Monday, July 2, 2012

Reading ability

I have a Kindle reader on my Android phone, and I rather like it. I like to read in bed with the lights off, knowing that if I do fall asleep, my phone will save my page for me and I can always resume it later. I like that it's with me when I get stuck in line at the grocery store, or am in the back of a vehicle when other people are busy talking or driving. It's just handy.

Now, the Kindle sure doesn't replace real books. I still love my old hardcovers, my antiques, my old stand-bys that have been with me since I was a teen. I relish the scent of my old, leather bound edition of Shakespeare's works, the feel of the tooled lettering under my hands. The Civil War era Bible given to me by friends has a silkiness to the paper pages that is undeniably sexy.

In the process of loading up my Kindle with a variety of books, I've been poring through the free classics available. I've read Tarzan, Little Women and Tales of a Woman Homesteader. I have many more sitting waiting to be read. Because the older books are free, I find I have rather a lot of them.

When I read the older books, I am always struck by the language in them. I share a quote from "The Quest of the Simple Life" by W. J. Dawson. It was written in 1907 for a 'normal' audience.

"This is a somewhat sonorous preface to the small matter of my story; but I am anxious to elaborate it a little, lest it should be imagined that I am merely a person of bucolic mind, to whom all cities or large congregations of my fellow-men are in themselves abhorrent. On the contrary I have an inherent love of all cities which are something more than mere centers of manufacturing industry. The truly admirable city secures interest, and even passionate love, not because it is a congeries of thriving factories, but rather by the dignity of its position, the splendour of its architecture, the variety and volume of its life, tne imperial, literary, and the artistic interests of which it is the centre, and the prolongation of its history through tumultuous periods of time, which fade into the suggestive shadows of antiquity."

He's talking about London in his own age. I find myself wondering, how many of today's young readers would even bother trying to sort through the above writing style? How many have a clue as to what 'bucolic' means, or 'congeries'? Can  you think of anyone under age 45 (other than me, perhaps) who uses the term 'tumultuous'?

The English language has thousands of adequate words for describing things. The average 16 year old American masters a mere 10,000-50,000 words, and a college graduate between 38,000 and 60,000 words (citation). A dictionary lists about 100,000 words on average. The UK Scrabble champion, ". . . says he can recognise around 100,000 of the 160,000 words of nine letters or under included on the Scrabble list." (citation)

Americans seem to write in easily digestible chunks. Applications like phone texting and Twitter bring about negative changes to the vocabulary of the country. I truly question if we're going to move so far backward that we regress and return to grunting and pointing. Having watched several teens over the weekend, "communicating" with one another at the park, it's not as funny as it might seem.

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