How does it sound to you?

April 25, 2011

French being my native language, I can never relate to what I am sometimes told: “French sounds lovely”. I would assume most of my fellow French speakers do not really get what that means either. After all, who thinks that his or her language sounds beautiful? Is it because we heard it for so long and so often? Is our relationship to our language like any other relationship – at some stage, the sparkle weakens and becomes a dull dim light we know only too well?

I do not recall ever finding English a beautiful language. It is pleasant to hear, easy to read and thrilling to speak, but not beautiful. I struggled for years against those asserting that German is an ugly language. Yet more than to praise German, it was more against that irritating prejudice people have against a language they ignore all about. German is a nice language, but I would not call it enchanting.

I like the rhythm of Spanish, how it is dynamic and powerful, essentially composed of short syllables. I enjoy the waving pattern of Swedish and its very unique feature of having two stressed syllables per word. Still, I do not see “beauty” in them.

Last Saturday, I understood finally understood what this beauty is. For the first time I heard live Italian spoken. A soft-spoken dialogue, of familiar yet unknown words, made of brief and long syllables, uttered on an unparalleled melody. Now I know how it feels to be captivated by the mere sound of words.

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