Friday, 17 February 2012

Language as reality

From Yudit Kiss's The Summer My Father Died

My father read thick books in English and in German but when he read aloud it was impossible to understand him because he spoke phonetically, as political prisoners used to do at one time, learning the languages of people from whom prison bars divided them. On his rare ventures to the West my father stumbled haplessly along the tangled paths of the living language. Fortunately there was always some printed matter he could use as a butterfly net to catch the odd act of speech as it fluttered past him so that he could study it at his leisure. He generally managed in this way. Perhaps he saw the truth presented to his eyes behind the Iron Curtain in equally phonetic terms. He had no real problems in the East not only because his basic knowledge of Russian and Czech, and the linguistic gift he inherited from his father, enabled him to understand practically everything but because reality seemed to adjust itself to the twisted and simplified language that was applied to it.

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