by Matthew Johnson
apilar: to let a fire burn out
gelas: to treat something with care
pikanau: to cut oneself with a fishhook
It is a well-known fact that there are no people more gifted at language than those of the Salutean Isles. Saluteans live in small villages on a thousand densely populated islands; isolated but never alone, their languages change constantly, and new ones are born all the time. A Salutean’s family has a language unintelligible to their neighbours, his old friends a jargon impenetrable to anyone outside their circle. Two Saluteans sharing shelter from the rain will, by the time it lets up, have developed a new dialect with its own vocabulary and grammar, with tenses such as “when the ground is dry enough to walk on” and before I was entirely wet.”
It was in just such circumstances that Sendiri Ang had met his wife, Kesepi, and in such circumstances that he lost her. An afternoon spent in a palm-tree shadow is enough time for two people to fall in love, a few moments enough to die when at sea. Eighteen monsoons had passed in between, enough time for the two of them to develop a language of such depth and complexity that no third person could ever learn it, so utterly their own that it was itself an island, without ties to any of its neighbours.
About the Author
Matthew Johnson has been interviewed hundreds of times in print, radio and television. He has also presented to Parliamentary committees, academic conferences and governments and organizations around the world, frequently as a keynote speaker.