Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Reverent Linguist

I finally finished book number five in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.  Anyone I know will tell you how much I love the series, for I recommend it at every possible chance.  The last book is the longest novel I have ever read, being nearly 1,500 pages long.  The preceding novels in the series are between 800-1,100 pages long each, so in reading the entire series, one will have read somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,500 pages.  I accidentally read the first two three novels, then the fifth, so now I am beginning on the fourth.  It will not have ruined the series for me, in fact, it almost helps to have read them this way.  There were confusing parts in the fifth book where I had no clue how things had come to be as they were, but that is a minor obstacle, and I now have a greater grasp on the happenings in the fourth book.

The point of that whole background on the novels I am currently enveloped in is that I want to rant like an old lady.  Kids and adolescents in this modern age have the world literally at their fingertips.  They don't really need to even leave the house to experience the wonder that is our world.  I'm not knocking the internet, I don't think I could live without it.  I think the internet is a magical and glorious invention and I think it will only heighten the worldly experience one may get from the comfort of one's own home, but I also think it should be a complement to the worldly experience itself.  However, it concerns me that things like languages are being discarded with greater and greater ease.  The English language - often considered to be one of the hardest languages in the world - is a fantastic thing because it is so widely used that it allows us to communicate with others from all over the world.  Kids in China are being taught English much more often than American children are being taught Chinese.  But because of things like instant messaging and text messaging, kids are shortening and abbreviating words, which annoys me to no end.

Aside: I never EVER abbreviate when instant or text messaging.  I refuse to use LOL, OMG, and one letter or number to replace full words.

As I'm reading this book, the main character Claire is talking about how her husband (the other main character, but he doesn't narrate as Claire does) is something of a polygogue.  That means that he easily picks up and uses other languages.  In the book, he speaks English, Gaelic and French fluently, but he picks up German, several dialects of Mohawk, and Mandarin.  He can also read and write in Latin and Greek.  He was educated both in the Highlands of Scotland, but also a Paris university and a French abbey.  In the eighteenth century where the books take place, a knowledge of multiple languages comes in not just handy, it saves his and other lives several times over.

What makes me sad is that such reverence for language is becoming more and more rare.  Languages like Aramaeic and Latin are considered "dead" languages now, but how soon until we're speaking a whole new language developed by the bastardizations and abbreviations and complete elimination of words from the English language?  Illiteracy is still something that plagues a large number of the world's population, Americans included.  Much of the world's illiteracy is by means of a lack of resources with which to teach people to read and write, but how much more sad is it that illiteracy is becoming more common due to our incessant usage of technology?

I was no writer in middle or high school - at least in my opinion.  I got A's on papers because I understood material, and because I can BS with the best of them.  It is only recently - in the last couple of years - that I have begun to revere the English language as I do.  I was never taught the ins and outs of the parts of speech: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, participles, adverbs, conjunctions and prepositions were a not part of my education.  I only learned what most of the parts of speech were when I took French in high school.  My French teacher (RIP Mrs. Brumbaugh!) was aghast at how she had to teach English parts of speech to her students in order for them to understand how to properly speak, read and write in French.  Language Arts in middle school, called English in high school was not about the English language.  It was about literature analysis, novelists, and poetry.  I did not take one ounce of what I learned in my high school English career to college with me; everything I have learned about English since high school is self-taught through reading.  I'll still say I'm nowhere near perfect at writing grammatically correctly (if that is even the best way to form that sentence?), but I have a much better grasp on English than my poor nephews and niece will have with the education they will get.

If I should ever go through and read this series again, I plan to take my time and either underline or write down every word that I read that I don't already know the meaning of.  I've already had to do a bit of that.  I wasn't sure what a "pinnace" was, nor how to pronounce it (it's a small watercraft and it is pronounced 'pi-niss').  There are easily hundreds of words written in Gaelic and French in the series (and luckily for me I have just over a basic knowledge of French), so reading these books has been a challenge.  But reading such a well-written story with such detailed characters has only increased my adoration for the subtleties and not-so-subtleties of language!

1 comment:

  1. What? Mrs. Brumbaugh passed? I always that it interesting how she was so angry at us for not understanding proper English grammar. But it's true, we never learned the English language all that well. That's probably why I hate writing so much.