Thursday, January 9, 2014

My World and the Plasticity of Language

     To many English people like myself, those who love the language and don't want anything about it to change, the end is near. Words have fallen from the sky and plummeted into the sea where they remain, never to resurface again. Adjectives have begun to mean things completely different from what they were first intended to mean. Words that used to mean nice things are now nasty; words that used to indicate adventure and heroism now refer exclusively to size; words that used to be bad things are now good things. Black has become white; day is now night. And just look what they did to punctuation!

     If you're not a big English person, I'll have to ask you to forgive that last paragraph. I like to use hyperbole to get my points across.

     I was once worried about the future of the English language. Lately, worry has morphed into groaning about what people are doing with it now. And I hope that that groaning can now finally evolve into an understanding with what language is supposed to be and do.

     The question arises: what is language supposed to do? Basically, it's supposed to provide a means by which two human individuals can share their thoughts. We call that communicating. If the sole purpose of language is communication, that makes the English lovers feel a little silly, since it cannot be doubted that despite the misuse of certain words, usually everyone knows what is meant.

     Then again, is the sole purpose of language just to communicate? Well, yes. But that's actually why many of us are worried. The deletion and repurposing of words make it harder for us to communicate what we want to. In the words of my high school literature teacher, we want to paint a certain kind of picture, and it feels like our colors are being taken away. It makes things more difficult, when you want to use cadmium red in your scene, but everyone is using cadmium red nowadays. They're graffiti-ing the back of the museum with cadmium red. Who will appreciate the cadmium red in your painting?

     Maybe I'm being a little melodramatic here. I do believe that language is meant to be a more plastic thing, that it can and should change over time. It has come a long way since the days even of twentieth-century authors. It's still changing, as the world itself changes. That change is not necessarily an evil. What would be an evil is if the meanings of words, the truths that words convey, were destroyed. This is the point: so long as language is a means by which truth can be communicated, it's good. If it ever becomes something else, that's where trouble comes in.

     I don't want to be worried about English, especially because I use it for a living, and it's never fun to worry about having the right tools to do your job. I don't think there's need to worry. Perhaps there may be a little more need to instruct, to teach, but not to worry. It's not the language that we should focus on; it's the truth behind the words. Words can change, but truth never will.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Nick, I'm impressed that you remembered what Mrs. Tuton said about taking your colors away.