Hugh Laurie: : So let's talk instead about flexibility of language - um,
linguistic elasticity, if you'd like.
Stephen Fry:: Yes, I think that I've said earlier that our language, English -
L: As spoken by us.
F: As we speak it, yes, certainly, defines us. We are defined by our language,
if you will.
L: [to screen] Hello. We're talking about language.
F: Perhaps I can illustrate my point. Let me at least try. Here is a question:
L: What is it?
F: Oh! Um... my question is this: is our language - English - capable... is
English capable of sustaining demagoguery?
L: And by "demagoguery" you mean...
F: By "demagoguery" I mean demagoguery...
L: I thought so.
F: I mean highly-charged oratory, persuasive whipping-up rhetoric. Listen to me,
listen to me. If Hitler had been British, would we, under similar circumstances,
have been moved, charged up, fired up by his inflammatory speeches, or would we
simply have laughed? Is English too ironic to sustain Hitlerian styles? Would
his language simply have rung false in our ears?
L: [to screen] We're talking about things ringing false in our ears.
F: May I compartmentalize - I hate to, but may I, may I: is our language a
function of our British cynicism, tolerance, resistance to false emotion, humour,
and so on, or do those qualities come extrinsically - extrinsically - from the
language itself? It's a chicken and egg problem.
L: [to screen] We're talking about chickens, we're talking about eggs.
F: Um... let me start a leveret here: there's language and there's speech. Um,
there's chess and there's a game of chess. Mark the difference for me. Mark it
L: [to screen] We've moved on to chess.
F: Imagine a piano keyboard, eh, 88 keys, only 88 and yet, and yet, hundreds of
new melodies, new tunes, new harmonies are being composed upon hundreds of
different keyboards every day in Dorset alone. Our language, tiger, our
language: hundreds of thousands of available words, frillions of legitimate new
ideas, so that I can say the following sentence and be utterly sure that nobody
has ever said it before in the history of human communication: "Hold the
newsreader's nose squarely, waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my
trousers." Perfectly ordinary words, but never before put in that precise order.
A unique child delivered of a unique mother.
L: [to screen] ...
F: And yet, oh, and yet, we, all of us, spend all our days saying to each other
the same things time after weary time: "I love you," "Don't go in there," "Get
out," "You have no right to say that," "Stop it," "Why should I," "That hurt,"
"Help," "Marjorie is dead." Hmm? Surely, it's a thought to take out for cream
tea on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
L: So, to you, language is more than just a means of communication?
F: Oh, of course it is, of course it is, of course it is, of course it is.
Language is my mother, my father, my husband, my brother, my sister, my whore,
my mistress, my check-out girl... language is a complimentary moist
lemon-scented cleansing square or handy freshen-up wipette. Language is the
breath of God. Language is the dew on a fresh apple, it's the soft rain of dust
that falls into a shaft of morning light as you pluck from a old bookshelf a
half-forgotten book of erotic memoirs.