Daily prompt: Dream on, you silly old chook

If you could wake up tomorrow and be fluent in any language you don’t currently speak, which would it be? Why? What’s the first thing you do with your new linguistic skills?

I am not religious, but the knowledge of the bible drummed into me at boarding school has stood me in good stead. It’s quite useful to have the odd quote at your fingertips for those who would blind you with their need to proselytise, and there are bits of it that I like for their own sake – sometimes for the inherent message, and sometimes for the sheer rolling majesty of the words.

Or I did once.

Which brings me to the matter of tongues.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. (King James Version)

Now you have to admit there’s a certain something about that, not just for what it says, but in the way it says it. Which crumbles to dust in the version we’re apparently now expected to know and love.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (New International Version)

For a start, if doesn’t mean the same as though, which means even if, and packs far more of a punch. Gong is also a bit dubious these days, gongs being medals, awards etc, handed out to the great and good in varying degrees of worth. And a clanging cymbal has much the same impact as a resounding gong, whereas a tinkling cymbal adds a whole new dimension of triviality.

And then there’s love instead of charity. Modern charity certainly has implications not foreseen by King James, but love is flung around too loosely now to be a suitable substitute. (I love salted peanuts, but I certainly don’t regard them with the sort of love that suffers long and is kind etc, as described further on in 1 Corinthians 13.) I don’t know the answer to that, but I wouldn’t mind giving it a go.

My other objection to the second version is that it lacks the glorious innate rhythm of the first. We might not consciously recognise it, but the rhythm of words picks us up, and clumsy stumbling drops our attention at the first speed bump.

So what’s this got to do with anything?

Being fluent in another language would be good, but if I could wake up tomorrow with power over language, I’d rather use it to restore the standard of English. I’ve used the bible to demonstrate what I’m trying to say partly because everyone’s heard of it, whatever their belief or lack of, and partly because the hatchet job on its English translation has been so comprehensive.

The reasoning behind this ‘new’ version of the bible was to make it more accessible to the masses, but here’s a newsflash: we the masses might not be as linguistically sophisticated as you lot, but we’re not stupid. Our hearts and souls respond to beauty just as yours do, and having it cut from our language to fit your perception of our mental capability is downright insulting. We may not understand big words, but we sure as hell know dull and boring when we hear it. We also know when we’re being patronised, and degrading the language in ‘our’ interests is assuming a common denominator somewhere in the vicinity of bovine. Yes, we’re lazy and we go along with it, but are we enriched by it? In a pig’s ear, you might say.

And at a more basic level – would it be so damaging to teach our little treasures English grammar again? That ‘yous’ is not the plural of ‘you’, and why? That fluency and vocabulary are not sissy? That actually taking tests in such things is not damaging to their little psyches, but offers the chance to expand their future horizons? And that as far as language goes, near enough is not good enough.

And yes, I also know it’s a losing battle, but hey! I can dream…


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2 Responses to Daily prompt: Dream on, you silly old chook

  1. Helen, I just love your mastery of the written word. No matter the subject, you have a way to adorn the passages that doesn’t interfere with the message. Thanks for that.

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