< SWITCH ME >

Hello. Bonjour. Cześć. Guten Tag. Buenos dias. Sveiks. Et cetera. (Please do not feel offended if you did not recognise one of the above as the way of saying "Hello." in your mother tongue. You should be rather proud of it. Why? It is one of the aims of this column and its following issues to tell you why. I ask for your patience. Please bear with me.)

What you are just starting and hopefully enjoying to read here, is supposed to be about language. Your possible, maybe even probable, but nevertheless un-enforced and unforeseeable reaction: "Language? Who would care to write something in an interesting lifestyle magazine about language?! Language is far too trivial a topic to talk, discuss - or even write about." You might have a point. Your point. But, having said that, isn't it this sheer triviality with which we use and (don't) think about language that should make us start and wonder how it could come this far? So far that we do not pay attention to which uses we put language and to which uses it is put in order to achieve noble and also less noble goals? Consider this for a short moment. Consider what language is and how precious it is! No other animate being on this planet has got such a sophisticated method of communicating as we do. Congratulations, my fellow "planet-men" and "planet-women", congratulations! And now, fellow planet-men, lend me your ears: Do we also pay to this medium the homage it deserves?

Our columnist enjoying Christmas Eve.

The columnist thinks you are now sensitised enough for language. Aren't you? Yes, you are, because what you are doing in this very moment is reading (does ring a bell, doesn't it?!). Reading is, after all, part of the four fundamental language skills. Or, shall I say you are discerning neatly and somehow regularly placed dots on a computer screen, taking in their shape and forming letters and words in your brain which then makes sense of your visual sensations? Well, let's leave it at reading; reading language. But there is another dimension to what you read, and particularly where you read. As you are most certainly aware, you are - I find it painstaking to use the word, but - surfing the world-wide web (in the case of this second word, it was even more painstaking to avoid the "more common" signifiant - a linguistic sign which is certainly on its way to become nowadays' infants' third utterance after "Mum" and "Dad": internet). So, you are reading written language in a magazine on the ... yes ... internet. The framework of this magazine is, in a quite self-explanatory way, Europe. Europe and you. A second reaction then, not forcibly, but maybe: "Yes, I know, why does this newly introduced language column take me for granted?! I'm not an idiot and neither is anyone who made it onto this website!" All right, you might have your second point there. But, please, do make the small effort and think a bit longer about this. Language. Europe. That's nothing new. Of course, I see, you are right. Two things so trivial and so frequently (ab-)used in such banal contexts that they do not retain much of their ancient original myth. The myth that they might possibly once have had seems to have slowly but steadily been scraped off their notional body, a body that then was very corpulent, certainly. A body scraped off by constantly being broken on the wheel of everyday usage and mis-usage. What remains of the mythical connotations of ‘Europe' (surely still recognised and felt by the founding fathers of the European Coal and Steel Community) and ‘language' (certainly recognised and, more than certainly, felt by language philosophers from ancient Greece up to, say, at least Alexander von Humboldt)? Nothing but a nucleus of bare and shredded anti-meaning? Is this all? The remainder of the concepts of words as powerful as ‘Europe' and ‘language'? Well, let's put it to the test.

Let's do a brainstorming. Or is the thing that is about to follow more of an avant-garde mind experiment than brainstorming? I do not exactly know. Tell the columnist if you do. But, for goodness' sake, let's do it. And if it's just for fun. What do we think? Language and Europe. Language in Europe. Languages in Europe. Languages of Europe. Languages of Europes. No, stop. Sorry! The columnist's mistake. Now, try it the other way round. Europe of languages. Europe of language. Hmm... maybe the plural works this time. Let's try! Europes of language. Europes of languages. According to the columnist, it works this way. "What does this mean, ‘Europes of languages'? There is only one Europe." Is there? How do you know? Well, let's add the adjective "different" to the nouns. ‘Different Europes of different languages' or ‘different Europes in different languages'. See what the columnist tries to aim at? Tell him if you're on his train of thought. You are? Great. He knew he could count on you. But, first, we have to go on experimenting and/or brainstorming. Europe in languages. Europe in language. That's it. We've gone all the way round to were we started, didn't we? Wait! There's another possibility. It just dawned upon me. And it sounds almost the same as the last one; Europe in language: European language. Yes, that's it! No, stop. Sorry. This was another of the columnist's mistakes ... or maybe the obviously most daring and therefore, when contemplating it, surely most painstaking thought in this column, and just as well in your brains: a European language. "No! That is not possible. I have got my own language, and I am proud to use it! Everyday! I don't share it with people of other nations, it is my very own mother tongue! It is not Europe's language. Europe never was and never will be a linguistic melting pot. What a non-sense! My language is mine! Mine, all mine! Grrrrr..."

Was this your third reaction to this text? Not an enforced one, just like the first two, but a nevertheless probable reaction to this text? Yes?! Or, at least, maybe more yes than no? Well done. Then you are one of hopefully many who are of the same opinion as the columnist. Namely that language is a topic to talk, discuss, and even write about. It's worth every moment of consideration. Maybe even contemplation. Try it. And try it forever and always. You will be rewarded. Because language matters; in contexts and to an extent to which one might not even be able to imagine. Even and all the more nowadays, in times when words' half-life periods (at least in terms of usage and/or fashion) are shorter than ever before and when entire notional bodies of original corpulence are as thin as a ... an asparagus Tarzan. No, stop. Sorry! Another of the columnist's mistakes. An asparagus Tarzan is the German way of gently describing a very thin person. Not the English one. Did you know that, by the way? No?! Why not? But you maybe find it interesting?

Next time you read from him, the columnist will try and feed this voracious beast of interest he aimed to wake up within you and that he would like to refer to as your "linguistic appetite". The vat where you can find your feed is, and will be, this very magazine which, from this time onwards, hopes to increase your critical awareness of and interest in not only European lifestyle, but also a thing you might (!) hitherto have taken for granted as as simple and trivial a thing as a/your medium(s) of communication: European language(s).

NEXT ISSUE
IN -829 DAYS