20 August 2009

Sibylline Language

Firstly, i apologize to all my loyal readers (the 3 of you; hi Bri!) for the month-long wait for a new blog. I have been a little lazy, as well as focused a bit more on other venues. Honestly, i've also been a little lacking in ideas for this blog.

However, one came up this weekend, dropped in my lap, so to speak. I was at a wedding of a friend of mine and we were all waiting for those infernal wedding pictures to be done so we could start eating. In the meantime, we talked.

One couple i shared a table with got into a small argument about language, one it seems they have had before. It wasn't a heated argument, but the table did get a bit warm afterward. I tried to put forth my small bit, being a subject i enjoyed and was knowledgeable on, but it was really a private battle. So instead of sliding my input across the table, i'll give it to people who actually want to listen to me.

Or maybe i'm just writing into the dark.

I'm fine with that.

Basically, he was a stickler for proper language. His view was that double negatives, words like 'ain't' and 'dunno' aren't real words. Her view was that language changes, you can't stop it. She didn't see language as weakening over time, just changing. So those words and ways of speaking he was so against, she was all for because it is where language is going.

If you know me, or read this with any kind of regularity (hi again!) then you probably know what i'm going to say. If not, that's ok too; you'll soon find out.

In Walking on Water: Reflections of Faith and Art, Madeleine L'Engle, she talks about the updating of the Book of Common Prayer, specifically the language. The new book was written 'in the language of the people' but L'Engle asks 'Which people? And in language which is left after a century of war, all dwindled and shrivelled? Are we supposed to bring our language down to the lowest common denominator in order to be "meaningful"?'

The woman at the wedding was right. Language changes and it should change. Nature tells us that to remain stagnant is to die. The tree that doesn't grow new leaves each spring is the tree that dies. The vines that don't continue to reach heavenward are the vines that are dead or dying. So there is a necessity to change. Our language must change for it to survive.

Yet, to allow it to change indiscriminately is to allow it to die as well. It would be a much slower death, to be sure, but it would come. It would be the death of Cumaean Sybil.

In Greek mythology, Cumaean Sibyl was granted any wish by Apollo, if only she would sleep with him. She asked for eternal life, but then refused his request. In return, he granted her wish, but didn't give her eternal youth to go with it. She eventually became so old that she was resigned to live her life in a bottle so as not to fall to pieces.

Without a check against undo change, we will have a Sibylline language, one that works on the lowest common denominator but fails to reach heavenward.

It helps to understand that the spoken vocabulary is the smallest (the other three are, in order, written, listening & reading). Even still, that vocabulary is only as large as an individual allows it to be. The larger your working vocabulary, the more intelligent you sound, the better you are able to communicate.

There are a host of vocabulary enhancers online. Here are a few i've come across.

Vocab Games is a big childish, but it works.
Free Rice gives rice to those who need it for every answer you get correct. You learn, while helping people!
Over 30 Online Resources to help expand your vocabulary.