A few days ago Barrett Bonden said to me: "We are lucky to be born speaking English". We were sitting in a pub at the time, but I made a note of it despite the onward flow of conversation, because it chimed in with what I been thinking a few days earlier. There are at least two reasons why it a fortunate to have one's ear tuned from birth to the measured and gentle tones and stately rhythms of English. First, it has become an international language and the language of commerce and trade. But secondly and more important, it is the receptacle of great poetry and prose that echos through the centuries from the Middle Ages to the age of the Web. Sometimes in the morning, before being fully awake phrases come to me from folklore and nursery tales, from the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, from the English Hymnal from Chaucer and Shakespeare, from Milton and Wordsworth and Coleridge, from T S Eliot and W H Auden and many more remembered and half remembered sources. All have in common the capacity to imprint themselves in the brain so that the word, which come to mind when speaking or writing, are infused with their sentiments and sounds.
How many miles to Babylon,
Four score miles and ten
Shall we get there by candlelight?Aye and back again...
To give and not to count the cost, neither to ask for any reward ...
Give us this day our daily bread ...
Our revels now are ended...
The mind is its own place and in itself
Can make a Heaven of hell , a Hell of Heaven...
Now he rose and twitched his mantle blue:
Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new...
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills..
He who would valiant be ...
Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clements...
Jack and Jill went up the hill ...
And all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well ...
And death shall have no dominion ...
As I turn on the tap for a moment, the words and those that follow them in context flood into my mind at random from the profound and limitless source of the language. I could go on and on, as phrases in my brimming mind push and jostle for inclusion. Yes, fortunate indeed.
In the Farmers' Market in the Pantiles, fresh wild turbot. We buy a whole one for a treat. Wild!
Thanks so much for that wonderful peaen of praise and appreciation of the English language, and the beautiful montage of treasure from it that you found so effortlessly in your head.
I never cease to be grateful that it is my language, and that I had a mother and teachers who tried to stuff as many of its riches into my head too (I don't think my mum did try really, she just did it...).
Yet living here and teaching it, my appreciation of my good fortune is occasionally tinged with a measure of apology, and I am sometimes more aware of the functionality of the language as a lingua franca and a tool, perhaps at the expense of its beauty.
But truly, you've reminded me again to be very proud and very glad!
I'd like to reflect on the commonality of those lines but I've gone down with a lurgi (not sure whether it's dreaded). Two chs rewritten, now being scrutinised.
Does that praise and appreciation extend to American English, too, or have we butchered it beyond repair to beauty?
Wasn't it GB Shaw who said England and America are two countries divided by the same language? Perhaps I am thinking of someone else.
BB, hope you are well very soon.
To my mind American English has enriched the language greatly. I open my mind for a moment and the words of Walt Whitman flood in:
"Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself.
I am large I contain multitudes."
Aren't turbots huge? A knee-jerk reaction would be to ask for the recipe describing how it was prepared. But that's what's wrong with knee-jerks. A moment's thought suggests that this magnificent fish was cooked fairly plainly.
What a pleasure it is to have fulfilled a midwife's role at such a birth. No rococo plaudits needed here. Just the obvious observations: so much rhythm, so many simple words. Oh, and one more thing: a willingness to break the so-called rules, especially in "...And all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well." I have checked in the dictionary and this may qualify as one of the meanings of a gallimaufry. Originating in French but taken up, rather more successfully I suspect, by the English.
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