07 September 2009
Helping out linguists
Linguists have a tough time coming to terms with interlingualism. See, for example, the succinct state-of-the-art summary by Mark Fettes in Language in the Twenty-First Century: Selected Papers of the Millenial Conferences of the Center for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems, edited by Humphrey Tonkin and Timothy G. Reagan (2003), where he identifies five key areas of linguistic investigation, namely, World English, Esperantism, Language Brokers, Plurilingualism, and Technologism. Here is an area where literary critics should be of help. Where linguists have to deal with the entire world (they even call their current studies "world-centric"), literary critics have to deal only with a limited number of words on a page (or on a website). But as William Blake so memorably put it, we can see the world in a grain of sand or, in our context, we can understand how language works by studying how a single literary text uses one or more languages. Just as Albert Einstein figured out how the whole universe works just by staring at a clock while he was on a train, we can solve the problems of interlingualism just by reading a multilingual poem.