Quotations Concerning Language

"We speak different languages, as usual," responded Woland, "but this does not change the things we speak about. Well?..."
~ Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita, "The Fate is Decided" (trans., Mirra Ginsburg).

Speech sounds can be analyzed into fundamental units called phonemes; these move around like protozoa in a drop of water, and, like protozoa, join together and split up.
~ L. Sprague de Camp, "Language for Time-Travelers" (included in the anthology Years in the Making: The Time-Travel Stories of L. Sprague de Camp)

~ Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man

Language is a city, to the building of which every human being brought a stone; yet he is no more to be credited with the grand result than the acaleph which adds a cell to the coral reef which is the basis of the continent.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Letters and Social Aims: Quotation and Originality

We infer the spirit of the nation in great measure from the language, which is a sort of monument, to which each forcible individual in a course of many hundred years has contributed a stone.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nominalist and Realist

We shall never understand one another until we reduce the language to seven words.
~ Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam

We know, in the first place, that it ["a diversity of languages"] was given as a punishment, but the very chastisements of God turned to good accounts and will bless man. The sluggish minds of men needed some necessity placed upon them, some work which they must perform, and they were placed under the necesity of acquireing other languages, which, it seems to me the Almighty choise as the best means of developing the whole power of the mind. The close and constant application which the acquisition of these languages requires, is to the mind what a grindstone is to a mechanic's tools, making it ready and acute. Infidels have attempted to account for the present diversity of tongues upon natural principles, and though that position cannot be sustained, yet it must be admitted that there are many things that tend to keep up the differences of dialect throughout the world. A man living in the tropical regions, would never, from nature, need to use the terms "glacier," "iceberg," "avalanche," etc., nor would the Scandinavian need to talk of the palm tree or olive or any of the beautiful productions of the sunny south....Hence, to my mind there seems a necessity for a diversity of dialects under the present cirucmstances of the world. But I consider it by no means necessary that this should always exist, for when there shall be universal knowledge (if that happy day ever arrives) then and not till then can there be a universal language.
~ James A. Garfield (future President of the United States), 1854

Crete and James: Personal Letters of Lucretia and James Garfield. John Shaw, ed. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1994. p. 10-11.

Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiß auch nichts von seiner eigenen.
One who has no acquaintance of foreign languages knows nothing of his own.
~ Goethe, "Sprüche in Prosa," Maximen und Reflexionen, II.

...language is not the frosting, it's the cake.
~ Tom Robbins, "What is the Function of Metaphor?" Wild Ducks Flying Backward

Words slip into a language the way
white-green vines slide between slats in a fence.
~ Tim Seibles, "Latin" in Hammerlock (a book of poetry) (Cleveland, OH: Cleveland State Univ. Poetry Center, 1999)

My language! heavens!
I am the best of them that speak this speech,
Were I but where 'tis spoken.
~ Shakespeare, The Tempest (Act I, Scene 2)

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounc'd it to you, trippingly on the tongue.
~ Shakespeare, Hamlet (Act III, Scene 2)

Ay, is it not a language I speak?
~ Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well (Act II, Scene 3)

A shprakh iz a diyalekt mit an armey un a flot.
A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.
~ Max Weinreich (in a paper presented at the 19th Annual YIVO Conference, New York, in 1945; quote in Limits of Language)

But language is wine upon his lips.
~ Virginia Woolf, Jacob's Room

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