I Haven’t Chewed on Dead Languages Before

Archaic title, I know.

I recently wrote a short blurb on Washington Irving’s writing style, an effervescent flow that so succinctly creates a mood via environmental description it’s mind-blowing. His grasp of English is surreal. His poetic style is disarming. His fantasy feels real on a fundamental level. My blurb, which is found on another blog somewhere on the interweb, was the birthplace of a strange question: is English dying? Is Irving’s English a different language than our own? On the surface, obviously it is not. Same words, same accents. A native (or ESL) English reader would most likely understand everything the man wrote. Yet surely most 21- year olds would need a dictionary for most of the major themes found within.

AND THIS GUY WROTE FAIRY TALES. Let me say this again, because it’s driving me up a wall. Fairy tales. Supernatural fantasy. The stuff of superstitious salt-throwing folk. The stuff of people who identify as “folk.” Folksy people. He’s not collecting data or proposing theses or dissertations. He’s not creating litigation, or fighting laws. He has NO underlying message except to create a story. How many simple-thought writers have you come across in the past, say, thirty years that elicited such a grandiose response. And NO, Tolkien doesn’t count. He’s outside the 30 year mark.

Yet I’ve been on the opposing end of this writing style, spending years perfecting (or trying, at least) an alluring writing style, strong vocabulary, commanding grasp of the language just to get published. (I might have another issue with it, but…) No editor responds, no agent replies with more than a form rejection. Then, I turn around and wade through fifty shades of terrible to find one gem. And fifty gems don’t add up to Irving’s delicious writing. Every damn word is a tickle in the happy center of my brain. (in a good way)

I know the general public doesn’t like “hard-to-read” literature. My wife, a brilliant woman, wants nothing more than to read fluff during her time off. It’s understandable that the market can’t sustain good literature because Average Joe wants simple words and simple characters. I get it. But isn’t this destroying the nuances of language? Isn’t this forcing erudite literature into abscessed corners where only wine-drinkers and academics dare tread?

Furthermore I’m looking at the trends toward internet language (totes, anyone?), memes, and abbreviations that denote an overall ignorance and disinterest toward English as a whole. I won’t devolve this into a discussion about their, there, and they’re, but it’s there.

Proudly there. Ignorantly there. Paired equally with, “Speak English!” (or the more notable, “Speak American!”)

Irving’s works have become national treasures (or were, back in the ’90’s). Ichabod Crane and Rip van Winkle were household names, if not names we’d actually give our children.

So is the language “evolving” into a more simple form? A more dialectually distilled all-language that allows the most of information to come across while using the least effort? Has it turned into its own version of leet speak? As a writer it frightens me a bit. Simultaneously, it excites me. A challenge. A chance and opportunity to break through the leagues of simple.

Finally, I’ve found several “simple” writers who have made an art out of it, portraying a perfect story arc with complex characters posing behind simple words. They’re the exceptions.

I need to break out of this. I know of TWO great 21st century writer who hit the ground running in complexity. Read House of Leaves. Read Fight Club.



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