The Love Chronicles, Writing Skills

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Life
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Our Written Language

By John Love

I have a set of books called the Great Books. It has all of the old philosophers and wordsmiths of an era gone by, Socrates, Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Galileo, Milton, Shakespeare, and on and on for 54 volumes of different people in our history who made an impression on society one way or the other. I have been reading Aristotle for the last few days. I can’t go for more than a few days in a row before my mind gets bent and my head starts to ache from actually having to think so hard for so long a time. I got these books from Britannica back in the early 70’s, through the military. I love reading all of them because the thought process, the education, and the use of the English language to describe ideas, stories, arguments, or philosophies is a constant revelation of what we are capable of. My biggest sorrow is the fact that even our great writers and commentators of our day cannot wield the English language as it was used in educated circles in the past. We have lost the art of language as it once was, and to our great detriment. I am not talking about just the English language per say, but any and all discourse.  Our forefathers who were responsible for creating our American way of life, for example, wrote in pros that far better described their thoughts, dreams, and wishes!  They were far more eloquent, expressed more passion and depth than writers of our modern age seem to be able to bring to the page.  We have lost the ability to use our language to it’s full potential, and I for one am sad we have lost this art.

Even when we translate a century old philosopher, say from Italian to English, we tend to simplify what was being said. I don’t think this is done so much because the translator does not think we will understand it as written, but rather that the translator no longer has the skill to accurately describe what is being said in English. When more famous people, such as Aristotle or Socrates are translated, their works are so famous that writers must use words that accurately portray what they have written down themselves. Even so, I have been told by several people, that if you have the ability to read some of the more famously known works of the past in the original language, you again see that even with a script to go by, the English language version was considerably better, but still suffered in the translation.

However, if you read, for example the Federalist papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, you begin to see how words and knowing how to use them properly is of the utmost importance. If you continue on in this same general time period with the writings of John Stuart Mill such as On Liberty, Representative Government, and Utilitarianism, you begin to suspect why precise language and its meanings are important. We love to hate and make jokes about lawyers, but when you start to understand why precise language can and is important, you begin to understand why legal documents are written as they are. Now the writings I am talking about here are not beautiful in their pros, but accurate in their description to the point that it is almost impossible to misconstrue what is being said.

Now lets talk about great English authors. After all, the language we speak, as a common language in America is English. We however did manage to add our own flavor to it as we added words derived from our melting pot of nationalities making up our country, at the beginning, and even more so now. I believe this, and our education system, which has continued to spiral downward with every decade in our history, has been largely responsible for our decline in our use of the English language. My example would be Milton, known as one of the preeminent writers in the English language. He was a civil servant. He wrote in a religious and political time of upheaval, but not only was he known for his technical writing ability, but his poem, Paradise Lost is and will always be a classic. You must understand that Milton could read and write in English, Latin, and Italian. You will find that most educated men around the time of Milton and on in to the next century, could read and write in multiple languages, and most had a complete and exceptional understanding of those languages and could communicate quite effectively in each. As we Americans slowly weaned ourselves from our native countries, especially England, we started to lose such skills as were held by the likes of Milton. I know, you can probably find me an example of people that are reminiscent of the times and era I am so fond of here, but I make the statement that these people are far and few between, and that very, very few, work in the media outlets of today. A student used to be required Latin, which if you ever took a class from Mr. Pratt, you know to be important in understanding any English science text, Greek and Latin root words being the basis for almost all scientific terms. Teachers, even at grade school level at the time of our countries creation, usually spoke multiple languages, had almost all taken Latin at the very least, and had a superior command of the English language and its subtleties, not to mention the rules by which it was governed, no matter what subject they taught.  A teacher now can get by on a moderate understanding of the language, speak no other, and in a lot of cases is a government paid baby sitter, not an educator.

They Oakland School district here in California created a stir when they decided to incorporate Ebonics, an African American vernacular made popular by students in large cities in California, notably Oakland and Los Angeles. In my mind, this made it harder for those individuals who embraced Ebonics to get and hold professional jobs. It further marked them as coming from a particular segment of society not well thought of in any academic circles. For this reason alone, educated black professionals went on record in very large numbers in a vehement attack to rescind this type of thinking, which in their minds separated a whole segment of black society into a much to narrow market for their skills.  I bring this up merely to point out that this and other such trends do not help support a movement back to the basics of understanding the language we most commonly use in this country and around the world. We need to be able to communicate our ideas far better than we do now, and on the other hand, be able to understand and respond in kind when we hear language that embraces nuance, beauty, an exactness of description and meaning! We are fast losing our ability to speak and write in meaningful ways. This undermines our ability to communicate our ideas, our dreams, yes even our arguments in a fashion that uplifts us even in our disagreements.

  1. James Mahon says:

    A liberal education used to mean something; now school is about learning specific job skills. We are no longer educated people, we are simply technically trained to fit the needs of a specific industry.

    • John Love says:

      It is a shame. Actually when you look at the education we got in Council and in Idaho in general it was a far shout to what is available today. If you follow school trends and news in the local Council paper, state funding is dropping by leaps and bounds, they cannot get the teachers they want because they cannot afford to live on the salaries offered. They are touting the online teachers and classes, because they have no choice. Do you honestly think that a course online teaching any science would match up even in a small way to any class you took from Mr. Pratt. Do you think you would have absorbed local, state, and federal government as experienced in Mr. Potters class. Or a student showing up at Mr. Greer’s home to borrow his unedited version of poems by Chaucer, and being encouraged to love reading even more by the enthusiasm of a dedicated teacher, I think not! Even so we still did not get the education that our forefathers got. Of course it was not offered as public education in most cases, so that is also a fundamental problem which has no easy solutions. When I, as a Marine was privileged to travel to many countries and rub elbows with students from other countries, especially European countries, I was always amazed at how most spoke several languages, all seemed to be more up to date on the American political scene than I was, and knew our history as well, if not better than I.

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