A piece in the Wall Street Journal (October 1, 2015) raises the question again: is human language a richly endowed gift, one of humanity’s most elevated, and to be used with care and respect? Or is it only a rough tool to be used well enough merely to “get the job done”?
According to WSJ, the dating site, Match, asked more than 5000 singles in the US what criteria they trusted most when deciding whether to go forward and date persons first contacted by means of the internet.
Eighty-eight per cent of women and 75% of men in the responses received said they cared most about the careful use of words. What the singles saw written on the computer screen shaped their opinions to a degree before any meeting took place.
What bothered both men and women had to do with such details as carelessness in the misspelling of common words, the misuse of semicolons, lack of proper capitalization, etc. They were just grammatical errors but errors that colored expectations unfavorably.
In the minds of the singles these careless slips by the unseen respondents lowered their grades although, for reasons of courtesy, the receivers would never disclose this mark-down.
Personally, I see language as a gift from God so my vote is on the side of care and accuracy — though I sometimes slip in spite of my best efforts. Nevertheless, as I see it, the gift of good speech is to be honored.
Amazingly, the workings of this great gift manifest themselves very early in life. I confess it’s fun as a great grandparent to listen to the oncoming generation’s earliest efforts to communicate using this rapidly unfolding gift.
When our great granddaughter, Rebekah, was three, she was in the early stages of mastering by trial and error the basics of the English language. Whatever she mastered she applied to new and untried situations.
For example, already at three years of age she had apparently discovered the prefix, “un”. She grasped, for example, that when you get up in the morning you dress, but when you go to bed at night you un-dress. Doors that are locked may be un-locked, and shoes that are tied must be un-tied.
Once, while carrying her own food tray across the dining hall at a summer camp she suddenly signalled for her grandmother’s help. She said, “I want you to hold my tray so I can un-itch my nose”. A few moments later she needed help again to un-itch her arm.
Although such irregular use was novel, when uttered experimentally by a three-year-old it was fresh and wonderful to the ears of a grandmother, and later when I heard of it, wonderful to my ears too. It was language in progress. I thought it deserved three cheers.
Three short years earlier, as a helpless infant she had only been able to communicate by crying, burbling or smiling. Now she was handily on her way to the day when she will make the subtlest thoughts clear by delivering them in words with prefixes and suffixes of all kinds.
Rebekah’s growing mastery of language is obviously grounded in an innate gift. She doesn’t know yet that it is a gift implanted in her by God — one aspect of his beautiful gift of humanness. But she will know soon.
Even so, I shudder to think that some day, under the wrong influences, her language may become strewn with the clutter of meaningless verbiage. Like, will she, like, lace her sentences, like, with the muddle of verbal redundancy? If so, this may limit her in many ways, as the research done by “Match” showed.
But, on second thought I believe her parents will make sure she understands that such misuse will always be un-seemly and thus un-acceptable.
Photo credit: Lyn Lomasi (via flickr.com)