Skip to main content

The Power of Babel - Reading Response 1

I'm now through the first three chapters of this fantastic book, and thought I would go ahead and share parts of my recent discussion post from the related class I'm taking (The Life and Death of Languages):

I grew up in Southern California – the home of the no-accent accent. My maternal grandmother, who did most of my childcare, had a Massachusetts accent. I remember being sent for speech analysis in school one day, and while I was let loose once they determined I had simply picked up my grandma’s accent, it made me highly self-conscious of the way I spoke. I went on a mission afterward, to try to speak 'perfectly.' The focus, initially, was on the accent, but eventually my quest encompassed all aspects of grammar and vocabulary. I didn’t want anyone to ever again think there might be something 'wrong' with me for the way I spoke.

Somewhere along the line, that desire to master all the 'rules' turned me into something of a grammar cop. I think I felt that if I could learn this stuff, anyone else could too (so long as English isn’t someone’s secondary language – that’s an automatic free pass). I would never say anything to anyone about it, but I do have to own the fact I have silently judged people. And I have definitely shouted back at the TV to correct someone’s grammar.

But I have definitely been altered by reading this book! I mean I knew a little about the basic history of English, but I don’t think I ever really appreciated how arbitrary our modern, seemingly sacrosanct, 'rules' really are. That it’s all just something made-up, mutated by time, invasion, and distance, and only recently (in the grand scheme of things) codified into something concrete. Nor did I ever stop and think that all of our current languages will probably be unintelligible in 500 or a thousand years. That language itself is just some sort of very slow but constantly moving river we’re allowed to ride upon, for a while. But that there is no possibility of ever damming it up and making a lake out of it.

I have now come to have the opinion that there is no such thing as decay or degradation in language - that there is only steady constant change. And that all change is inherently valid. And so, the next time I feel upset about anyone’s usage, grammar, etc., I’m going to remind myself that, as McWhorter explained, “no less than ninety-nine percent” of words in the Oxford English Dictionary “were taken from other languages.” Therefore, English is just a Frankenstein's monster of a language anyway. How can there ever be a 'right' or a 'wrong' in a constantly changing conglomeration of previously disparate parts?

Comments

Popular Previous Posts

Book Review - Three Tides - Part 4

Pineda’s ‘gathering’ chapters are all about the epic destruction of Katrina. I come away from this reading feeling some sense of relief that many people are decent human beings who will help others in times of need, including Pineda herself. Pineda talks a lot about the strong sense of community in New Orleans before the hurricane and that during the hurricane the effected people were repeatedly “helping one another, sharing what they had.”  But the sense of relief at the humanity between individual people, gave way very quickly to disgust at the negligence of the organizations meant to help. Starting with the callous government officials who actually seem to have viewed Katrina as an opportunity to ‘clean up’ the “public housing” of New Orleans in favor of “urban renewal.” Rep. Richard Baker actually said as much, adding, “We couldn’t do it, but God did.” Apparently, they blew up the levees intentionally to sacrifice the poorer parts of town, in order to save the richer areas and tour

I'm Posting on YouTube Now

I have been thinking about getting back on YouTube for a while now (a friend and I used to have a fledgling lifestyle channel together), but with a more writing/reading-related focus.  Since I am still between homes (sold old place and new one is still not fixed up en ough to move into) I haven't felt able to start back up on YouTube. I figured no one wants to see me and five small noisy dogs cramped into a tiny bedroom (with all but current schoolbooks still in boxes). Not quite the background I would like to present. But then I thought, I could always try recording and posting my real time random word poem writing sessions. They're short, and hopefully/possibly interesting. Now I admit this first video needs to be improved upon greatly when it comes to camerawork. But it's a first attempt, so cut me some slack. I'll work out the kinks as I go.  

The best laid plans ...

So this summer has gone to hell in a handbasket. I  had planned to get my "novella" (in quotes because of its awkward length), Fall On Landing out in June, but tomorrow starts Aug and it's not up yet. Part of the reason is because I tried to hire someone off Fiverr to do the cover, and it didn't work out. I had an idea, expressed in both writing and a sketch, but didn't trust my skills to do it myself. After that fail, I decided, despite not having done much painting since I was a teenager, to give it a go. What I created isn't quite the Old Masters epically nuanced version I had in my head, but I like it enough to use it. So, a couple weeks ago I finished it and ran it through the Canva site to make a cover. Now, I'm just trying to decide between two covers I made.  Anyone up for a poll? I feel one coming on 😉 I've decided to start two different series, and I had planned to get book one in each series at least written this summer. Now, I'm hoping