Learning the A, B, C…

When we first started learning the alphabet, words were little squiggles that we struggled to understand. A, B, C… Words were an uphill climb; they represented education that most of us, at the age of three or four, simply didn’t understand, or wish to understand. We were generally far more concerned with play-dough, and the possibility of sticking pasta onto paper with PVA glue. Many of us, even now, as adults, still would rather play with play-dough than plough through the science of linguistics. However, as writers, poets, authors and speakers of language in general, we become fascinated with words. With grammar. And most specifically, the way in which squiggles can be used to create something with significance in an infinite number of ways.


As I have mentioned before, structuralism and post-structuralism is very much concerned with the idea of language in relation to the world; the way in which it’s meaning is almost completely subjective. This can also be considered in relation to grammatical format; modernism in particular sought to remove conventional narrative forms to produce something more internally focussed, with less emphasis on the outside world, instead being a part of the protagonist’s psyche; consider Ulysses and To the Lighthouse; these are fundamentally modernist texts, using the trademark stream of consciousness format which one will greet as though it is Marmite; it will either be loved or despised, and rightly so; the liberation of being completely free to explore outside the parameters of conventional narrative can be fantastical. However it can also be a form of imprisonment to a reader, because they become absorbed in attempting to understand the outer parameters, and tend to then read against the grain to find this alienating meaning. This can potentially remove the pleasure from the act of reading itself.

So in our quest to understand the entirety of English Literature, or world literature, we grapple with ideas, and find that even once we think we’ve understood, that this understanding is only one interpretation of one meaning. This could be ridiculously frustrating, however for the knowledge junkies among us, it simply means we will never quite conquer the subject, but surely this makes it infinitely more interesting.

I’d be interested to know how everyone feels about the fluctuating nature of language, and whether its futile or fascinating.


(1) http://blogs-images.forbes.com/marketshare/files/2011/08/abc_blocks.jpg



2 thoughts on “Learning the A, B, C…

  1. I think understanding language is important, and it’s not taught well in schools. If kids don’t understand grammar, communication, writing, or literature interpretation, then they are missing out on a huge part of the world around them. Part of critical thinking is digesting something, understanding what it’s saying, then translating it to someone else and communicating your own ideas about it, as it relates to your worldview. This kind of language instruction, which should be taught at a high school level, is difficult to find. I think a few select programs in public schools (IB programs in richer districts), a few private schools, and a few homeschools teach this adequately. The masses miss out on this.

    Language is much more than syntax and grammar (although that’s incredibly important!!); it’s about the history of language, usage of language by the greats, and effective communication of ideas. Yes, it changes, but there’s still much to be learned by studying older language usage, too.

    • I completely agree with you. I love looking backwards to Middle English and the original Chaucerian language to see how everything has changed in comparison with modern language. I wish everyone had access to language from the beginning to the present day, and could examine it in a synchronic and diachronic fashion simultaneously. I feel incredibly lucky to have the chance to study language in this way, and to be able to look back through the history of language.

      Thank you for reading (:

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