from Travels With Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski: on language

I walked around the city, copying down signboards, the names of goods in stores, words overheard at bus stops. In movie theaters I scribbled blindly, in darkness, the words on the screen, and noted the slogans on banners carried by demonstrators in the streets. I approached India not through images, sounds, and smells, but through words; furthermore, words not of the indigenous Hindi, but of a foreign, imposed tongue, which by then had so fully taken root here that it was for me an indispensable key to this country, almost identical with it. I understood that every distinct geographic universe has its own mystery and that one can decipher it only by learning the local language. Without it, this universe will remain impenetrable and unknowable, even if one were to spend entire years in it. I noticed, too, the relationship between naming and being, because I realized upon my return to the hotel that in town I had seen only that which I was able to name: for example, I remembered the acacia tree, but not the tree standing next to it, whose name I did not know. I understood, in short, that the more words I knew, the richer, fuller, and more variegated would be the world that opened before me, and which I could capture.

11 thoughts on “from Travels With Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski: on language

  1. “I understood that every distinct geographic universe has its own mystery and that one can decipher it only by learning the local language……….. I noticed, too, the relationship between naming and being,……”

    Such truisms…..but placed within an excellent context here. The power of language — a subject dear to my heart. This is a wonderful post.

  2. ” I noticed, too, the relationship between naming and being, because I realized upon my return to the hotel that in town I had seen only that which I was able to name”

    Great observation!

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