Language Obsession

Words Have Power Pic

Photo Credit: Blackboard message “Words have power”, uploaded 3 months ago: geralt/Pixabay/CC0 1.0

“Triteness is far more dangerous than richness [in language], for it is the use of a dead word.” (Nin, Ch. 3, location 1758; emphasis original)

To some degree, all writers are obsessed with words. It’s one reason we become writers. They way in which words combine and reveal emotions and actions fascinates us. Some find words limiting in comparison to wordless communication and there are philosophies built around the inadequacy of words to express reality, true emotions, and meaning. But words are the greatest tool we have to work with if we are to communicate with others.

The English language is especially vibrant and potent. The story goes that English was created by different conquering groups who added and changed the language over a period of more than seventeen centuries. This made English one of the most dynamic and chaotic languages in the world.

I was born in Israel but I spent my childhood in the United States. English is my first language. When I was sixteen, my parents decided they needed to go back to Israel. I knew how to speak the language fairly well because it was all I spoke at home but I knew nothing about reading or writing Hebrew which used a completely different alphabet.

It was when I began to learn in a crash course with a private linguistics teacher in the summer of 1986 that I came to realize the dynamic nature of English. Hebrew has more consistent grammar rules than English and follows a more logical syntactic pattern.

When I entered the university in Beer Sheva, Israel was experiencing one of the largest influx of Russian immigrants in years. One day, I got into a conversation with some of my Russian colleagues about language. I was curious to know whether they felt that learning Hebrew or English was more difficult. Without hesitation, they chose Hebrew and said the variations, exceptions, and confusing structure of English defied logic and made it harder to learn.

This may not help language learners, but for writers, it opens up worlds in telling a story, exploring imagination and truth. Anais Nin preferred to write in English though her native language was French because she claimed that it had the exploratory and exploratory powers that her native language did not have. Writer Ayelet Tsabari tells a similar story of finding herself writing in English, her second language.

My own obsession with words began early. I read in spite of never having been read to as a child. Both of my parents are not native English speakers, though they learned to speak English quite well through living and working in America. But recently, my mother told me she would probably never read anything I write because the English I use is too complex for her.

I grew up in a very emotionally isolated and diseased environment. Over-anxious, mentally unstable, and narcissistic, my parents kept me in a glass cage, separating me from the world while at the same time trying to obliterate my independence and identity to merge with theirs. I mention here, that writing gave me a voice and that voice was particularly a language-sensitive voice. I write in English, a language my family does not willingly read, a language they do not know entirely by instinct like I do. It was essential for me to write in the language in which I can best communicate my psychological reality without risking their imposition or interference. It was my way of developing my independence, a way of being myself outside of the shell that I had created that was the not-me of me.

If I write in a language that my mother cannot understand, it is not only by choice but also by consequence. The language o psychological reality is a riddle, a Sphynx, something that touches what lies below the iceberg. Nin writes:

“The language of action may be simple and direct, but the language of our sensations, emotions, intuitions, instincts, for our psychological states is not.” (Nin, Ch. 3, location 1758)

The language of psychological reality is a code but it is not an indecipherable one. Anyone with the skills of language and feeling can decode it.

Works Cited

Nin, Anais. The Novel of the Future. Sky Blue Press. The Anais Nin Trust, 2014 (original publication date 1968). Kindle digital file.

3 thoughts on “Language Obsession

  1. Interesting post. I have often felt that what seem like complex grammar rules actually make a language easier to learn, as it tends to follow a logical pattern, with just a few irregular words and anomalies to break the mould. English does not have complex cases and inflections, but there seems to be little rhyme or reason in its phrasal verbs!


    1. Hi Alex,
      I couldn’t agree with you more :-). I used to teach English as a foreign language to business professionals around Europe and Asia and they were always baffled with phrasal verbs. They couldn’t understand how a verb phrase could mean something so entirely different than its parts! Consistent grammar rules give you something to follow, something to hang on to when you’re learning a new language.

      But on the bright side, once you learn English well enough to write it, you can really feel the awe of all of its complexity and richness. And not just writers either. As a former composition writing instructor, I mourn the death of diverse English learning in favor of the kind of internet shortcuts/text messaging that so many of us have fallen into. Texting has its uses but it’s a shame that so many people have put aside using the wide English vocabulary and word choices that we have for these shortcuts.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! This is how I feel about texting too. I like to use a wide range of vocabulary, and I feel it is a real shame that so many words are falling by the wayside. I never use abbreviations such as ‘lol’ – how long does it really take to write “that’s funny!” or similar, or even ‘haha’ if that is too much for you.

        Liked by 1 person

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