M I K E R U D D B I L L P U T T . C O MM M I K E R U D D B I L L P U T T . C O MM M I K E R U D D B I L L P U T T . C O MM M I K E R U D D
Dick's Toolbox (cont.)
.. and the rise of international banking.
Many years later I was introduced to one of the most readable authors in the genre of history Barbara Tuchman whose book ‘The Guns of August ’ is a lucid and compelling introduction into the causes, as well as the first month, of World War One. You know what is going to happen yet it is gripping both in overall scope as well as individual human detail. I was introduced to the book by a gallery owner and his wife who were generous enough to offer a couple of shows and who had been teachers in previous lives. They were aware that most art students have not had a general education in the arts.
If you ever get the chance you should also read a collection of essays that she wrote called “The March of Folly’ which shows the continual state of human thoughtlessness that has lead to conflicts from Troy to Vietnam. The tragedies of Iraq, Afghanistan et al came well after the book was written but only confirmed that she was right. We don’t learn. We won’t learn. Refuse to learn even. Stupid is too kind.
What this is leading to is an introduction to Graham Robb set whose book ‘The Discovery of France’ I am re-reading. I had to buy another copy as I inadvertently gave my original copy away a few years ago under circumstances that prevented its retrieval with dignity. I was in New Zealand and I trust my father continues to enjoy the book. Anyway ‘The Discovery of France’ is a book much different from normal history tomes. It is a cultural, geographic and linguistic analysis where famous people and well known events are almost peripheral.
It is the result of not just four years of conventional research but also 22,000 kilometres on a bicycle across France. And a bicycle is an excellent way to get to know a country. The book dispels the notion that France has always been one nation, culturally united with diverse regional cuisines and speaking one beautiful language.
So let us précis a little of what he says about language. French? Who spoke that in France apart from Paris and its surrounds?
By the end of the nineteenth century, a century after the Revolution, it was realised that national unity might be easier if people understood what their neighbours were saying. So the Third Republic documented that ,even then, there were still fifty-five major dialects and hundreds of sub-dialects. These belonged to four distinct language groups: Romanic (French, Occitan, Francoprovencal, Catalan and the Italic languages spoken in Corsica and along the Italian border); Germanic (Flemish, Frankish, and Alsatian); Celtic (Breton); and an isolated group , Euskaric (Basque).
Parisians could travel into the country-side and find that they could not be understood after a day’s journey - though users of the trading corridors were much better versed. A self sufficient town would be more likely to have an unusual dialect than a town that depended on national commerce.
As Robb writes ‘Even if a place was known to outsiders, its language might remain a mystery. The Pyrenean village of Aas had its own whistling language that was unknown even in the neighbouring valleys until it was mentioned in a television programme in 1959.Shepherds who lived in for months in lonely cabins had evolved an ear-splitting, hundred decibel language that could be understood for a distance of two miles. It was also used by the women in worked in the surrounding fields and was apparently versatile enough in the early twentieth century to convey the contents of the local newspaper. Its last know use was during the Nazi occupation when shepherds helped Jewish refugees, resistance fighters and stranded pilots to cross the border into Spain. ‘
So the Third Republic made the eradication of patois as a first language a national educational priority, though to many it seemed like a colonial campaign to erase local cultures. But standard French was carried all over the country by conscription, railways, newspapers, tourists and popular songs, which could hardly be sung n dialect without losing the rhymes
Most of the descendants of the language groups and sub-dialects would lose the language of their locality and acquire a highly codified and formal language known as French – a language which, according to many French speakers almost no one speaks correctly. In the land of a thousand tongues monolingualsim became the mark of the educated person.
But that is only the smallest fraction of the book. Read it.
M I K E R U D D B I L L P U T T . C O MM M I K E R U D D B I L L P U T T . C O MM M I K E R U D D B I L L P U T T . C O MM M I K E R U D D