I love the English language, in a way that I don’t think most people really appreciate. I love it for its weirdness, for its tricky rules and for how you can learn the basics fairly quickly, but it will literally take a lifetime to truly understand. For me, that pursuit is 25 or so years old — I’ve been studying English longer than I can remember. Funk & White spoke to me, “On Writing” made me weep, I have particular affection for the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
I love this language, but I also am beginning to really get to know it in these fast-moving times. It’s not what you think. At least not what most people think. The best part about English is how little most people really get it. It’s like a secret code that few can legitimately decode. And that’s what I want to talk about today. Loving the language for what it truly is.
There Are Many Englishes
As a writer, you have to understand one thing — it’s fundamental: you can’t master English. It’s a beast that can’t be tamed, it can’t be chained and it can’t be held still. Between the various dialects and legitimate language spin-offs (like Ebonics, which is recognized as a distinct variety of English, Spanglish and even American English), there is so much more to English than you can possibly imagine.
That being said, there are still an awful lot of you who believe in a single standard version of a language that is, in essence, a living thing. You balked when the Oxford English Dictionary added the word “Interweb” as an entry in 2015. You freaked when text-speak started creeping into legitimate use. You, my friend, are about to hit a wall and hit it hard.
I’m not even going to try to count the number of dialects of English that Wikipedia mentions, but it’s a hell of a lot. English is currently the most widespread language on Earth, if not also the most frequently spoken. And it’s come a very long way from what we think of as Old English to the form we generally use today. I could elaborate on this, but I think this video does a much better job than I could:
Learning to Allow English to Flex is the First Step
I assumed you watched my video, but if you didn’t, it outlined the changes and progression of English throughout its long history in just 10 short minutes. If nothing else, I hope you now realize how silly it is to try to freeze a language that’s ever-changing. Latin, for example, is a language you can harness and find comfort in for its consistency and unchanging nature — but it’s also a dead language. That’s actually what kills a language, you know. Not changing.
English is something else. It’s one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn because of all the words that don’t make any sense within the basic framework, it’s a linguistic puzzle. I’m pretty sure English teachers are the worst about pushing the stereotype that English is a thing you can hold in your hands. It’s not. It’s a maddeningly changing and shifting thing.
I see it day in and day out on the web. People who bitch and moan about other people not using the language properly when they (the bitchy whiners) are clinging to archaic forms of the language no longer in use. I want to smash those people upside the head with a brick. I want to check them for capacitors because I’m pretty damn sure they’re robots.
OMG, someone wrote OMG! That’s not a word!
Actually, it is. Now. You know why? Because English is cool like that. English is constantly growing and changing.
English is the most democratic force on the planet. It exists and changes because we want it to — as a group. New words come into use because we use them. Old words fall out of favor because we’re sick of them. English follows fashions, English loves a good trend, but some of that stuff sticks… some of it carries on. As we change the language, it also changes us.
This is my tribute to the English language. I love it. I love it like a shifting sand. I love it like a blowing wind. I love it like a rippling tide that can’t be stopped. I love it for all it is, I love it for all it isn’t. I love it for the freedom it gives me. I love it for letting me hold on to my heritage while still connecting with others who are very different from me.
Go, English, go.