By RJ Bardsley
Earlier this week I sat down with a friend of mine at a bar not far from the famous City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. We’re good friends and our conversation flowed easily from one topic to another, touching on family, work and the different trials and tribulations of our latest swimming work out. Over the second beer the conversation shifted to the books we were each reading. She is about half way through Glamorama by Brett Easton Ellis. It’s a wild ride of a book and she’s enjoying the elaborate, seemingly drug-induced stream of consciousness that marks Ellis’ style. I, in turn, shared that I was reading The Adventure of English, by Melvyn Bragg, a much less edgy book by comparison.
One of the interesting things I’ve picked up from reading Bragg’s book is how flexible the English language is. It spans a volume of literature that stretches from Beowulf (or Chaucer if you want to be picky) up to the likes of Ellis. Along the way there have been changes in syntax and vocabulary that are completely stunning. But more important than the mechanical changes to the language are the new concepts that have entered our thought patterns as new words enter the language. The concept of Chivalry, for example, did not exist for English speakers until it was brought into the language by Eleanor of Aquitaine. The concepts of Profession, Multitude and Glory all entered the language with the first translation of the Bible into English by John Wycliffe. It boggles my mind to think about how we’re limited in what we can imagine by the confines of the language we are born into. It also makes me wonder about all the concepts/constructs that might be out there that I can’t imagine because they can’t be articulated fully in my language.