Having received a complaint about the style of my last entry, I herewith provide various alternatives in the hope that one or more may be found suitable.
REPORT OF DEBATE WHETHER NECESSARY LEARN LANGUAGES AND WHETHER NONINDOEUROPEAN HARDER STOP REALITY OF REALITY ASSUMED STOP
Let e = the energy required to learn language L to degree of fluency x and E = the energy saved by employing L to degree of fluency x. If E – e > 0, there is positive utility to learning L.
Let A be the set of all languages and B the set of languages related historically to language X. Prove that e (as defined) is less for a language in B than for one in A – B.
The two men sat there in the dark. The younger man was a little red in the face. He watched the lights of the cars going by but his mind seemed to be on something else.
“I’m going to learn French,” he said abruptly.
“Never mind why. It’ll come in handy.” He beckoned the waiter over and ordered another brandy.
The older man set his pipe on the table.
“Just as well you’re not learning Japanese.”
The other man thought this over.
“No relation to English. Hell of a lot tougher.”
“How do you know that?”
The younger man looked baffled.
“Ah, none of it’s real anyhow.”
“Sure it is.” He took another puff from the cooling pipe. “Sure it is.”
Finally his remorse and his rage quieted, and his wild rapt angry voice no longer pounded irresistibly upon all who came in contact with him. He walked tirelessly over the countryside, over the ancient hills with their bloodsoaked soil, and when he reached the top of a hill he would look far off in the distance and strain to make out whether if he kept walking in that direction he might reach another land, one where the blood was less or was buried deeper, and he asked himself whether he might start anew, make a new life for himself in another land where people didn’t even speak his language, and wondered whether at his age he could learn another, whether he might accustom himself to the unfathomable difference of a way of talking that had nothing in common with his own, spoken by people who had never had any truck with the inexhaustible grief layered by history over the black earth that swallowed up his footsteps as though they were as unreal as his unfulfilled hopes.
The two men waiting for the train at the ramshackle station deep in N— province were not unknown to each other, but rarely had occasion to converse. Nikolai Aleksandrovich Passatizhin was a collegiate secretary, the only man of rank within a score of versts of the provincial town; even in Nizhnii Novgorod or Tver, to say nothing of Petersburg itself, he would have been ignored as too low-ranking to be worth even glancing at, but in these backwoods regions he was almost unapproachably respectable. The other man, Sergei Prokhorovich Ploskogubtsev, was a minor landowner whose estate manager robbed him at every opportunity and whose few serfs could never be bothered to gather crops, preferring to lie about drinking and blaspheming. He longed for the civilized conversation he imagined was to be found in the great cities of the Empire; he was only going a few stops himself, to the provincial capital to arrange another mortgage, and envied the collegiate secretary, who was traveling all the way to Petersburg. He took advantage of their momentary status as fellow travelers to open a conversation.
“Tell me, Nikolai Aleksandrovich, what do you make of the, er, I mean to say, the state of things? In general, that is to say?” He felt obscurely that he might have come up with a more promising question, but was too agitated by his own daring to worry further. Fortunately, the collegiate secretary did not seem offended, and immediately turned to him and replied.
“Vous voyez, mon cher Serge, que dans notre pauvre Russie tout est tardif, personne ne sait même de quoi on parle en Varsovie ou Copenhague; Paris ou Londres, c’est une autre planète. Moi, je censure le manque de connaissance de langues de la part de la population; il faut qu’on apprenne l’anglais, l’allemand, et bien entendu le français dans toutes les écoles de la Russie, et—pourquoi pas?—le tatare et le toungouse aussi; bien que ce ne soient pas des langues civilisées, elles diffèrent tellement à l’égard de l’histoire et de la structure qu’elles élevraient nos esprits et nous feraient vraiment capable de n’importe quoi.”
Sergei Prokhorovich nodded glumly and remained silent. He had not understood a single word.