Publié le 11.08.2016

The English Method

Dear diary,

Short as my apprenticeship was, I found it particularly hard at first. First and foremost, the Universal Language is no Lingua Franca, no midfield; it does not work by aggregating several different idioms, it is absolutely foreign. As it should be spoken by everything, from animals to celestial bodies in between their humming, it bares no resemblance to any human language. It has no idea of subject or verb; it barely knows of adjectives. The sounds in themselves are rather easy to produce, to the point where it knows no accent; tonality perhaps, nasality of the cracked tree, pitch of the apes and the humans, breathed words of aviary speech; but no accent to speak of nor with. You do not so much learn it as you bathe your brain within its wide, enormous, in fact infinite vocabulary. And each word is like the smallest winged nuisance of a swarm of insects, so that you do not learn each and every word, you only learn how to catch them - at the beginning you look for them when trying to form a sentence, as in any other new language; but you find them without ever having learned them.

At first, the experience can be pleasant; you feel like you’re being tuned. You believe you’re reaching a higher understanding of the world. And little by little, you skim your colloquialism, you remove what asperities remain, the little ungracious spikes of your self. You delouse yourself with infinite care. Since the Universal Language exists to be talked by each and every one, even by the most inanimate masses, it demands this austere removal of anything too characteristic, of any uniqueness, hapax, peculiarity that would not fit its broader net, but damage the thin catch-all wires that built it; pollutions that would claw on them and like an untreated fungal invasion, devour and replace its generous and cosmic offer by their swampy musk.

It only took three hours for me to acquire a satisfying command of my new skill with the help of the forest birds. I felt confident enough to turn to the Speaker and tell it in those words that no one owns what I had meant to say all along, namely that I would appreciate it if the owls were to keep it down. The Speaker, in his usual mix of courtesy and insults, offered his deepest apologies for impeding the noble cause of my sleep and explained that every nocturnal hunter around would consider it their utmost duty to refrain from making unnecessary noise. After all, they were just in the middle of settling a considerable territorial dispute over hunting grounds that had nearly escalated to a civil war, but that did not warrant the discomfort they caused to to their neighbours. I felt I was being mocked, but there is no real way to express this in the Universal Language (nor is there a passive voice, for that matter). So I said it in the Gaelic we had first used.

The very second I had uttered the words, I felt a dreadful pain all over my tongue, as if it had been pulled out from my mouth by force and then used to whip my brain, and as ridiculous as this usage of anatomy sounds, the inexplicable pain that came with it had me, for the first time, really and truly afraid. What was it that I felt, I asked using my newly acquired language. The Speaker told me that once you had experienced the Universal Language, you could not use any other for interspecies communication. I demanded a deeper explanation, but the owl would not give it to me. I protested and said I should have been forewarned but it simply made a beak noise that I suspected was not very polite. Finally, aggravated and trying to morph my fear into anger, I swore, for I easily do; but foolishly and without my temper to prevent me from hurting myself, I once again used my Gaelic dialect; and once again endured the atrocious pain in my tongue and my mind, though I could have sworn it also felt like the scratching of nails inside my throat, their corrugated wire dusting my lungs.

It then occurred to me that no language, even one with pretensions to universality, could cause such a thing. Come to think of it, owls were not supposed to talk; nor birds in general, or planetary objects, or freshly cut parsley, or anything that I was told used it to communicate. As I knew I was not dreaming, since the whole incident happened because of the impossibility of finding sleep, I began to suspect some sort of foul play. And then I felt the strangest slither in my thoughts, as if something was observing them and had broken a twig and revealed itself, and I knew instantly the truth: the Universal Language was no language, nor universal; it was a being; a parasite that took the form of words and invaded its hosts by being taught. It liked its meat rare, or at the very least peculiar.

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