Welcome to a conversation on the power of language.
A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail link to a Guardian “Comment is Free” article. The e-mail was headed, “The power of language”, and I got quite excited. The article was a let-down – it turned out to be a rather intemperate political rant, flinging scorn and slight regard at anyone whose views differed with those of the author. But the subject line of the e-mail got me thinking, and I began to develop the idea of a project – or at least a discussion – on the power of language.
The idea is very much in its infancy, but in broad terms, it will be about the aspects of language that are in danger of being lost in this world of text-speak and tweets – the finer nuances of language; the poetic element; the turning of a phrase that conveys more than just a surface meaning.
I’m starting with a few questions:
What is language for, other than basic communication?
What can language do, beyond the merely utilitarian?
What is the publisher’s role in supporting and fostering an appreciation of the richness of language?
“Project” is perhaps a rather grand title for this idea. Projects tend to have project plans, milestones, outcomes, things like that. I actually want to open a discussion in the first instance, or perhaps get involved in discussions that others are having.
But alongside all the discussion about text-speak and its impact on literacy, about multi-million dollar lawsuits arising from poor punctuation, even about the demise of the English language itself – alongside all these I reckon there’s still room to talk about and to celebrate the power of our language in all its vigour, variety and versatility.
In the meantime, though, texts and tweets are a part of life. A colleague was heard to ask the other day: “Why shouldn’t we express ourselves lucidly and eloquently in 140 characters?” So let’s take a look, too, at what can be achieved in so few words. Here’s my contribution: 110 characters by Gerard Manley Hopkins:
I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow.
This has got to be a better use of 110 characters than your average tweet… “Up by myself! Neisha n Quan r takin a nap but I’m not slpy! #bored w/ nttn tu do“. It’s got to be a more significant, more enduring, use of language – a higher aspiration for communication – than the average text… “R u goin 2 town l8r?“.
Any more nominations for 24 carats encapsulated in 140 characters?