when a language dies six butterflies disappear from the conscious ness of the earth

From: Timothy Greenwood (greenwood@openmarket.com)
Date: Sat Sep 16 2000 - 00:48:51 EDT

You may care to take a brief break from language identifiers to appreciate
these lines. They are the final two paragraphs from the essay "The Last
Word. Can the Worlds Small Languages Be Saved?" by Earl Shorris in the
August edition of Harpers magazine.

" I think now that every language has its Ellam Yua. The consolation the old
men sought existed only in Maya. Every epithet implied a unique set of
attributes, every sound described a unique Being. It is not merely a
writer's conceit to think that the human world is made of words and to
remember that no two words in all the world's languages are alike. Of all
the arts and sciences made by man, none equals a language, for only a
language in its living entirety can describe a unique and irreplaceable
world. I saw this once, in the forest of southern Mexico, when a butterfly
settled beside me. The color of it was a blue unlike any I had ever seen,
hue and intensity beyond naming, a test for the possibilities of metaphor.
In the distance lay the ruined Maya city of Palenque, where the glyphs that
speak of the reign of the great lord Pacal are carved in stone. The glyphs
can be deciphered now. Perhaps. Only perhaps, for no one knows what words
were spoken, what sounds were made when Pacal the Conqueror reigned. It may
seem cryptic or even Socratic to say, but, in truth, only spoken words can
he heard.
 There are nine different words in Maya for the color blue in the
comprehensive Porrúa Spanish-Maya Dictionary but just three Spanish
translations, leaving six butterflies that can be seen only by the Maya,
proving beyond doubt that when a language dies six butterflies disappear
from the consciousness of the earth."



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