Random thoughts on Old English, linguistics, hope, etc.

So, this is kind of a random post, but too much has been floating around in my brain for it all to stay there.

Lately, I have found a lovely distraction, which has caught the fancy of my geeky, language-loving side and totally taken flight. The fancy has always been lurking about in the back of my brain, due to my experience teaching English and my general love of the English language, but recently it’s taken on whole new dimensions, as I’ve been immersed in reading Old and Middle English literature for my English Literature class. I’ve been exposed to such wonders as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and these magnificent texts have sparked within me a desire to really delve into the history of the English language, and perhaps even learn Old English or Anglo-Saxon. If J. R. R. Tolkien were alive today, I would do everything in my power to befriend and become a pupil of that brilliant man, who was a professor of both Anglo-Saxon and English Language and Literature. Alas, since that is not an option, nor is going to a college where I could actually study Anglo-Saxon and Old English, I’ve decided to do the next best thing: study it on my own.

So this has been my interesting diversion of late. I’ve been reading a fascinating book called  The Stories of English by linguist David Crystal, and although I’m not even halfway into it, I’m totally mesmerized by all the intriguing info it contains on the history of our language and where so many of our words came from. I’ve also been scouring Youtube for videos on Old English, specifically ones that demonstrate how Old English was pronounced, and my favorite one I’ve found so far is this one:

Perhaps it’s just me, but I think Old English is hauntingly beautiful in its pronunciation, and this rendition of the Lord’s Prayer is simply majestic. (Not to mention I love the background of this particular video—it was shot on Arthur’s Seat, a beautiful, volcanic hill in Edinburgh, Scotland, which I climbed several times when I lived there many years ago. Makes me miss Auld Reekie!)

Of course, I know all this is just my geeky, language-loving side exhibiting itself, and I realize not everyone shares my enthusiasm for this particular subject, but I do wonder if anyone besides myself ever stops to reflect on why they say things the way they do or why a particular word is spelled in such and such a way? Do any of us who are native English speakers ever stop to think how we got our amazing language? I mean, can one imagine if we still spoke Old English, as it was demonstrated in the above video? If it weren’t for invasions by other cultures onto English soil, there’s a good chance we still might be speaking Old English today, or something very much like it. Which is fascinating to think about. It’s amazing how many different factors go into shaping the way we speak and communicate.

There’s a reason I want to become a linguist, if one can’t tell. Language just fascinates me. And I think too many people take it for granted far too much. The use of sophisticated and complex language is one of the primary traits that separates man from beast, after all. A world without words would just be stale, colorless, and devoid of so much meaning and beauty. I don’t think it’s an accident that the first words of John, in describing Jesus, are “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” God is the Word. Jesus is the Word. Wow. He’s the Ultimate Word. He is language personified, in a sense. And He gave us this gift called language to further demonstrate that we are created in His image. And so, I hope no one takes it for granted. It is an amazing, fascinating gift.

So, I don’t know if I’ll ever become fluent or proficient in Old English, but at least right now my fascination with the language, as well as my studies in English literature at school, are helping distract me from other painful circumstances in my life. If I have nothing else to aim for right now, maybe hoping for that degree one day, and using that degree to help others, can help me hang on. Can help me get through the bad bits. God has given me a gift, and a desire to learn, and I certainly don’t want to waste that.