Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Language While Walking

Elbow, despite being a highly educated person knows quite a lot. She knows language, and she tells me the first written texts were likely poems, but I haven’t decided it I agree with that. Elbow hypothesizes that common knowledge for a culture was once held in human memory, much like those tribal folk who can recite the Koran from beginning to end. To make remembering easier information was set in poetry and when writing came along it was natural to write what was known in this way. That makes sense to me and I suspect she’s done enough research on the subject to know more about it than I do.
            We were discussing language the other day while on a walk and she tells me I’m right when I assumed that accounting led to writing. I theorized that writing was the logical offshoot of people trying to keep up with how much of what to market. If you know how much that’s okay but then you have to know who, and suddenly you need a symbol for someone rather than something and that is a world of difference. For that matter, needing a symbol for numbers which had to come first was likely easier than symbols for things, like grain or sheep or clay containers of wine. If you can master the art of accounting using symbols writing is just a noun and verb away.
            Of course, things didn’t happen overnight, or over a weekend, but evolved slowly as humans’ memory became less accurate or reliable than writing. I have known people in my life who could do real math in their head. I knew a man who on a bet could multiply a pair of three digit numbers in his head faster than anyone could with a pocket calculator. He had a friend feeding him the numbers so one day I jumped in and gave him two numbers and he barked out the answer as quickly as I had pushed in one number. I suspect that rudimentary language took a backseat to the way things had always been for quite some time just like it took a while before the abacus was invented. The need simply did not exist to replace a system that was working very damn well. Don’t underestimate your mind. It has gotten us here.
            If you had some ancient accounting and language guru, let’s call this person Elbowi wan Kenobi, who took care of all this stuff and suddenly she retired to the woods to raise dogs, geese, horses, and books, then you’d be back at square one unless there was some sort of agreement as to what this all meant to begin with and more people knew about it. Many of the languages of the natives of the Americas have disappeared over time simply because no one spoke them anymore and no one ever wrote them down. Even if the symbols could be deciphered by code breakers, and many of them have, this gives us no clue as to what the language sounded like. Until there was a uniform system for explaining what words sounded like as well as what they meant, language never really took off in the way that it has. Before the sounds matched up with the meaning a language teaching the language would be much harder, and the brain would not meld as much with the meaning until it understood the sound of a person or object or event.
I’ve been told by more than one Yankee I have an accent and I tell the person who accuses me of this as long as I am in The South it is they who have the accent but the people down here swear I am from somewhere else. The Yankees hear my accent as a function of a the language spoken from a very distinct region. I’m not really certain how this works, except that regionally speaking, there will very likely be customs in speech as well as dress and food. The people here think I’m a transplant because they hear me speak in the same manner as they do, but my enunciation is much more clear, my vocabulary somewhat more expanded, and my usage more clean than the average Southerner. I started learning English in my thirties, and I’m just now beginning to understand why people here sound the way they do.
The internet is going to evolve language is ways no one can yet consider. Young people already type in code words like “OMG” for Oh my God and WIT for what in tarnation, at least they do if they are from The South, but I also suspect that the Internet will also one day eliminate accents and dialect as anyone from anywhere can speak to anyone else. States like Florida and California, who have a large population of people migrating in have residents with little or no accents. People who have spent time in the military begin to lose their accents as they are exposed to more and more variations of their language. Internet speakers will one day become the new experts in language if they continue to surf the net and speak with more people who speak more languages and speak them differently. We do not know at this point what personal electronic devices might do with or for language. It would seem now we can if we choose to do so, be wired in at all times to w worldwide system of communication where there is nothing to stop someone from South Georgia from speaking to someone in New Zealand.
This is all coming at us a lot faster than the first symbolic language hit out ancestors. There is scarcely anyway at all to control what is happening, even if someone knew what was happening. Our language, human language, is evolving in ways no one could have predicted and it has only just begun. How we communicate tomorrow and beyond is something no one can imagine until they have already begun to change things.
This is an exciting time to be alive!

Take Care,
Mike

1 comment:

  1. Classic Firesmith!!! I LOVE Elbowi won Kenobi :) And then this: "I’ve been told by more than one Yankee I have an accent and I tell the person who accuses me of this as long as I am in The South it is they who have the accent"...Lord how many times did I hear that when I worked out at the Swamp while in high school...from the visiting Yankees! And you made me spit out a grape when I read: "WIT for what in tarnation"...this was a great read for getting the endorphins going :) But most of all, I thoroughly agree, the internet changes everything for us as writers, as speakers of languages, as a species trying to communicate. Both thought-provoking and it made me laugh...that's why you're on of my favorite writers!

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