«Winston sat for a minute or two gazing at his empty glass, and hardly noticed when his feet carried him out into the street again. Within twenty years at the most, he reflected, the huge and simple question, 'Was life better before the Revolution than it is now?' would have ceased once and for all to be answerable. But in effect it was unanswerable even now, since the few scattered survivors from the ancient world were incapable of comparing one age with another. They remembered a million useless things, a quarrel with a workmate, a hunt for a lost bicycle pump, the expression on a long-dead sister's face, the swirls of dust on a windy morning seventy years ago: but all the relevant facts were outside the range of their vision. They were like the ant, which can see small objects but not large ones. And when memory failed and written records were falsified -- when that happened, the claim of the Party to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted, because there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard against which it could be tested.»
On its good days, working on endangered languages is brilliant and fascinating. On the bad days, the materials are infantile, like rehashing "me llamo Brad" a million times; and the sessions with the elders are like the bit from 1984 -- except that it's more like a Who's On First bit:
-- So there's this sentence we recorded, "glork glom glukh" [or whatever]"
-- "Then he ran". It refers to running!
-- Right. Now, this "glukh", I'd have expected "glogh" instead of "glukh".
-- Oh that sounds Navajo!
-- What, what sounds Navajo?
-- When you say it that way.
-- Or was it "glukh" that sounded like a Navajo saying "he ran"?
-- Oh now you said it like it's a bad word! or like he's tired! Like "gluuuuuuukhkhhh!". Hah!
-- Ummm. Hmm. Okay. Uh... Now, how would you say "I ran"?
-- You'd say "klong" [that you were running] to say you ran.
-- Yeah, but not "you ran", that's got the k- prefix for "you". I mean if I were speaking, how would I say the word "I ran".
-- Ooooh. "Klekh". [you have run there]
[Continue for an hour, until your head explodes.]