The Case for a More Distinctive Vocative or Imperative in the English Language

I had never been able to wrap my head around the title of Nabokov’s autobiography, Speak, Memory. My problem: I was reading it as a list. I had it in my head that if Nabokov were to release an expanded version of his autobiography, it could well have been titled Speak, Memory, Nose, Throw, Panhandle.

I got my hands onto Speak, Memory recently (St Kilda public library system, how I do love thee), and upon reading the introduction, a moment akin to the breaking of day brightened up my benighted existence: Nabokov is enjoining his memory to speak! In the absence of something more distinctive morphologically to signal the vocative noun or the imperative verb, I scrambled in vain for a meaning and was bemused for years.

You could rightly accuse me of thickheadedness. There is a difference in the imperative and present tenses of the verb to signify what Nabokov was getting at in English — Speak, Memory and Speaks, Memory are clearly distinguishable. Nevertheless, I didn’t twig. Doubly nevertheless, I blame English, not my own failings.

English is more predisposed to marking a verb’s tense than it is a noun’s case, so avoiding ambiguity by marking the imperative definitively seems the option most apt. And if one were kind enough to assume I am no ament, between you and they speak; everyone should, would, could, will and did speak; and I beseech thee “Speak!”, it really is little wonder I could confuse myself so wondrously. English needs the imperative to be marked by a less promiscuous form, and in honour of Nabokov’s native tongue, I propose that new marking to be tchaya.

Spreadtchaya the word!

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