It’s been a while. I’ve been busy trying to coax language out of fossilized theoretical compartments into more fluid, active and engaging use. It’s not easy and takes time, patience and resolution; as long as I have any two of those 3 at any given time I’ll be okay and students will learn. Or learners will study. Depends which side of the fence you’re on.
The theme for this post took me on a musical voyage. Over the past few years, in trying to explain in class how dynamic and experimental English is, I’ve had to delve into its history in terms of how the language had changed and evolved, thus having a better idea of global variations and cultural usage. English is a remarkably flexible and open language. It’s been described by those who know better than me as a ‘monster which devours all in its path.’ When it meets a new language, it doesn’t resist it but pulls from it what it needs, incorporates it into lexis at incredible speed and moves on, and on, and on.
A bit like music really. That’s where jazz and blues come in. I could describe so many other styles but these two have the most interesting balance between what language is – what perfection is – what art is – what experimentation is.
These most artistic of musical expressions were born in the 19th and evolved through 20th century america. It was the music of the poor, the racially oppressed and the grammatically illiterate. It also, however, went on to transcend preconceived ideas of what music was and became an art form; so much so that the ‘doesn’t’ is rarely pronounced in the 3rd person in any modern musical form with english speaking artists of the highest cultural level much preferring the musically better sounding ‘he /she/it don’t’, or the authentic qualities of the double negative (I ain’t got no time).
So what is perfection? When is a language simply a communicative device, and when does it transcend grammar and become an art form?
I’ll let van morrison help you make up your mind on that one. Born in Ireland; moved to the states as a young adult; made astral weeks in 1968; virtually unclassifiable, an album which is commonly considered one of the finest of all time and an album that transcends multiple musical genres; was literally starving when it was released; was unable to tour with the album due to the lack of financial and artistic support from his record company, until he finally performed his masterpiece live in the hollywood bowl, 40 years after its recording. It had been a very long time.
His spoken pronunciation is now a mix of American South and his original North of Ireland twang (North of Ireland and Scottish accents being principally responsible for that Deep South twang in the first place).
But when he sings, accent, form and grammatical precision disappears as the performance transcends music and language form, the way the best artists do!