Blog Post

simplistic linguistics versus the simplicity of language

Dictation implies a separation between “me” and the writing itself. I had to re-imagine what the writing life would look like. Suddenly I was speaking my text to someone. I was externalizing a step of the process that had been so far silently kept within. We were now two in the room, and at the beginning there was no obvious agreement on what should be typed on the screen. There was a whiff of rebellion in the air, tinged with an undeniable smell of chauvinism. “Mr. MacSpeech” had a personality of his own, and very strong opinions about what could or could not be said. He refused systematically to type “health” (forcing me instead to ask for “help”) or to have anything to do with “literary” (or for him “later he”) terminology. The most vexing part was the unspoken contempt for my very slight, and for less expert ears unnoticeable, French accent.

Back to square one.

My origins lay naked in plain sight. There was no cheating and chewing my words in a simile of native American English. Bruce (that's the name of my computer) and MacSpeech spotted me right away and would not let go. If I had had illusions about becoming an American writer, as a speaker it was clear that I was a fraud. (The whole experience also highlighted that there was not one monolithic “English-language” but almost a phenomenology of the written and the oral word: I could be a native speaker in writing, if “writing” was to be understood as typing, and I could perfectly live in this country and communicate beautifully with people in the street, but strictly speaking—no pun intended—, I would always be the person whom people ask “were you coming from?”at a certain point down the conversation, and that moment was coming dreadfully early when speaking to a device.)

In French, on the other hand, the software welcomed me back immediately in the giron maternelle of the mother tongue. No question asked: it (or rather she) recognized me immediately as one of her daughters, and adopted the transparent efficiency of motherly benevolence.

Cecile Alduy's picture

« Je ne puis tenir registre de ma vie par mes actions: fortune les met trop bas; je le tiens par mes fantasies. » Montaigne, Essais, III, 9, 945

A prescient definition of blogging, no?

Cécile Alduy, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of French Studies at Stanford University. A former student from the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, she teaches French literature and film, with an emphasis on gender and ethnic studies.  Her research interests include Renaissance literature and culture, the history of the body, poetry, cognitive theory, and more generally how we make sense of the world.