Eng Lang et al
There it was, hanging as bold as its brass tacks on the hotel foyer wall:
THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS ABOUT ONE-HALF REDUNDANT.
My initial writer’s reaction was a resounding hell no! as I mentally succumbed to a rally of outraged clichés: English is a rich and wonderful language – the lingo of Shakespeare, Pinter, Atwood, Elliot and Lee. It’s a tool and a sword, can be tied up in knots, boasts illogical spelling, is steeped in history and yet stubbornly evolves as each and every generation makes it their own. Lol.
But as signs go, this one turned out to be quite clever. As I stalked past, the word ‘ONE’ faded in and out so the text toggled between THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS ABOUT ONE-HALF REDUNDANT and THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS ABOUT HALF REDUNDANT thereby craftily demonstrating its own point. It appealed to my sense of wit, but it also prompted me to ponder. In truth, how much of our eloquent English language are we actually using on a day-to-day basis?
Hmmm. Less and less, I concluded. And this may be particularly true of the written word, which used to be our English forte. We are slowly but surely expressing ourselves with fewer and fewer words as social media and other primarily Internet-based communication interfaces restrict our creative capacities to comply with stipulated character and space limitations. True, brand new words and expressions are regularly coined and added to the dictionary, but are we nevertheless abandoning Technicolor texts (think adjectives, adverbs, idioms, analogies) in favour of black & white brevity? In other words, are we inadvertently learning and applying the art of communicating with minimalistic rather than artistic flair? If the answer to either of these questions is Yes, many of us are also demonstrating – on a virtually daily basis – that half the English language is indeed redundant because never before has so much been successfully communicated by so many, to so many, so incessantly.
We do it every day. For example, service companies routinely invite and encourage their customers to leave feedback in the box provided – max. 500 characters or 100 words. We all obligingly stick to the stipulation and manage to make our points. The recipient is not required to read through superfluous descriptive waffle, time and money are saved, and everyone is happy.
So perhaps there is a case for claiming that cyber limitations are giving rise to a whole new brand of communication creativity. Consider the flora of abbreviations so readily and rapidly adopted by avid text messengers who adeptly hold conversations using three or four letters at a time. And the 500 million Twitter subscribers who have brevity down to a fine 140-character art.
Which neatly leads to the next question; do we actually need all the frills and fancy phraseology offered by a wide vocabulary and decent command of an extensive language? No?
In cyber world, @DrSeuss would go something like this:
Dnl* in box
Dnl w fox
Dnl in house
Dnl w mouse
*Do not like
The same story would be told, and more than that, it would be understood by millions of both native English and international readers.
But – and here’s the rub – would it be appreciated? And more to the point, will it still be appreciated decades or even centuries from now?
Alas no. Brevity is not designed to last. When we peel away the charm and potential for creativity and individuality in a language – any language – what is there left to love and appreciate? To savour, recommend or remember? The redundant half of the English language is no more redundant than the pattern on my coffee mug or the scent in my soap. These are the very elements that induced me to choose and appreciate these items in the first place. And likewise, we need every element of a language to love a book. Or a love letter. Or a play.
One of my favourite Shakespeare quotes is the mournful musing by Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night:
If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
How beautiful is that?
THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS ABOUT ONE-HALF REDUNDANT