Just a note sparked by the discussion on Dick Eastman’s website about “writing in English.” During my years of instruction at the University of Utah, I took Latin. Latin from a professor from Houston TX with one of the broadest, most intriguing Southern accents I had ever heard. He called it a Texas drawl. And he could always tell when I had ceased to hear what he said because I was caught up in how he said it. Four years, 3 semesters a year, I sat in his class at 7:45 am.
At the end of my fourth year, I remember when I finally got it! In the middle of Julius Caesar’s History, I laughed at Caesar’s sardonic, actually insulting comment to the reader. As if I could see his face turned directly at me. I laughed. And I knew I had finally understood the language.
Then I took my final exam in History 101 (a freshman class that I left to my final year). I handed in the test workbook and went home to celebrate finishing my course work. When I looked for my grade, I had an incomplete grade!
Why? Because I wrote the final exam, in English words and Latin sentence structure! The student who graded the exams could not understand what I wrote. The professor wrote at the top of my workbook–“what language is this?” But I got it. I finally understood the structure of the Latin.
So the laugh was really on me. I took the test over–this time in English.
Speaking your native language is done by habit, without thought. Writing your native language is always improved by rote learning–memorized from the grammar books that persons who learn your language as a second language also study. Sometimes the words plod along. Some times they seem not only boring, they actually take too long to write. So we shorten, and abbreviate, and draw on experience. Leaving our readers wondering if they understand and if we really did say those words.
I also studied French. From textbooks. And I can read French words. I just can’t tell who is doing what to whom! Try Dumas’s works in French–I read them all. I needed the movies to determine what really happened, because I could just read the words.
I also studied Spanish for a very short time, so I could understand my neighbor. She came from Guatemala and knew no English. We fell on the floor with shrieks of laughter as we tried to speak to each other.
I read some German handwriting–dictionary words in a legal document setting. And Latin churchbooks, where I do much better because I was taught by a Texas drawl.
So a sincere invitation–if you cannot understand what I have said, let me know. Quote me and ask for a translation. Colloquial English is a part of my colloquial education.
I have a word list that I keep in my Bible. When I encounter a word that I don’t understand, I write it down. Look it up in my more than 25 volumes of word lists including the Bible dictionary. So I understand the word in context. Remember that many of our ancestors learned to read and write English from the Bible. Your German grandfather learned first the Bible in German, then the Bible in English.
And in the southern Virginia hills, King James English–the English of the Bible–is still spoken. And the colloquial English you encounter there is also from King James time! Too often called ‘Hillbilly.” Was King James a hillbilly?
The language of the southern Virginia hills, when written out, is easier to understand than the spoken words. And the “southern” speech of Illinois and Indiana near the Kentucky border takes getting used to.
A request to write in English–may mean write in subject and verb. Short sentences. Clear English words that can be found in any language dictionary.
I guess that justifies me in refusing to text in code on a cell phone, in an email, or in a handwritten note. Watching people of all ages, of all occupations, of all colors use two thumbs to communicate on a 2-inch screen is amazing.
And little icons showing emotions can be added with a click so no word or code is needed. I guess that eliminates the need to control emotion on your face and in your body language. As we were taught to do in business and elocution classes.
16th century Virginia legal documents are written in code: Abbreviations. Legal terms. Archaic spellings. And King James English. These documents require a lexicon to decipher. Study them as you would another language. With dictionary and lexicon in hand. Your favorite Virginia genealogist, Arlene Eakle. http://www.arleneeakle.com
PS But don’t read them with the spell checker on your computer. These devices do not yet have such words as internet, blog, or even county and state names! Do your own proof-reading. Use the spell checker to highlight words without spaces and where you left off an e or a period at the end of the sentence.