Stephen and Hugh are in a TV studio, talking
animatedly - at least Stephen is animated.
Hugh Well, let's talk about instead about flexibility of
language - linguistic elasticity if you like.
Stephen I think I said earlier that our language, English -
Hugh As spoken by us -
Stephen As we speak it, yes certainly, defines us. We are
defined by our language if you will, then please,
for goodness' sake, do.
Hugh (To camera) Hullo! We're talking about language.
Stephen Perhaps I can illustrate my point - let me at
least try. Here's a question: is our language
capable, English this is, is it capable of sustaining
Hugh And by demagoguery you mean ...?
Stephen I mean demagoguery, I mean highly-charged
oratory, persuasive whipping up rhetoric. Listen to
me, if Hitler had been English would we, under
similar circumstances have been moved, charged
up, fired by his inflammatory speeches, or should
we have laughed? Er, er, er, is English too ironic
a language to support Hitlerian styles, would his
language simply have, have rung false in our ears?
Hugh (To camera) We're talking about things ringing false
in our ears.
Stephen Alright, alright, do you mind if I compartmentalise?
I hate to, but may I? May I? Is our language
a function of our British cynicism, tolerance,
resistance to false emotion, humour and so on, or
do those qualities come extrinsically - extrinsically,
from the language itself? It's a chicken and egg
Hugh (To camera) We're talking about chickens, we're
talking about eggs.
Stephen Let me start a leveret here: there's language, the
grammar, the structure - then there's utterance.
Listen to me, listen to me, there's chess and
there's a game of chess. Mark the difference, mark
it for me please.
Hugh (To camera) We've moved on to chess.
Stephen Imagine a piano keyboard, eighty-eight keys,
only eighty-eight and yet, and yet, new tunes,
melodies, harmonies are being composed upon
hundreds of keyboards every day in Dorset alone.
Our language, Tiger, our language, hundreds
of thousands of available words, frillions of
possible legitimate new ideas, so that I can
say this sentence and be confident it has never
been uttered before in the history of human
communication: "Hold the newsreader's nose
squarely, waiter, or friendly milk will countermand
my trousers." One sentence, common words, but
never before placed in that order. And yet, oh
and yet, all of us spend our days saying the same
things to each other, time after weary time, living
by clichaic, learned response: "I love you", "Don't
go in there", "You have no right to say that", "shut
up", "I'm hungry", "that hurt", "why should I?", "it's
not my fault", "help", "Marjorie is dead". You see?
That surely is a thought to take out for a cream
tea on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Hugh looks at camera, opens mouth as if to speak,
decides against it. Speaks to Stephen instead.
Hugh So to you language is more than just a means of
Stephen Er, of course it is, of course it is, of course it is.
Language is a whore, a mistress, a wife, a pen-
friend, a check-out girl, a complimentary moist
lemon-scented cleansing square or handy freshen-
up wipette. Language is the breath of God, the
dew on a fresh apple, it's the soft rain of dust
that falls into a shaft of morning sun when you
pull from an old bookshelf a forgotten volume of
erotic diaries; language is the faint scent of urine
on a pair of boxer shorts, it's a half-remembered
childhood birthday party, a creak on the stair, a
spluttering match held to a frosted pane, the warm
wet, trusting touch of a leaking nappy, the hulk
of a charred Panzer, the underside of a granite
boulder, the first downy growth on the upper lip of
a Mediterranean girl, cobwebs long since overrun
by an old Wellington boot.
Hugh Then Betty took a bit of better
butter and put it in her bitter
batter and made her bitter
batter better. Something like
that. It was before the next war