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The Beauty of Language PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 16 March 2007 09:13

Written by Keith Strohm

I've been in love with language for about as long as I can remember (knowing me, it probably happened in utero). There is a beauty to its cadence, the lush rhythm of phonemes and morphemes, the geography of its syntax, the compelling pulse of meaning and intimation--language has captivated me! Used well, language is scintillating, it's sharp as Excalibur and precise as any laser scalpel. Whether its poetry or essay, the beauty of language transcends genre or idiom--it even transcends the particular language family it's in (I think German is a beautiful language, for example).

That's why I pay attention whenever a master of language speaks about that which I love. While surfing the net, I stumbled across this quote by Ursula K. LeGuin:

“Socrates said, ‘The misuse of language induces evil in the soul.’ He wasn’t talking about grammar. To misuse language is to use it the way politicians and advertisers do, for profit, without taking responsibility for what the words mean. Language used as a means to get power or make money goes wrong: it lies. Language used as an end in itself, to sing a poem or tell a story, goes right, goes towards the truth.”
- A Few Words to a Young Writer

Language is a gift that comes, ultimately, from God Himself--a way in which we can explore the human heart and the world around us, a way in which we can experience Truth and share that experience like early man shared fire. As with gifts, we must use it wisely, taking responsibility for our stewardship. LeGuin rightly warns against a co-opting of language, a perversion of its purpose.

While there certainly is a science to marketing and ad copy, there is no artistry in propaganda--and considerable peril, if you listen to Socrates. Language can wound and vilify, it can feed hatred and spin webs of deceit, clouding truth and confusing the conscience, dulling the sharp edges of right and wrong. Like digitalis, language is a medicine that, used incorrectly, can kill. Christ warned us not to "be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna." (Matthew 10:28). Language is the chief weapon of those who kill the soul.

And yet, all words are, in an ultimate sense, reflections of The Word, through whom all things were made. Despite the danger, we are called to use this gift to help heal and restore the world, making songs "from the Shattered Drum" that is language. And so, in my own small and humble way, I will strive to do just that.

One beautiful word at a time.


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