Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Lost Art Of Beautiful Language

            "To speak and to speak well are two things.
                           A fool may talk, but a wise man speaks.
                                                     - Ben Jonson

I have a collection of old, classic books and movies where speaking with eloquence and distinction was standard practice. One of the things that is so delightful about old films is the joy of listening to (mostly) correct grammar and graceful, deliberate speaking.
It was common practice to speak with clear dictation and annunciation. 

It was normal to hear articulately constructed sentences and intelligent, subtle wit. I realize movies are scripted, but just as modern scripts reflect today’s twitter world, these old scripts were also written to reflect the common speech of the day. Speech which today has sadly become uncommon.

I enjoy these films because they provide the rich pleasure of glimpsing into an era when every other word was not “like”, “um”, “ya know” and so forth. The Prince and the Pauper demonstrates how the social rank was not solely determined by wealth alone but by refined speech and social graces.

We are seeing a significant decline in the proportion of a truly literate society. Forums all over the internet expose the total and wretched failure of public school systems who are churning out “graduates”who can’t spell or construct grammatically correct sentences. Our present society has succumbed to mind numbing gibberish in which people have lost the ability to express themselves in an eloquent manner.

This practice seems to be especially prevalent in many minority communities where common expressions include, “Knaw I mean?”, “Knaw I’m sayin?”, “Ya feel me?”, “Ya heard me?”, “Aw-ight”, “fo real”. Some may say these are just colloquialisms but I say they are simply a disgrace to the English language.

People in average communities also have succumbed to a base way of speaking. Spend any amount of time near people in their 20's and you'll hear what I mean. 

"I was like, "Whoa...seriously?" 

Why is it that we know longer find it necessary to make declarative statements? I have had entire conversations with people who end every sentence with a question. I’ll give you an example.

Me: Excuse me do you know if the manager is available to speak with me?
Girl: Um, I think he’s like around somewhere? (stands awkwardly while picking at a fingernail and chewing gum open mouthed.) But ...I haven’t, like, seen him in the last couple hours? So, um, you could, like, probably try looking around for him?"

Why is that people don’t feel it necessary to express themselves in an articulate manner? This generation has lost the passion for the human voice and the fluency that accompanies it.  I believe the lost art of speaking beautifully is due primarily to public schools and their deliberate dumbing down of the inmates within.  And secondarily to our culture’s infatuation with social networking and the pressure to conform and be “real”.

I'd love to see a revival of beautiful, witty, poetic, clever, intelligent, decisive, declarative and analytical speech. God is the first orator and in his word to English speaking people, the King James Bible we see the beauty and flow of the most magnificent literary work of all time.

And from the Bible we know that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”. Our words have power. Dumb words are uninspiring and fall flat. We were created to crave acumen mingled with eloquence and come alive in the presence of vivacious and poetic communication.

It's a mistake to speak when you have nothing to say worth hearing. As women we have a lot of words floating around our heads and sometimes we crave adult conversation  intensely after a long day alone with our children.  So when we have an opportunity to speak with adult friends it's tempting to just rattle away. But many words spoken without much thought is like a meal of white sugar. It may fill your belly but it's void of nutrition.

In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise. - Proverbs 10:19 

If you are a parent, don’t leave the instruction of your children to others. You should feel obligated to restore the speech of conviction that pierced the hearts of those who heard and read the words of our oratorical ancestors. The resources are plenty, but if you all you have is a King James Bible, you are sufficiently equipped.

English, language and grammar books are unnecessary in teaching a child how to spell, read and communicate properly. In reading, a child visually absorbs appropriate grammar and punctuation. In writing he learns how to apply it. In speaking he learns how to express it.

Homeschooling families have an amazing opportunity in their hands to influence their children for Christ, for eloquent communication skills, for creativity and joy but sadly many of them are listening to the wrong voices and believing the wrong people.

I am revolting against the illiteracy that is sweeping this nation and raising the standard as each of us can do in our own social circles. Do you know what happens when our circles of influence overlap? They connect and swallow up the empty spaces. This is how cell phones work. One tower covers a certain radius or “cell” of air space and in order to have phone mobility, several towers must be placed so that their "cell" areas overlap.

If we each begin to speak with more care, more literacy, less hesitation (um, like, ya know) and more wit and deliberateness in our own circles of life, one day our circles of influence will begin overflowing and overlapping with other circles of influence and we might just turn this titanic around.

Where to begin?

I'd recommend you start by reading the King James Bible. For starters, it's God's holy word and we need it every day!

Secondly, the articulation is a joy. There are only a handful of words you might not be familiar with. Learning words is nothing new.  Remember, 15 years ago you weren’t familiar with a many words that have now become part of our working vocabulary.  (Facebook, e-mail, google, tweet, retweet, blog... need I say more?

Consider eliminating words that are unlovely from your language. Instead of “huh?” try “would you repeat that?” Instead of “Omg”, which is actually blasphemous, you can say “isn’t that something?, "Wow" or "You don't say!". 

Instead of the overused term “way”, as in I had to turn it way up, try using "very", "exceedingly", "abundantly", etc..  You get the idea.

Read well written literary works, learn to appreciate and value beautifully constructed sentences and seek to use them in your every day dialogues.

It is fun to speak well. Language is beautiful and a joy to use properly. Beautiful words fitly spoken can uplift and inspire others. Our forefather’s shed blood to see that we’d have the freedom of speech in our constitution. Let’s not desecrate their sacrifice by letting our brains turn to mush and our speech to twaddle.

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.  Proverbs 25:11 

There are a lot of ways we can influence our children and the next generation by simply changing how we ourselves speak.

Find more concise and beautiful ways to communicate what you want to say. Practice at home with your children and make it a game. Who can speak with the most eloquence today? Pick a new essential word each day from the dictionary (I recommend the Webster’s 1828 dictionary) and seek to incorporate it into your conversation.

Play word games and emphasize the instruction prior to the competition. As your family builds skill and confidence the competition aspect will be a natural and rewarding progression.

What are some ways you can think of to revive good speech and grammar starting with our own families?

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