Balancing Act

Once again, Seth Lerer leaves me wanting more.

Despite my fascination with practically everything Lerer touches on, I was able to isolate one topic that intrigued me the most; that the study of language not only represents culture and history, but that it reveals so much about our individual selves. Lerer states that “the study of the word reveal[s] not just a history of culture but a history of self” (3). He adds, “how, through individual imagination, [people] transformed […] resources into something uniquely personal” (3). And, although this next set of quotes contributes to his book’s overall purpose, I found that Lerer’s underlying message reflected my own personal reasons for falling in love with studying English: “to understand language […] it is necessary to understand history” and that “language is a form of social behavior central to our past and present lives” (4).

Of course, the study of English also has several focus topics that Lerer discusses, including spelling, pronunciation, and grammar, all of which contribute to the history behind language. One example of this is that English spelling is historical, but it is also etymological, meaning that spelling preserves early word forms. It does this despite the fact that the word may “no longer correspond to current speech” (5). In spelling, we have collected “souvenirs” from each generation’s travel through time.

The  desire to strengthen the connection that we have to ourselves on a deeper and more personal level can certainly be fulfilled by studying language. As Lerer states, when we wonder why people don’t speak English “properly”, what we are really asking is, “why doesn’t anybody understand me” (258)? I suppose I never really thought about how this human tendency, to feel misunderstood, may have more relevance to language than to the more obvious, psychology, philosophy, etc.. It is because of Lerer’s statements that I have a more concrete reason to explain my passion for English. Every day, I put a concerted effort towards the discovery and maintenance of balance; arguably, balance in life is balance in self.

Lerer’s primary goal is writing this book is “to illuminate: to bring light into language and to life” (3). I know that when I am feeling a particular way, I crave particular songs, quotes, books, or essays that will hopefully be able to give me some clarity on said particular issue. I believe that what Lerer is saying is that to bring light into language, is to bring a greater understanding for how and why certain elements (within that language) mean certain things to certain people at certain times. To bring light into life is to bring clarity into our existence, and though the answers we seek are often difficult to find, an illuminated path can only work in our favor.

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One thought on “Balancing Act

  1. Yes! I agree with everything you wrote. I have always thought of language as something that is personal. Why does an individual use specific phrases or words? Because it’s unique to that person. While meanings and spellings of words may often adapt to fit our culture, the way in which we present language to other individuals stays constant. Just like we discussed in class on Tuesday, language altogether represents something that gives us a feeling of both solidarity and individualization.

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