Monday, 30 June 2008

Languages poems

[Headers from K David Harrison, When Languages Die: the extinction of the world's languages and the erosion of human knowledge (OUP: 2008)]

['... the seventy remaining Yanyuwa speakers of Australia, amongs whom women and men talk so differently that their speech is really two different languages.']

He: Do you love me? I couldn't live without you.
She: So that when the children leave home ...
He: We can finally take that trip to Australia.
She: The tribe is diminishing. The language is dying.
He: The language of this family?
He: I love you, I love you, I love you.
He: I have said I am sorry. What more is there to say?
He: If not Australia then maybe somewhere else?
She: What's the weight of maybe?

['the Marovo speakers of the Solomon Islands, who depend on fishing for their livelihood, have a single word, ukaka, to describe the behaviour of groups of fish when individuals drift, circle and float as if drunk.']

Hope is a week, despair a year.
That's what life has taught me.
The clouds, in their urban density
Of population overhead, defy
Not only the Earth's gravity, but
The sun's, and refuse to circle
Around the focal optical point.
They move, but according to
A different logic than gravity.

:3: Elegy
['Vogul speakers in Siberai use a "movement towards" metaphor for counting, so that the number twenty-two is described as "two (steps) towards thirty".']

Two steps towards thirty.
There is sand inside the plimsoles
The beach contaminates the hallcarpet
The sun has slapped our faces.
Eight steps towards thirty.
The twilight wants to tell me something
And urges me to come closer, so
It can whisper. But I don't know
Which direction counts as closer.
Nine steps towards thirty.
He is Archimedes' arrow, sharp,
And fast, and maybe even deadly, but
Something will always halve the distance
Between himself and his arrival.
He will always be reaching for thirty;
He will never reach thirty.

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