Keith Mossman

There was a point around the end of the ninth century when people in the Italian peninsula suddenly changed the name of their language. They all suddenly felt they were speaking a language that they weren’t speaking before. The reason this is strange, of course, is that languages don’t change overnight. They change very very slowly, so that people centuries apart can still understand one another. So what happened?

Up until the ninth century, it looked for all intents and purposes that the Italian peninsula was linguistically homogeneous. The usual clues that suggest language is changing just weren’t there:

  • there were no attempts to set the vernacular down in writing;
  • didactic grammars of the time note morphological errors but no errors in pronunciation or vocabulary as you might expect;
  • vertical communication in church was successful (the clergy did worry about being understood, but all their concerns were about difficult ideas not difficult language);
  • popular songs and prayers were considered to be in the same language.

But just because there was persistent intelligibility of the written language in the ninth century does not mean the linguistic situation was homogenous. Comprehension is elastic. It allows for a surprising degree of variation.


I might be fighting against this Elastic Dome story. Perhaps it can come back in, but I need to start somewhere else. What then? The matter again. I stuck at this idea of a dome that corrupts or collapses or is breeched, with the effect that the economies either side of it are altered. I’m learning about surface tension in soap bubbles and I want to include a plastic bag propagator too, which I’m reading about in The Pip Book. My work with the edge of the text is a fourth thing, based on my Foreword and Afterward, and a fifth is deixis and onomatopoeia in sign language.

The other major factor is the replaying of the topics themselves. By convening around a central recurring image, which appears ‘spontaneously’ again and again, the topics sort themselves out so that they all meet along a line. Which part of the line each topic occupies, or its relationship with the line, is something I need to think about before I go further in my research into each topic, because I need to begin to narrow in on certain features of each that will allow me to position their walls together.

When two bubbles merge, the same physical principles apply, and the bubbles will adopt the shape with the smallest possible surface area. […] If the bubbles are of equal size, the wall will be flat. […] At a point where three or more bubbles meet, they sort themselves out so that only three bubble walls meet along a line. Since the surface tension is the same in each of the three surfaces, the three angles between them must be equal angles of 120°. This is the most efficient choice, again, which is also the reason why the cells of a beehive use the same 120° angle, thus forming hexagons. Only four bubble walls can meet at a point, with the lines where triplets of bubble walls meet separated by cos−1(−1/3) ≈ 109.47°. (Wikipedia: soap bubbles)