Thursday, 10 July 2014

Bye Bye Lingual - Friday Flash

I was the last in my line. The final native speaker of my language. It would die out with me since none would follow. For I had neither progeny nor converts. The concept of converts is a ridiculous one anyway, we ought to be learning our mother tongue at our mother’s knee. Our language doesn’t even have a word for ‘convert’.

Not that I haven’t striven my hardest. I’ve played on the emotional appeal of our tribe in peril without our indigenous tongue. I’ve tried to cajole, seduce, flatter and bully, again all to no avail. My kithmen refuse to have me pour our words into their cloth ears. The ewer holding our vernacular is cracked and the word flow has dribbled away into the dust. 

Our argot is an expressive one. Born of our rural roots, it is all facial articulation and gesture. It is simply impossible to dissimulate and deceive, unlike the measured blankness of the face that lies behind enunciation of the prevailing cant in these parts. There you can conceal anything and all meaning is shrouded and dissipated. So even though those I petition cannot understand my alien vocalisations, likely they can still glean my desperate hectoring of them. I can’t simultaneously smile and talk of my dying lexicon, the shape of our words simply will not permit me to. When I try and beseech them in their own language, they shrug and pronounce themselves happy with the pastel palette provided for by the dominant parlance. Our language has no word for ‘progress’ either. Yet it is the word that keeps being thrown back at me. 

And it is true, my own tongue is diluted and collapsing under the weight of import words to deal with the modern world and its advances. This is why the mothers shunned nourishing their babes with it, for perennially looking backwards in what constructions it could furnish, it failed to equip them for life. And as soon as it ceases being passed down the maternal line, then it takes very few generations for it to become extinct. And time is what I don’t possess as I near my own expiration. Even if I found a willing candidate, time is too short for them to assimilate sufficiently sized a vocabulary to preserve the language as a workable one. 

I’ve even ventured outside of our bloodline, entreating the sense of tragedy, the romantic, the exotic, the academic, the idle indexers, but with no takers. The academics suggested I might at least set it down in a lexicon where it might have a stab at being preserved in a dusty library stack. I pointed out to them that our language was an oral tongue only. It certainly didn’t abide by any written alphabetic characters and it couldn’t ever expect to be contained by a symbolic system. They shrugged and returned to perusing texts behind their half-moon glasses as they eclipsed the feeble embers of my hope.

This was how the sovereign language operated. It didn’t persecute us nor our florid tongue. It let us be and was completely indifferent to whether we existed or not. And that was sufficient to do for us. We had no cause to rally to, no injustices to try and draw on our glossaries from to form slogans to hurl at them. We just drifted over to the monolith that was this language so powerful it didn’t have to broadcast its strengths and virtues (which is just as well since I cannot discern any). We paled by comparison with it. Our words became ghostly, tugging at the sleeve uselessly for address.

I am exhausted in my quest to find a lingual heir, as exhausted now as all the spent leads. I am so weary, the search has hurtled my frail body closer towards death and yet I veer back from the precipice of annulment by the knowledge I cannot extinguish my language by allowing myself to do so.  And in those utterly defeated moments when I can do nothing but lie back in my chair and let the thoughts assail me, I wonder if I have been chosen to be yoked to the burden of being the last keeper of this particular tongue as some sort of punishment. Indeed we do have that concept in our vocabulary. My mother may have been the sole woman among her generation not to betray our race by passing on her language, but I myself may just have now forsaken us all. For as I said I have no progeny. I never took a wife. How was I supposed to know I was the last speaker of our kind when I pursued male lovers? Our language has no word for homosexuality. 


Hawksword said...

"The ewer holding our vernacular is cracked and the word flow has dribbled away into the dust." Excellent image!

Virginia Moffatt said...

Love this...brilliant last line.

Helen A. Howell said...

That last line seals the deal! Ah language forever changing with each generation.

Icy Sedgwick said...

I agree with the others, the last line totally nails this piece.

Stephen said...

Whether to spread love or hate, there is so much power in language and in words. I feel for your character. What burden to carry—to know that he is the last of his kind.

Simon K. said...

'The ewer holding our vernacular is cracked and the word flow has dribbled away into the dust.'

And the last lines, cracking stuff, Marc.

Steve Green said...

Yes, it does seem an enormous burden for one to bear, not only being the last one to possess the skills, but caring so much about the loss of them.

Cindy Vaskova said...

Slamming last line, just perfect Marc! Vividly feeling his burden and loss and helplesness.

Li said...

Just listened to a Public radio broadcast discussing animal extinction, endangered languages, was interesting how many languages died out not because of a lack of living speakers, but because speakers opted for one of a few "popular" languages (English, Chinese, Spanish) instead of the native tongue which was seen as "backward".

I wonder how I would feel to know that I was the last speaker of a language in the entire world?

Katherine Hajer said...

What is really cool about this narrative for me is that the narrator is talking around a void. He tells us what his language does not have words for, but never even tries to explain what makes the language of interest.

I've known some linguists, even had a couple of my own conversations recorded for posterity (and analysis, but I try not to think about that). That the narrator can't even get the academics interested makes me wonder.

And though it's not a dead language, it reminds me of a story my History of Language prof told us, about her grandmother who made a big deal of attending church on the one Sunday a year the pastor who toured Nova Scotia showed up to say the service in Gaelic... and how the Sunday came where she realised she couldn't understand what he was saying anymore.

Miss Alister said...

Great concept! Killer ride throughout! My brain was busy all the way: the impossibility of deceiving immediately brought a smile at the thought of a political plot; I thought of how the language might be documented like signing is; and on and on… And you have to know, all that set me up nicely for a left hook blindside. Cindy put it best: a “slamming last line”!
Miss A