Guest Author Autumn Barlow writes about history, culture, geography, the evolution of the English language and how our need to communicate effectively remains the same.
Hello, America! I’m waving at you from across that big wide pond. You’re so big and strange to me, yet uncannily familiar from films – sorry, movies –and television. You’re like a distant cousin. Younger and full of life, but with different threads of history and ancestry feeding into your known-unknown face.
I defend you. I defend you a lot. More than you’d be comfortable knowing about, I suspect. I’ve taught English in UK schools and prisons, and one of the things I am passionate about is the history of the English language. It reflects the mixed and mongrel history of the English peoples themselves, which is something the more right-wing members of our society need to remember. We have a wannabe-politician here who speaks of the “indigenous English,” which is a laughable concept. Anytime I hear someone say that, I am compelled to draw large and colourful – whoops, colourful – maps on walls which show the movement of Celts, Picts, Romans – who were from everywhere including North Africa– Saxons, Jutes, Danes, Norse, Flemish, Franks, French and German. Oh sorry, had you dropped off? But this is important stuff and it’s something that closed minds like to pretend isn’t true. And history doesn’t stop. That’s the other thing. I don’t speak like a 1940’s BBC announcer and I certainly don’t talk like Shakespeare. Gadzooks! My language – my accent, my intonation, my vocabulary – it’s different to my parents’ and a world away from the generations before. It’s evolving as it always has done. English has spiralled its sticky tendrils out across the world in wonderful ways.
And yet, time after time, I have to take students to task. Students who in one breath tell me it’s perfectly fine to hand in an essay written in txt, but that “Americans can’t spell” and “it’s our language.” Sorry, spiky little student. English is not your language, nor my language, nor – I’m afraid – the Americans’ language. It’s everyone’s and no-one’s. It’s moulded and adapted by the mouths of anyone who chooses to use it. It runs alongside other languages. It merges in a patois, a sexy dance of vowels and words. It often, I am sad to say, stamps all over a smaller language and bullies them out of the house. It takes the words it wants, like dinner money, and leaves the beaten remnants in a scholar’s research paper. It changes, it will continue to change, and that is a glorious thing. It doesn’t matter to me that your sidewalk is my pavement, my lift is your elevator. I understand you. I hope you understand me – though the relationship is a little one-sided. We get more of your influence than you get of us. Another harsh truth my students don’t like to hear, fed as we are on faded colonialism. The UK is a lot smaller than we’re happy admitting.
Communication is far more important than quibbles about spelling. Communication, dialogue, give and take and speech and listening – that should lead to understanding. I do believe that the words we choose to use reflect our inner state, and our relationships within society. And the words society uses can surreptitiously influence the people of that society. So let’s grab this flexible, evolving, changing language and make sure we put the right words into our own mouths. The words your children hear will be used by them, but with their own spin and emphasis. Give them a solid foundation of love and acceptance but don’t force them into the language of yesterday. Let the next generation build on words of peace and make a changed new future.
“Statue of Liberty” – Creative Commons – Wikipedia
“You say tomato, I say tomato.” All rights reserved by jeffspot
“So shall my word be.” All rights reserved by GangaSunshine
Guest Author Bio
Autumn Barlow is a writer and blogger in North West England. She cycles up hills, teaches English to speakers of other languages, and writes between cups of tea.
Blog / Website: http://autumnbarlow.wordpress.com
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