The Sound of silence…. Music…. Language
Each language has its own sound – its own tempo – its own delivery. Even if you don’t know what the foreign speaker is saying, you can often tell what language it is, simply by the sound of it. Italian and Spanish sound like the machinegun chatter of chickadees on meth. French sounds like the speaker is trying to evade being charged with child luring. German sounds like someone is training a dog, and Russian seems spoken by a crew of cesspool cleaners. I often know the area where an English native is from, just by the local accent.
Most languages don’t change much, or very quickly. Spanish-speakers can read El Cid in the original, while Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, written at the same time, requires a translator. English evolves, and its sound has changed over time.
It’s not just the new words, and the new meanings and usages of old words. It’s that the world, and therefore the language, has grown larger, and more complex. We have less time, to say more. The construction is getting shorter, quicker, tighter, and wider, but not as deep.
A century ago, or two, we had the time – at least the privileged, educated, upper crust – to converse and orate, using grandiloquent, polysyllabic words, often from Latin or Greek bases. Those idyllic days are gone. The grand old days of the unhurried Romance-era are long past.
I recently read a piece from another archaist like me – someone who likes to throw the occasional impressive antique usage in. He used the word
Soon after, before 950; Middle English eftsone,Old English eftsōna.See eft2, soon
While it was a sweet, caramel-sundae kind of word, we just don’t have the time for it anymore, in our fast-paced, frenetic lives. The leisurely, imposing sound of it has been replaced by curt, businesslike words like ASAP, or stat.
The Good Old Days were only good for the cream of the social crop, but their relaxed, melodious language usage was pleasing to the ear. Hurry back ASAP stat soon for another helping of blather.