Discovering Intellectual Fire: the Birth of English (1)

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smp_futhorc Franks Casket, an Anglo-Saxon chest with rune inscriptions, via http://www.omniglot.com/writing/futhorc.htm

The written word is both of the earth and of the spirit, positioned on the intersection between mind and flesh. It freezes the living, shimmering organism of language in time, petrifies it, making it immortal. The intangible, impenetrable roots of almost all European languages (apart from Finnish, Hungarian, Basque and Estonian) are planted in India – “the country of hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of traditions,” in the unforgettable words of Mark Twain, or, as Salman Rushdie called his own country, “a collective fiction in which anything was possible, a fable rivalled only by the two other mighty fantasies: money and God.”

The beginnings of any language are fabled and mythical. Though deeply mysterious, these…

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