Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Queen's English

One of the better uses for technology that I have found is the ability to download audio books from the New York Public Library to my i-Pod. I really enjoy listening to recorded books, partly because I am finding it hard to sit down with a real book and read as often as I used to. From childhood, reading has always been one of my greatest pleasures. I would get lost in books ranging from serious history to trashy novels. When I was commuting, I often rode past my bus or train stop while engrossed in some story. Like most book lovers, I read for pleasure, to increase my knowledge of people, places and things, and also because I am a huge fan of the English language. 

I'd guess that wherever you're from in the world, your mother tongue reigns supreme over all other languages. Frankly, except for Italian and maybe French, other languages sound harsh and guttural to me. If I had to learn Chinese to save my life, I'd be a goner. Yiddish sounds more like gibberish, and how a young lover coos to his "liebchen" in German, I will never understand. English, especially as spoken by the English is most mellifluous and pleasant to the ear. I'd guess that part of the reason for the success of the Masterpiece Theater series on PBS is that viewers who enjoy words for their own sake tune in just to doesn't matter all that much what's being said.

Two of my favorite authors are Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, writers of wonderful mysteries, but also women who have mastered the English language and use it to full effect in their writing. Agatha Christie is the undisputed queen of British mystery writers with such memorable characters as Miss Jane Marple and the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Sayers wrote the charming Lord Peter Whimsey mystery series, and was a renown scholar...a contemporary of J.R.R. Tolkien and G.H. Chesterton. Reading the novels of Christie and Sayers transports one to the days when the sun never set on the British Empire. Their grasp of the attitudes of people from both Upstairs and Downstairs is fascinating to hear about; the smash TV series 'Downton Abbey' cashed in on the public's interest in this aspect of British life.

In the days when I read real books, I pored over everything I could get by Christie and Sayers. The precision of their language captivated me; they always knew exactly the right word to use to describe a person or situation. Once you heard the word, and rolled it around on your tongue, you knew with certainty that no other word would do. Not only were their vocabularies prodigious, but they knew how to string words together in a way that let you see in a flash the idea they were trying to convey. Listening to these books on audio brings an added measure of enjoyment for me because I get to hear these marvelous words spoken aloud by cultured English men and women. Audio book narrators can make or break a story, and the selection of actors Hugh Fraser and Ian Carmichael to read the Christie and Sayers works respectively was a touch of genius.

I greatly fear our beautiful English language is on the decline, almost like an old actress living in reduced circumstances with only her memories of better times to keep her going. English grammar and writing are no longer rigorously taught in grade schools as they once were. The notion of young people being fired up by the sound of their own language is becoming less and less likely. Sadly, I fear that ship has sailed.


Children's Craniofacial Association


Joseph Del Broccolo said...

I found in the beginning when I drove my long commute to Port Washington, that 'Books on Tape' was hard to get used to while I drove. But after a chapter or two I learned the skill for someone who wears two hearing aids, and it was my passport to all that is wonderful in both American and English literature! The bastardization of the English language is slowly being killed in school and the social media. They can't teach writing anymore nor do they teach penmanship or script. Instead LOL and TTYL are the norm.

Jim Pantaleno said...

Sad but true Joe.