Talking, talking, spinning a spell, pale skin of words that closes me in like a coffin. Not in a language that anyone any longer understands. Rushing, degenerate mutter of noises I send out before me wherever I creep, like a dragon burning his way through vines and fog.
Even though no one can understand him or talk back to him, Grendel explains that he cannot help himself from using language, even though speaking seems to drive him crazy and almost suffocate him. However, readers might wonder if Grendel must keep talking to stay alive, just as a dragon uses fire to clear the path before it. Even though he cannot actually communicate with anyone else, the ability to communicate sets Grendel apart from others like him and gives him an identity.
The sounds were foreign at first, but when I calmed myself, concentrating, I found I understood them: it was my own language, but spoken in a strange way, as if the sounds were made by brittle sticks, dried spindles, flaking bits of shale.
When Grendel first sees men, he hears them talking and realizes that the language they speak is similar to his own. Such an understanding represents a big moment for Grendel, as he realizes he might be able to communicate with the humans. However, he does not yet know that with humans, communication is about much more than speaking the same language. Grendel’s physical appearance and ignorance of social norms make the men think he is nothing but a monster who cannot understand them.
His manner of speaking was infecting me, making me pompous. “Nevertheless,” I whispered crossly—but I couldn’t go on, too conscious all at once of my whispering, my eternal posturing, always transforming the world with words—changing nothing.
After Grendel hears the Shaper for the first time, he feels amazed at the Shaper’s ability to craft stories as well as his manner of speaking, to the point that Grendel begins speaking more articulately, imitating the Shaper’s language. Grendel has made his own world out of the words he speaks to himself and so is fascinated to see the way the Shaper presents the world to others. Here, Grendel realizes that while language has the power to change him, words do not have the power to change the world.