Sunday, May 13, 2012

Living Language

All languages (except perhaps Latin), are "living languages." They change with the times over (usually) a long time. We were discussing just that issue in the writing group I belong to, with more than a little time spent on the changes the internet and "social media" have wrought in our written language: @ for at, txt for text, and so on. For writers, of course, language is sacred, words are nearly all we have to trade, and (especially among those of a certain age) any deviation from what we speak and write seems the end of civilization as we know it.

But the truth is, language is alive. It grows and changes just as we do. We may not always realize it, but (aside from "catch phrases" we pick up from younger people) our language is modified almost daily. New discoveries, new technologies, new philosophies add words to our language, but so does usage. What something meant a century ago might be totally different today.

I remember a colleague who came to America from Hungary after the revolution is 1956. Aside from having learned English from a Norwegian ship’s captain, he remained connected to his own first language through his family and friends who also escaped to America. The aging of language was pointed out to me when we were working with a client whose parents had come to America at least a generation earlier. The man had learned Hungarian at home (unlike my home, where my Hungarian relatives never used that language), but to my colleague the generational difference was immediately apparent in the other man’s use of words that by the 1960s were considered "archaic." For Frank (Ferenc), the other’s Hungarian was more formal, less "today," than his own. So it is with English, or any other language that is spoken every day.

One only has to look back a generation for examples, the most obvious of which, I suppose, would be "gay." It is a simple word that once only meant happy, cheerful, and the like. But what about "like?" English is confusing, of course. "Like" once had only two meanings: similar to something else, and in the most common use, it meant to appreciate or have good feelings about a person or object: I like coffee, or I like my friend – that sort of thing. Today it signifies that you have looked at someone’s posting on an online page (such as this one, which really isn’t a page at all), or seen someone’s picture or even a product. Or the word "wall." That is a term that has, for centuries, meant a separation, or a physical structure. Today it identifies a "page" on some internet screen; one on which you might "write" a message.

The point of all this is that though we who use words as tools of our trade may think of them as fixed, immutable, meaning exactly what they did at the moment of putting them on paper (or a "virtual" page) truth is, they are alive; they are not static or fixed. Words and their meanings change because language is a living thing. It is not meant to cabobble, but perhaps to daw us from our mental isolation. But the ugsumness of it all makes one feel ramfeezled, doesn’t it? One looks at the clock to see if it is yet quafftide, or if one is indeed on the road to bumwhush after all.

I will provide translations in next week’s edition of OutOfMyMind.

1 comment:

  1. oh --- this is a good one! Ha ha!