Archive for June 27th, 2007

English as a slow language

June 27, 2007

Here is Mathew Sharpe on writing in English:

Oh English! How I love to write to you in English, even though it is so slow to do anything in English, because English moves at the speed of talking, whereas my language moves at the speed of thinking. Thinking in English is beautiful sort of in the way it is beautiful to have smoked a big bowl of busthead. When I think of the world in English, or look at the world in English, it moves so slow, like English, and that feels good cuz life’s so short! Like when I look, in English, at my two little cousins, Opechancanough and Steve, throwing a ball back and forth between them in a meadow or former parking lot, the ball slides along the air as a snail slides along the sand, and leaves a furrow of air in the air as thoughts of you, the excellent person I know is reading this, leave the faintest furrow in my brow.

However, Sharpe is not the first one to notice the slowness of English; here is Raja Rao:

The tempo of Indian life must be infused into our English expression, even as the tempo of American or Irish life has gone into the making of theirs. We, in India, think quickly, we talk quickly, and when we move we move quickly. There must be something in the sun of India that makes us rush and tumble and run on. And our paths are paths interminable. The Mahabharatha has 214778 verses and the Ramayana 48000. Puranas there are endless and innumerable. We have neither punctuation nor the treacherous ‘ats’ and ‘ons’ to bother us – we tell one interminable tale. Episode follows episode, and when our thoughts stop our breath stops, and we move on to another thought.

Does English feel slow even to native speakers? Are there European writers who make similar comments? What is the mother tongue of Sharpe? It would be interesting to know!