My recent passion has been the psychology of language, or how it has come about. I find this so interesting and if I wasn’t pursuing history and Spanish in college, I’d probably do something on language studies, and mostly how they effect physical and social aspects of life, as well as a broad range of others. What I’m talking about is philology, or love of language. It is completely fascinating to me that a person can be born and grow up speaking a different language than a person one hundred miles away. It’s baffling to me that people can think in other languages, or even dream. The concept of language itself is mindboggling. Today, I’m focusing on a book by Seth Lerer called Inventing English, a book that covers the development of my native language from its beginnings to its ever changing ‘end’. I say ‘end’ because English is always changing. It all began in the Indo-European areas of lower Europe and east central Asia, where civilized life originated from. The influence of these languages led to Germanic cognates in central Europe. Language was very important during this time because it determined your origin, class, and level of education. Runes were used excessively in the area now known as the United Kingdom but it gave way to the basic letters we use today. An example from the book on the basic foundation of English was “Oc was heom naht parof, for hi weron al forcurs oed and forsworen and forloren” meaning, “but it mattered nothing to them, for they were all already cursed, and perjured, and lost.” What amazes me is how someone centuries ago could understand the first quote and that we could not today. Later on, the influence of the French language entered into English, giving us new words and pronunciations. The Great Vowel Shift of the 15th century was procured through the interaction of different dialects, resulting in a systematic change of an entire sound system. Later on, during the time of the Enlightenment, English became more expanded: the largest influx of new words came in 1625, with a total of at least 6000 new words being added that year to the vocabulary of millions. Language continued to be an important part of people’s lives, with dictionaries being made to clear the confusion of multiple pronunciations and spellings. Dialects and native origins also played a bigger role; when colonists came over to America, they picked up native words (for example, I live in Iowa, which is a native American word, and there is evidence of their influence everywhere, from the Wapsipinicon River to Sioux City). Dialects became a part of literature, especially that of Mark Twain, who used the dialect of Africans to enrich his novels and give them character. Margaret Mitchell did the same with her Civil War era novel, Gone With the Wind. As the years went by and technology advanced, especially with the introduction of the telephone, and most recently, texting, language has become a bit more difficult. The author brings about the point that war can change languages and pop culture or slang has a big influence on what we say. In regards to texting, which can be fairly vague, different arguments can be brought up: one can say that sending little written messages can keep us in contact with each other, but others say that it makes us isolated and afraid of confrontation. Overall, the complexity and structure of any language is always changing: what we say today could be said differently by our grandchildren. This book was tremendously interesting and really helped fuel my passion for learning about language.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could just give it all up to travel and find out your purpose in life? That is exactly what Santiago does in The Alchemist. This is a simple story of following your dreams, finding your purpose, and falling in love. How can one fit that into a 167 page book? Well, Paulo Coelho does it. Santiago (referred to as ‘the boy’ through the entire book) is a shepherd in Spain. He has a recurring dream that has led him to believe that he can find treasure if he travels to the pyramids of Egypt. Along the way he meets people that help him discover his path in life, or his Personal Legend. The whole story reminded me of Arabian Nights because of the setting and the word choice, but I think the latter is because it was translating from Portuguese. Some parts of the story which one would think are very important were done subtly, with little grandiosity. For example, in the beginning of the book he is in love with a girl who only visits his town with her father once a year. He plans on visiting her but the day this is supposed to happen, he leaves for Egypt and randomly meets another girl named Fatima and falls in love, completely forgetting the girl he first set his sights on. This made some parts confusing but it was honestly surprisingly stunning. It was fantastical and realistic all at the same time. The book also had it’s far share of good quotes that made the reader feel magical. I don’t understand why I haven’t heard much about this book before. The back cover is overflowing with praises about it’s enchanting story and it’s Wikipedia page boasts that it is one of the most bestselling book in history. Anyways, in the end the story exposes Santiago and the reader to the greatest and eternal alchemy of all-love. So go ahead and find your Personal Legend and follow the omens of your heart.
Photo credit from: http://manybooks.net/titles/conradjoetext96hdark12a.html
Let me start off by saying this book is really short. A grand total of 74 pages. If you read one book for the rest of your life, you are capable of reading this. Even though the story is a little hard to follow, it is longer than a Sports Illustrated magazine, so I think one could handle it. After all, everyone needs to read at least one classic novel of their choice in their lifetime, but that’s just my opinion. This book really reminded me of Lord of the Flies by William Golding, because of the primitiveness and the setting, in a way. The story is of a young man named Marlow, a sensitive and quiet Belgian trading company employee. It is set during the time of imperialism, focusing on ‘the scramble for Africa’ and on the way other countries were exploiting the resources Africa provided. The story relates to the author’s time in the “Congo Free State” in 1890, which severely affected his health, and he published the novel in 1899 as a three part article in a magazine and then published as a short novel in 1902. Anyway, it follows Marlow and his journey for the company into the deep of Africa realizing it is not what he imagined, saying “…I had blundered into a place of cruel and absurd mysteries not fit for a human being to behold.” . On the way, he hears of a great man named Mr. Kurtz, a trader who gathers the ivory so the British can sell it. Kurtz has become, in a way, one of the natives and he is quite primitive. Marlow and his crew are attacked by natives a few times throughout the novel, causing the death of the helmsman that Marlow had become close to. In the end of the novel, Marlow finally meets the elusive Kurtz, and he is dying from an illness. Near the time of his death, he gives Marlow a packet of papers for people that he was close to in his life and his workplace. He dies saying, “The horror! The horror!” Marlow travels back to England, falling ill himself, which was probably typical at this time without proper healthcare conditions, and he gives some of the papers to Kurtz’s fiancé. She asks what Kurtz’s last words were. Marlow lies and says it was her name. Way to go men, lying to women just to make them feel better about themselves. In the end, Marlow has a feeling that he knew Kurtz, even though he only met him once after hearing rumors about him. In the novel he says, “Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it.”, suggesting that he and Kurtz were more acquainted than they actually were. Marlow also seems to have mixed feelings towards Kurtz, seeing him as awesome and mysterious, but also as pathetic and small.
I apologize if this review was a bit sparse, I read this book almost two weeks ago and you can see how that would be a struggle considering my last post. However, I really liked this short novel (not because of the length, mind you) because it had to do with history. Seeing an author’s connection with their current time period and then writing about it has been done countless times, but it still gives us some insight to how life was like back in a time we really can’t imagine and what people were like. That is my favorite thing about historical fiction and classic novels: they were written in a time period that would’ve been forgotten if we hadn’t had those authors write it all down. History would be nothing without recordings of it, and we would be nothing without them.