“.. is to earn a new soul.”
I do not remember who first said this, maybe it was Oscar Wilde, that to Learn a new Tongue is to Learn a New Soul. But there is, increasingly, scientific evidence behind the sentiment itself – with an allowance for poetic license. To learn a second or third language is to establish entirely new pathways in the brain, in effect “rewiring” it, allowing one to see the world itself in entirely different ways. These ways may be nuanced, and hard to articulate, but they exist.
Few things are more feared by power than verbal abilities of dissidents. As for intellectual abilities, IQ, and so on well these are strongly correlated with verbal abilities. In truth having a moderate IQ and an excellent ability to convey your thoughts and ideas is far more dangerous to an elite than being a genius who is socially and verbally unable to effectively convey anything of substance to anyone outside of his recondite little circle.
The ability to effectively communicate one’s ideas, not being wordy or artistically articulate, but effectively distill meaning into verbal form and persuasively put it across, can manage to get one laid, admired, followed, and murdered. Sometimes all in the same week. History well attests to this.
Why do you think that black slaves in the American South were not allowed to be taught to read, by force of law and custom? This also existed among the ‘freedom loving and virile’ Spartans in Ancient Greece, where apart from a numerically small elite, the majority of the population were in fact slaves. (While though some craven historians refrain from pointing this out, contemporaries did note that Helots were, basically, slaves).
Helots were, by some accounts, forbidden from literacy. They could not learn to write or read, by pain of death. In “freedom-loving Sparta” also existed the curious custom of violently culling clever helots. That’s right, they would convey some on the spot verbal test and anyone who was intelligent enough to get the answer right would be nicely led away and murdered. Think very carefully about anyone you know who sees Sparta as an ideal society…
Consider Other People’s Tongues.
In America and Britain, more than elsewhere in Western cultural zones, exists a certain reluctance to learn new languages. This is changing, many people are eagerly buying Michel Thomas tapes or Rosetta Stone DVD’s, numerous people take up language electives in University or College, or even through local Learning Annex type of Adult Learning sessions. If you’ve remotely considered doing this then I encourage you.
There is a hadith, a saying of The Prophet Muhammad, to the effect that “Learning a people’s language makes you safe from them.” With all of the teeth gnashing over immigration going on in conservative corners of the blogosphere my response would be “learn the tongues of the people whose immigration into your lands you resent so much.” Will many people do this? No. And this is the essence of foolishness distilled.
If you fear people, then you should damn well make a point of learning what they are actually saying about you, say for instance when you pass them by in the street. Perhaps you will learn that you have little to fear from them, as you overhear them. Maybe they are talking about cooking, or about the delightfully ripe ass of a girl walking down the street who preceded you, or about the weather. Maybe they are discussing jumping you and stealing your wallet and beating the living tar out of you. In either case it’s useful information for you to store away. I trust the practical import of this astoundingly obvious point has been made.
Learning other people’s tongues does not just involve vocabulary, more is conveyed by idioms and phrases whose felt meaning is different from their literal meaning than most people dream. Yet we use idioms all the time, in South American Spanish the same literal Castilian phrase can mean radically different things in different regions, but this is the same in English.
To Hoover something can, depending on where one is from, mean to clean a carpet, or to give someone a blow-job. To blow someone can, depending on where one is from, certainly mean oral sex, but it can also mean to kill someone, to do blow can mean to take powdered coke into one’s nose, one can blow bubbles from soap, or with chewing gum. Dig it? Well, what are you going to dig? Do you dig the meaning of what I just said, can you appreciate it, feel it, and understand it? Or are you plotting to dig a nice 3 foot hole to dump my body in if we ever meet in person (and please, do not do this.)
Here is the turn, consider your own tongue.
In this way, however, you can safely surmise that to learn your own tongue on a deeper level is to deepen the soul that you already have. By learning the idioms, the turns of phrase, the interesting words and aspects of grammar which are far from arbitrary but actually have significant rhetorical effects, is to deepen your own insight in the world.By naming a beast more precisely you can better communicate your experience of it, within the limits impose by language of course. And limits always exist, the point is to stretch them.
An articulate person is sexy, an articulate person is persuasive, an articulate person can convey her or his passions, needs, likes and dislikes, more directly. Being articulate is not being wordy, my favorite vice, but the essence of being articulate lies in brevity and concise speech. To be able to say all that you want to say is the first step, not everyone can do this after all. This is a level of articulateness that so many people simply do not reach, and it does hurt them – whether they realize this or not. The second step is being able to compress comprehensive meaning into smaller and more efficient units of speech, yet not coming off as stilted, robotic, or a bore.
Concise speech is not always a virtue, sometimes it’s a gobsmacking vice, shocking to behold, robotic and artificial. So the trick is to be able to first learn how to fully articulate what you want to say, to acquire the words and grammar to put across what you’re feeling and thinking, what moves you and shakes you, what you want to persuade or your response to others persuasion; then you learn to snip it back down to size, and then lastly you learn to rearrange it so that the essence of what you fully expressed earlier is conveyed in smaller more efficient units.
For this reason I am not an articulate man, because I lack the skill (and I do not say gift, a skill is something one can attain with effort) of brevity and conciseness. That said, I needed something to blog about this morning and this was the first thing that popped into my mind.