Human speech is like a cracked tin kettle, on which we hammer out tunes to make bears dance when we long to move the stars.

—Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

What is language?

Language is a symbolic medium of communication, connecting two immaterial minds through vibrating air.

Language is a chain of crisscrossing lines and circles on a screen, laden with meaning.

A residue of history, language is the appendage with which the human imagination gropes in baffled astonishment to understand its world.

Language is a cry of joy, a gasp of pain, a grumble of discontent, a sigh of lonely misery, a howl in the night. It is a catalogue of regrets, a repository of wit, an archive of longing; it is an asylum of echoes and ghosts. Communal wisdom and folly immemorial, it is a bundle of superstitious sayings, animated with old pains and aflame with arthritic aches.

Language is shabby. Faint whiffs of dust lurk in its crooks and creases. Old stains are folded into its crumpled, crimped, cramped fabric.

As opaque as ink and as clear as air, our language is a chronicle of errors and our only avenue to the truth.

Language is the vessel of our secrets, as intimate as our dreams and yet as impersonal as the weather. The bedrock of human life, and yet as temporary as a puff of smoke and as insubstantial as a speck of snow. Dying away and born again every second, as malleable as vapor and as durable as time itself.

Possessed by all and yet owned by none, language is the voice of our ancestors speaking through us.

Language is a home we carry around in our heads. Caressed, cherished, and treasured like an old teddy bear. Recklessly renovated, refurbished, and redecorated like a basement apartment.

Controlled, manipulated, distorted, twisted, bent, squeezed, throttled, and maimed, over and over again, language is universally betrayed. But we are all betrayed in return, for language always deserts us in our hour of most desperate need, leaving us stumbling, stammering, mouthing jumbled nonsense, and finally—silent.

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