and he actually exchanged letters concerning the worth of studying languages. Alas, but Garfield’s language acumen didst not blossom into the full grown flower of language creation…ahem, sorry, I was channeling the 19th century’s prose. Mea culpa.
~:D Thanks to David J. Peterson for calling my attention to Esperanto quotes in both Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg and James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. These selections have been added to the Quotations section of The Library. Check them out! (Mann’s work, published in 1924, may be the first mention of Esperanto in a work of fiction.)