What makes an ancient language ancient? The term conjures up images, often romantic, of archaeologists feverishly copying hieroglyphs by torchlight in a freshly discovered burial chamber; of philologists dangling over a precipice in some remote corner of the earth, taking impressions of an inscription carved in a cliff-face; of a solitary scholar working far into the night, puzzling out some ancient secret, long forgotten by mankind, from a brittle-leafed manuscript or patina-encrusted tablet. The allure is undeniable…
– Roger Woodward, ed.
(The Ancient Languages
of Asia Minor, preface)
It occurred to me, I think while I am taking my shower and at the same time letting the previous evening run past my inner eye, how many words I am gradually (and the speed is increasing) placing in quotation marks; a process that indicates that these words are being drained of meaning; often, of course, they are words from the class of the beautiful-good-true, thus from the realm in which ethics and aesthetics have melted together. An essay that could be written about the quotation marks, could be organized as a commentary or even historically: use of the quotation marks in earlier times – and in the process would soon arrive at the inflation that this punctuation has experienced in reaching the present (‘experienced’ would probably also have to be in quotation marks?), evidence no only for the loose treatment of symbols but also for the stronger awareness of the corrosion deep within the body of language, which has a consequence – also as a prerequisite? – that word and meaning no longer coincide, and that thus a serious of facts, processes, characteristics, conditions, and contradictions will remain unlabeled.
– Christa Wolf (One Day a Year, p. 289
(Sunday, 27 Sept. 1981))