I’ve said before that I seldom know what I’m going to write about on any given morning. At least once a week I try to write something that is inspiring and encouraging. Other times I write about what is going on in my little world. And sometimes I feel compelled to write about something that I just think is interesting. I hope that all of my posts combine to fulfill my original intent of sharing my “musings and memories”.
This morning my mind is focused on our language and how it has changed, and how many words have disappeared from our shared vocabulary. As a reader of old newspapers I constantly encounter words such as aver and millinery that are no longer understood by the general public. As a kindergarten teacher I find myself explaining the meaning of words like apron and record because the items are no longer in common use. But I also find that children are not familiar with other terms such as ill, least, younger, and succeed.
I had two coincidental experiences this week related to language. At our monthly staff meeting we were told that one of the things we need to emphasize in our lessons is new vocabulary because students simply do not have the words they need to improve their reading and writing skills.
During a conversation with my daughter she complained that many of the parents of her hearing-impaired students simply do not talk to their children enough because of the implied limitations of their disability, even though more conversation is exactly what they need the most!
I assured her that her parents are not the only ones keeping quiet. I find that many parents do not engage their children in meaningful conversations. Some have a tendency to “dumb down” anything they say to their offspring because of the mistaken belief that children do not have the capacity to understand more than the most simplistic terms. Others do not engage their children in discussions because of the social and cultural changes that have taken place in the last decade. Children are often occupied with devices such as televisions, video games, and phones. Parents and children do not sit down to the table to eat and talk. Schedules of some parents and children seldom even coincide! One is working while the other is at ball practice or sleeping. When they do get together the conversations are often quick and involve questions or instructions about the next day’s activities.
One of the most damaging changes to our shared vocabulary has been the loss of our written language. Conversational language has always been less formal and structured, and far less complex and enriched than written language. Our best use of language has always been the written word. Our best poetry, stories, and speeches are those that are written down because we have taken the time to think and edit and choose our words carefully. When I’m writing I am often unhappy with the “first word that pops out of my head” so I search for something more succinct or descriptive. I’m afraid that practice is lost on a generation that texts and tweets and converses by email! “Let Siri do it” seems to be the common mantra of too many people.
My own vocabulary has become inadequate over the years. We tend to use the words of our environment, local culture, career, etc. to the exclusion of words once needed for other situations. I no longer use many of the terms I found useful in college or in my previous work in advertising. Too often I find that the word brought to my email by “Word a Day” is unfamiliar, but should be here in my head somewhere.
As a teacher I am deeply concerned that knowing “UR2G2BT” is not going to enable our young people to succeed in their chosen careers. But perhaps I am again just being old-fashioned, and in the future I will be the one who is unable to carry on a conversation or communicate through the written word.