Wednesday, September 12, 2012

484. Some Random Thoughts on the English Language

When you think, I think,
you don’t want to think too hard:
step lightly over the earth, skip over it,
because there are quicksands and tarpits
and yawning manholes, never mind the landmines,
scattered here and there and everywhere
going by names we have learned to trust,
such as love and loyalty, honour and family,
a collection of abstract, uncountable nouns.

For those who speak only one language,
a sense of false confidence conceals the danger
inherent in the missing abyss of comparison;
why do you go to “the” store instead of “a” store?
What difference does that make? Only the same
as when you love “the” woman instead of “a” woman,
or when you look to “the” future instead of “a” future.
These are such small little things, inconsequential,
unless you start to think about them. But never

think too hard, it wears out the brain, makes you weary,
takes away the jolt and taste of your morning coffee.
(Now where the hell did that word ‘coffee’ come from?)
Paddling your canoe in your khaki shorts past a bamboo grove
you are using four words borrowed from other languages.
But the nouns, oh the nouns, are not the real problem!
It’s the verbs. Those goddam verbs! Descriptions of time
must exist in all languages, and are either smooth or clunky:
if I had but known what he had been thinking of proposing

I should quite possibly not have been quite so willing as I was.
This is the beauty of pidgin, crossover languages, border talk:
He talk smooth-smooth. I say OK. Later I say fuck you.
You can’t argue with the meaning, although it’s not Jane Austen,
nor Dickens or Trollope or Thackeray. Also, it’s not the brutal
vernacular most of us would choose to speak in. Yet it works.
This is the thing about language all around this globe we live in.
It’s no use raising your voice and bellowing at foreigners.
It really really doesn’t act as an aid to understanding. It don’t.

Ain’t that a shame? Please God, finally, let everyone speak English
so we don’t have to bother with learning all their foreign tongues,
and the world will all be One. If you actually believe that, pal,
you are living in La-la Land. Never happen. Everyone changes it.
When the Irish had to learn English or starve they fuckin hated it,
what a stupid thick-arsed language, they thought, and immediately
set out to improve it, adding rhythms and colours and tone to this …
this black-and-white atrocity. All over the world, in Jamaica, in Singapore,
in Kenya, in India and Pakistan, Fiji and Samoa, people do the same!