Monday, May 15, 2017

The Purpose of Language

[I post once a week, on Mondays. The four week cycle has a format: first week, a theme is introduced; week two adds some depth with quotations; then a bit of resolution as well as a grammar tip (Dawg Sez); and finally, an excerpt from my own work (...practisin' what a peach...). At the end of the cycle, I will archive the four posts and begin anew. If you wish to be notified by email when new postings are made, add a note in a comment or send me an email.]

My last post suggested that words and language might not be quite the cat's meow. 7.5 billion people litter the planet. A vortex of plastic twice the size of Texas swirls in the Eastern Pacific. Glaciers are melting. Trump is in the White House. All is not as it should be.

That language is the culprit foisting all the various calamities upon us is, of course, quite a stretch; but that what we say and what we write has an impact seems self-evident. Words are too easily manipulated and misunderstood. Ask a teacher: "... Johnny, what part of 'sit down' didn't you understand ..."

"Consider this," I said as on the black board with yellow chalk (I like the contrast and the color better than white) I wrote: 2 + 2 = 4. "Mathematics: immutable, rigid, prescriptive." Then I wrote: too and two are homophones, and said, "Or sometimes homonyms, depends on whom ya gab mit, one begins to understand the inherent problem that language poses. Filters," I suggested, "make an apt analogy: fine meshed mosquito netting is prescriptive, more linear and logical, I might add and do: while cargo netting you kin stick yer hand through and this is where Master Po will take you though no mesh is no mess, concepts create such a muddle, ya with me or no?"

from my novel Consulting Huang Po

Where we bin left then, kiddies? Obviously, folks are having trouble communicating and should maybe oughta ferme la trap. So what value have words and language?

The argument made here is that the primary purpose of language is to entertain. This verb means to amuse, divert, interest, please and other such notions. I use 'entertain' in the sense of aesthetically and/or intellectually pleasing. To read a well written play is a pleasure and often leads to contemplation. Think Shakespeare: the groundlings in stitches while the intelligentsia in the balcony nod sagely. The key, of course, is that 'well written'. Or spoken. Or both: Was anyone entertained by the Gettysburg Address, do ya think?

'Dawg Sez' is about grammar and syntax, about the nuts and bolts of the language. Cain't fix it if'n ya don't know she's broke.

Dawg Sez: To write well, you got to know the rules. Name a game: got guys not followin' the rules and ya got yer basic chaos. Know the rules. Be clear. Be concise. Here's one to chew on:

'a' or 'an' before 'h': This puzzler is easily solved as long as you can exhale. Say the 'h' word in question. If there is an exhalation of breath (aspiration), then 'a' is the appropriate article:

a haystack

If there is no exhalation, 'an' is the appropriate article:

an hour

Easy-peasy. Hope ya learnt somethin'.

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