Words share little when not understood
I wonder sometimes just how we can communicate with each other. Words are nearly impossible even when they are welcomed between people -- which is actually not that often.
I say this especially thinking of my time living outside the United States. In foreign-language classes back in my younger days, there was a great emphasis on a "proper accent." But even a little exposure in a country where the language is spoken confirms one simple fact: In practice, very few native speakers speak properly. They could not get jobs reading dialogue for language labs in their own tongue.
That also applies to English-speaking people in the United States or Britain. There is a prayer common in many churches: "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts." At the university level in England, it comes out: "Hully, Hully, Hully, Lawd Gawd uv husts." This at least is uniform, upper-crust English. Outside of the old universities, there is a wild combination of accents reflecting regional and class differences that make it impossible to say what is proper English.
In the United States, among teenagers, the twangy nasal youth accent once known as "valley girl" has become universal. In Hawaii it replaced the guttural, emphatic, abbreviated sounds of pidgin. I prefer pidgin.
Adults, by contrast, communicate through mostly mumbles and impenetrably vague pronoun references. Well-educated adults are worse because they have a laid-back, tight-jawed drawl that wraps huge amounts of air around jargon. Professional jargon is not, I believe, even a language, though academics are the worst at it, and the first among the worst would be members of English departments.
Now that computers need their own bits or bytes to display their talents, we have another level of jargon seemingly invented by machines. I am impressed with my computer's exalted powers, but I am not really sure what it can do except function like a glorified typewriter that can take messages and play videos gotten out of the air and compact discs I stick into its little insides.
Church is another linguistic zone altogether. The Catholic Church used to be preserved by Latin, a uniform dead language that unfortunately invited mumbling and a rapidity that would leave a tobacco auctioneer behind. Now the Catholics, along with the rest of Christianity, have gone into what is supposed to be English but amounts to submerging its ancient wisdom tradition in the low chant of frightened readers, lay and clerical. Fortunately, looking out on the usually preoccupied pews, there does not seem to be much damage. Still, what if we could understand at least the words?
To say that we English speakers inside and outside formal occasions slur our words would be as obvious as commenting on the formal wear of penguins.
It is frustrating to speak and not be understood. On sabbatical now, I face this every day in France. But I know that when I am back in the United States, things won't actually improve. And that makes me say an old prayer you might or might not recognize. In print it looks like "Lord have mercy." But you have, in church, probably heard something like, "Lorel huv 'ercy."
The Rev. Halbert Weidner is pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Aina Haina.