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  • I very much wish that some day or other you may have time to learn Greek, because that language is an idea. Even a little of it is like manure to the soil of the mind, and makes it bear finer flowers.

  • It is time for dead languages to be quiet.

  • Being bilingual is like having a wife and a mistress. One can never be sure of either.

  • Japanese language and manners uncover a layer of consciousness we are not aware of. ... We are very sloppy and noisy and unreal. Japanese have words to express things we do not express, microscopic moods, nonbili, tea-drinker's colors. The Japanese language can teach us to see and to feel things we have not been aware of. If there is no word to express a certain mood or inpression, it scarcely exists in our consciousness. At least it doesn't exist with anything like the authority and clearness that it exists when it has been classified and given a name.

  • ... humor is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue ...

    • Virginia Woolf,
    • "On Not Knowing Greek," The Common Reader, 1st series ()
  • If it is true that the violin is the most perfect of musical instruments, then Greek is the violin of human thought.

  • Yiddish is the voice of exile, the tongue of ghettos, but I'll shed a tear when it joins ancient Greek and dead Latin. For gossip and insult, you can't beat Yiddish.

  • I do dislike people with Moral Aims. Everyone asks me why I learn Arabic, and when I say I just like it, they looked shocked and incredulous.

  • The only language men ever speak perfectly is the one they learn in babyhood, when no one can teach them anything!

  • Language is decanted and shared. If only one person is left alive speaking a language — the case with some American Indian languages — the language is dead. Language takes two and their multiples.

  • Greek is the morning land of languages, and has the freshness of early dew in it which will never exhale.

  • ... he landed on the French word the way a hen lands on the water, skeptical, but hoping for the best.

  • Our language, once homely and colloquial, seeks to aggrandize our meanest activities with polysyllabic terms or it retreats from frankness into a stammering verbosity.

    • Mary McCarthy,
    • "Language and Politics" (1973), Occasional Prose ()
  • I dream in German and I love in French.

    • Claire Goll,
    • in Marcel Cordier, La Lorraine des Écrivains ()
  • [On speaking French fluently rather than correctly:] It's nerve and brass, audace and disrespect, and leaping-before-you-look and what-the-hellism, that must be developed.

  • I think you always feel braver in another language.

  • Basque is one of the world's more alarming languages. Only a handful of adult foreigners, they say, have ever managed to learn it. The Devil tried once and mastered only three words — profanities, I assume.

    • Jan Morris,
    • "A Separate People" (1968), Among the Cities ()
  • Nothing makes one feel clumsier than speaking a foreign tongue badly.

  • In the end, words, volumes of words, all signed, were the eloquent metaphor of my life. It was the language born of hands that was my beginning.

  • ... it was a well-known conceit of hers to speak French whenever English would do.