Growing up, my dad preferred me to speak proper English: “Adelle you’re doing well, not good.”
As a talk-back teenager, I’d say, “Whatever…” and slowly roll my eyes. Nonetheless, I was a driven-as-all-hell student, bent on getting that AP English A, so dad’s grammar reminders did serve their purpose.
Reflecting on dad’s style – I call it the “Oxford preservationist” – I admit there’s two things I like about it:
1. Grammar matters (using ‘their’ in place of ‘they’re’ does in truth hurt my eyeballs)
2. It encourages using words precisely
I like precision in language, because it helps others get closer to experiencing or seeing something as we do. You know how we say, “It’s hard to put my feelings it into words,” or “It’s hard to explain”? How frustrating does that feel? All we want is to be understood, but often we’re left powerless or misunderstood. Therefore, the more ample a vocabulary we have, the fewer “I-got-no-words” walls we run into. Moreover, the more precisely we use our language, the more likely it becomes that the other person might just “get it.”
But sometimes we pull the opposite move, and just verbal vomit, motivated by our same need to feel understood. We use a lot of words together in a sentence to capture context, characters, detail, and emotion. We over-explain, rather than picking our words carefully. How much does that backfire? A whole lot, because our point gets lost in the shuffle. I learned this the hard way when I used to try and tell my family about political issues I cared about, and because I felt like I needed to give them the hundred-year history before I got to the main even, I’d watch them check-out and miss my thesis.
That’s why I believe precise language is not just for uptight school teachers – it serves a greater purpose:
1. Help people understand us better
2. Allow our experiences to be more relatable
3. Gets us to the point, so we are 100% heard
When I first started spending time with some of the bilingual Hispanics at my high school, I found it fascinating how they used English and Spanish words interchangeably. Then, when I went to college in Montreal, I found the Quebecois did the same thing — English word, French word, English word, French word.
It’s probably no shocker that I also love foreign languages, so as I began to learn Spanish and French, I realized that certain language captured certain ideas more precisely, or have words for things that other languages don’t. With that revelation, Spanglish suddenly made so much sense to me. Why would you say, “Estoy interesado romanticamente en tu amiga” if you could just say, “Tengo un crush”?! It just fits so much better! Language puritans might call this a bastardization of their language, but I see it differently.
Multilingualism is so very cool, because it helps us achieve a few important things. First, it gets us even closer to that ultimate precision in language because we’ve got more words to work with. Then, it brings us even closer together, because we’ve got two languages to leverage when we attempt to explain ourselves. Finally, it teaches us to view the world from two different cultural vantage points, which widens our understanding of all that is around us.
Multilingualism is a beautiful thing, so I hope you enjoy this quirky art exhibit (and article) that I stumbled across and that inspired me to write this post.