I read this blog post a couple of
daysweeks (oops) ago and, rather than respond in the comments, I thought I would expand upon my thoughts properly.
I have an immense love of words: the way they sound; the way they taste in my mouth; their shape on the page; the complexities and fluidity of meaning. As clichéd as it sounds, words are as much a part of me as breathing. My thoughts are often literally written down inside my head, which is something that fascinates and scares me in equal proportions. I am often asked to rephrase things by friends and family, and it’s not because I speak in a particularly clever or sophisticated way, at least not consciously. I absorb language; it is a vital part of me.
I have some snippets of memory from when I was much younger – probably around eight or nine years old. My best friend at the time taught me how to spell “Constantinople” in the school playground, and (in a separate incident) we were also incredibly pleased with ourselves for being able to spell “pneumonia” – silent “p” and all. No joke, we were sitting under the climbing frame and spelling “pneumonia” to each other as fast as we could. I can only imagine why…
I am still drawn to certain words; something I like to do is keep a word bank of interesting or unusual words, mainly based on the sound of the word (I am particularly interested in the musicality of language). I don’t yet know what I’m going to do with these words – creatively, I mean – but I’m sure that at some point in my writing career they’ll find their place. A few that come to mind are:
Arbitrary – I love this word. I can’t be entirely sure, but I think it has something to do with the elongated vowels.
Obsolete – Again, vowels…
Obscurity, exclamatory, exemplification, fantastical, labyrinth, hagiography, willow, necessity, cauliflower etc. I won’t go on.
Another thing that particularly interests me is difference in language between cultures. Now, I’m talking mostly about the English language, because my knowledge of other languages is sadly limited to the very basic level I achieved in French and Spanish at GCSE. Despite this, I am lucky enough to have a broader understanding of language as a whole without the need for specific linguistic proficiencies, and I like to think that these fascinating cultural differences extend not only within a particular language, but also between languages. There was a Swiss linguist called Ferdinand de Saussure who was writing in the early 20th century and he had some very interesting things to say about the nature of language (if this is something that appeals to you then I would highly recommend reading his Course in General Linguistics – it may take some reading, but it’s well worth the time), particularly, in the context of this discussion, the way concepts are not always translatable. For example, in Middle English there is a single word for the colour we would describe as “grey-blue”: “graye” (Pearl l.254). This example of colours is something he talks about between languages, and it’s just incredibly interesting to think that the very way we describe the world is not directly translatable in another language. That people literally see the world in different terms due to the language they speak.
So, this started out as a blog about the physical act of writing, and somehow it has become a blog about culture and language. In some ways, that’s actually a very appropriate shift, because language is constantly evolving no matter which form it is in – I am thinking particularly here of the physical written form versus that of the digital age. I am not one of those people who believe technology is destroying language; although it is changing the way we use language this evolution is not linear, but lateral. There are always going to be people putting pen to paper (or to tablet computer) – I know this because I am one of those people.
I write things down, because it’s quicker – the words spill from my head to the page without the barrier of the keyboard. The pen is almost an extension of my thought when I really get into the swing of things. It’s messy – it’s basically illegible to anyone besides myself (sometimes even I struggle if I leave it too long before deciphering it) – but that’s not important. If I take too long over them I’ll get caught up in the intricacies of the language itself and miss out on many other good moment/ideas. I find that the rhythm of language is something that comes naturally to me – I don’t have to struggle with whether something ‘flows’ (my dislike of that word is for another time) – I know if it flows. Sometimes it takes longer to work out how to make it flow if it doesn’t, but I know when it’s pretty much right, at least within my understanding of language.
Other people make use of computers to write, and that’s okay too. Technology has opened up a whole new world of communication wherein we can write something, post it, and have an instant response from people all over the world. By engaging with our language, we are becoming more culturally aware, and are able to appreciate and engage with the differences between cultures, but also the similarities. In my opinion, anything that gets more people writing and responding can only be a good thing.
- How the internet is changing English (bbc.co.uk)
- Foreign Words the English Language Needs (silverinkblot.deviantart.com)