The Richness of the English Language: What Does It Mean to You as a Writer? Use it to Good Effect; a Challenge!
The Meaning of Words
Let’s take an English word at random. We’ll have ‘table’.
What was your immediate response when you read that word? Did you think, ‘oak table’, ‘coffee table’, ‘mathematical table’, ‘water table’, ‘Round Table’, ‘table of results’, ‘table a motion’.... or something else?
It will depend upon your surroundings, your job, your likes or dislikes, your interests, your background, your family home and many more factors. One word alone can trigger a myriad of thoughts, memories and possibilities. One word can mean different things to different people.
'Table'Click thumbnail to view full-size
English has a concoction of words with similar meanings. For example look at the choice for expressing affection:
- like, love, adore, be fond of, worship, take to, have a regard for, cherish, admire, have a place in one’s heart, hold a candle for, fancy, take a shine to.... and more.
Consider these ways to say ‘holiday’:
- sojourn, trip, vacation, tour, visit, break, leave,
to express sadness:
- forlorn, sorry, sorrowful, bereaved, doleful, distressed, low, glum, down, down in the dumps, morose...
Each word offers a slightly different sense of the word so that you can be more precise in your meaning.
Love, Vacation & Gloom
How do you Convey Precise Meaning?
How, then, can we translate from one language to another with accuracy? How can we be sure that someone else understands our meaning, our intentions, our integrity?
We have to choose our words carefully, when we speak and when we write. The English language gives us a huge gamut of vocabulary. Its richness is unparalleled. All the more reason why we need to understand what we’re dealing with.
Do you think carefully when you talk to someone? Do you watch others’ reactions when you make a joke, offer them help, pay them a compliment? Do you respond to their reactions by modifying your language, explaining further, adding smiles or compassion in your expression?
Do you choose carefully when you write? Do you use more unusual, out of the way phraseology? Imagine the response in body language that your words might have. Does your work have impact and deliver the message you wish to convey?
A Way with Words
Language is spoken. Language is written. Language is supported, sometimes contradicted, by how we use gestures and expressions.
How wide is that pool of words? How deep is that lake of meaning? How vast is that ocean of interpretation? We have a choice that is wondrous, infinitesimal, overwhelming.
So what do we do with that? We explore it. We experiment with it. We play with it. We manipulate, we rhyme, we versify.
Some abuse it, mutate it, bastardise it. Some find fun in reworking the worst of it, not only abusing the language but abusing people with that language. Some use a mix to suit themselves, their means to an end.
What should we do with it? If we have the ability, we should use our words for good, in whatever sphere we are able.
The Depth of Language
A Personal Viewpoint
I am passionate about language, my language, others’ languages.
Mine is the one I know best, that I use to tell others how I feel, to say what I think, to help. I try to amuse, to stir emotions, to print ideas to page. I mould it, model it, speak out to scrape the nerves, rouse indignation, nudge the fibre of consciousness.
My language is the one of which I’m as proud as bold print. I love its versatility, its richness, its diversity. I love to listen to its dialects, its accents, its slang and, yes, its changes.
Without changes a language can’t evolve with the times, with its users. It’s like telling a dog he can’t learn new tricks. It’s like telling a supermarket not to change the layout of its shelves. We need new challenges, new territory, new routes to follow. We need new words to test and to work those buzzing grey cells.
My favourite dialect (my grandfather’s) is Geordie - from Tyneside, Newcastle, North England. Here is a sample (source http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/sounds/case-studies/geordie/lexis/).
aye yes; waye aye - well, yes
champion great, lovely It’s champion, man. - It’s great
man person being addressed
gan to go; I’m gannin to ower nan’s. - I’m going to our Gran’s.
nae not; He had nae been to school.
netty outside toilet
Feel Uncomfortable with Changes?
Changes in our language can feel uncomfortable. They are messing with our tradition, they can threaten the very foundations of the way we speak, making us let go of words we love like old friends, words which have been by our side for years.
Think of changes as new friends. You can keep the old ones; they are reliable, comfortable, supportive. The new ones push the boundaries, give you somewhere to explore, something to experiment with. Who knows what you might find? Embrace them! Don’t feel threatened! Feel excited! Who says you can’t conjure up your own? You are a wordsmith. This is your craft. Use all the materials available to suit your style, to try new styles, to invent a style.
The Cloth of Your WordsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Creating the Fabric
So you have the words. Now you need to fabricate the cloth your words will be wrapped in, lie upon, unfold from.
Will you weave a dense tapestry, where buried gems lie waiting to be teased out, where warmth will soothe or weight will drag the spirits? Will you make a web of silk to cover traps, to cloak dark characters or to soften the edges of faces or ease woes? Will you create a hard tarpaulin under which we can peek from each corner wondering what might jump out at us or what gruesome details hide just under its surface?
You’ve chosen your words and you’ve dressed them; you have your image to place before the world. If you have something fresh, presented in a well-crafted style, whether to startle, to amuse or to make hearts ache, then you have a good chance of success.
What Stories do Your Words Tell?Click thumbnail to view full-size
Learn your Language, Understand the Flow
You have endless combinations with which to construct your sentences, your paragraphs, your articles, your short stories, your books, your fiction, your facts, your communications, to share with all those others who have the same word pool as you.
Learn that language, learn about its foundations, its idiosyncrasies and its nuances. Learn how to craft it into a sculpture, a painting, a photograph of life as you see it. Learn how your skill can grow, how you can reach out, how you can make a difference. Above all, learn that your language is a gift to you, a parcel to pass on, down the generations, in messages, archives, letters, poems, advice.
Your language flows from your lips and is gone unless you record it. It flows from your fingers and it remains for as long as the paper allows, for as long as your computer stores it, for as long as someone keeps your letters in a drawer, for as long as it takes another to find them, for as long as people treasure your memory, your legacy, your skill, your humour, your mind and your life.
Power, Purpose & Passion
Words have power. Words have purpose. Words last for ever.
Use them carefully! Use them wisely! Use them with passion!
Challenge - Write a Story! (Follow the words below the picture)
Permission & Links to Responses
For the purposes of this challenge only, hubbers have my permission to use this photo - with the appropriate attribution please.
Please send me your link if you contribute to this challenge - I don't want to miss any which might slip through the net!
Responses to the challenge:
How do you Approach Language?
Which of the following is the most exciting for you?
© 2014 Ann Carr