Quotations Concerning Specific Natural Languages

Various languages

Essentialist Explanations:
John Cowan provides a compilation of quotes on a number of languages (including some conlangs) of the formula Language X is essentially language Y under conditions Z. A good dose of humor as well as food for thought.


If you can't find the information you're looking for, I'll be happy to try to answer a brief question, or to provide a reference to published work where you can find answers to longer questions.

But please note: I do not want to hear about the following:

I definitely do not want to hear about these scholarly breakthroughs.

~ Dr. R. L. "Larry" Trask (1944-2004), linguistics professor at University of Sussex (England) and Basque language expert. This quote is excerpted from his official website, now available at


"Strangely enough, English grammar does not have only four roles for verbs to play. It has at least thirteen different roles, but it shares the four forms among them, as if suffixes were expensive and the designers of the language wanted to economize."

~ Steven Pinker. "Dissection by Lingustics", Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language (1999)


"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."

~ James Nicoll, free-lance book reviewer and game editor (source and blog posting about the search for it)


"Our vernacular combines the stateliness of the Latin, the beauty and fire of the Greek, and the strength and energy of the pure Saxon and it {lacks} only the liquidity of the French and Spanish, the metaphorical beauty of the Oriental Asiatic languages, and the philosophical technicality of the grunting Dutch (pardon the expression) to make ours the language that shall girdle the world and be the harbinger of Anglo-Saxon enterprise."

~ 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. 11.

The Four Noble Tongues

R. Jochanan de Beth Gubrin saith, "There are four noble tongues, which the world useth: the mothertongue, for singing; the Roman, for war; the Syriac, for mourning; the Hebrew, for elocution: and there are somes which add, the Assyrian, for writing. The Assyrian hath writing [that is, letters or characters], but a language it hath not. The Hebrew hath a language, but writing it hath not. They chose to themselves the Hebrew language in the Assyrian character."

[NOTE: The "mothertongue" referred to is Greek]

~ The Whole Works of the Rev. John Lightfoot, D.D., Vol. XI, p. 100. Rev. John Rogers Pitman, A.M., ed.


"that sweet tongue, the language of the heart, the repository of such sweet soul-striking thoughts."

~ James A. Garfield (during his studies at Williams College; future President of the United States) (quoted in Garfield: A Biography by Allan Peskin, p.39-40)


" It sounds like typewriters eating tinfoil being kicked down stairs."

~ Dylan Moran (comedian) (Link to sketch, quote at 1:45)


"My old Geography told me that "Ge meant the Earth and graph to describe," but when I came to find these words in the Greek, they awakened altogether a new feeling, and I could see a beauty in the name at least I never saw before."

~ Lucretia Rudolph (later married to 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. 9.


"Well done, friend," said Lear to Kent. "Are you the one who brought my fool home?"

"Aye, he is, nuncle," said I. "Rescued me from the darkest heart of the forest, fought off brigands, pygmies, and a brace of tigers to bring me here. But don't let him talk his Welsh at you, one tiger was vanquished in a sluice of phlegm and mortally beaten with consonants."

~ Christopher Moore, Fool


I understand thy looks: that pretty Welsh
Which thou pour'st down from these swelling heavens
I am too perfect in; and, but for shame,
In such a parley should I answer thee.
[The lady speaks again in Welsh]
I understand thy kisses and thou mine,
And that's a feeling disputation:
But I will never be a truant, love,
Till I have learned thy language; for thy tongue
Makes Welsh as sweet as ditties highly penn'd,
Sung by a fair queen in a summer's bower,
With ravishing division, to her lute.

~ Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1 (Act III, Scene 1)

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