Proper Language

Raised in a traditional Asian household, I was taught to say ‘thank you’, ‘please’, and ‘excuse me’ ever since I was able to speak. Like many other children, I acquired those polite phrases even before knowing what they mean; watching adults being pleased by how children were able to demonstrate courtesy in an early age, to me, is entertaining enough.

I was terrible at determining what was ‘proper’ to say before entering grade schools. When I was in an ancestral worship ceremony back in Taiwan, the families offered incense. My little cousin stood between the memorial tablet and me and refused to move. Traditionally, the only thing that should be in front of the worshipers were the tablet. Thus, I leaned over, “Go somewhere else. We are not worshiping you.”

My aunt’s face turned red as my mother yelled at me with the sternest tone I have ever heard, “What are you talking about?”

I was genuinely confused. Was I not simply telling the truth?

Mother sighed and explained later that to worship people implies they were dead, which is considered very inappropriate to address. I wanted to argue that the term ‘worshipping’ has many implications. After all, only well-respected historian figures can be worshipped in conventional Taiwanese religions. Nevertheless, I remained silent from then on, trying to minimize the chance of speaking ‘improper words’, even when they could have been perceived differently and many grown-ups just choose to interpret it negatively. Looking back, the event has served as a starting point of my socialization. The real game of being accepted through articulating proper language had inevitably commenced, and once you were in there was no turning back. In elementary school, I immersed myself in a variety of public speaking, recital, and writing contests. The unwritten rules to win were to throw in sophisticated words, to emphasize vocal variety, to use as many figurative languages and to cite as many classical quotes as possible. As a student who had been both extremely obedient and had read more literary works in comparison to my peers, I swept through almost every contest, won the prizes, but always refused to re-read my written pieces or to watch my speeches afterwards. Upon all these efforts, I was considered to be presentable and elegant, but those characteristics have never guaranteed of being genuine, creative, and constructively critical. The early-age achievements had made me, paradoxically, proud and embarrassed at the same time.

Words and languages embody individual’s thoughts; for me, however, they used to be tools to win over recognition. In other words, they embody opinions of others: those people who could judge my value by using whatever metrics they please, regardless of objectivity. In linguistic study, however, ‘correct language’ does not exist. There is no definite agreement on how “the parts and the functions [of languages] should be analysed and described” (Rosen, 2). Rather, these normative statements are mostly established due to political reasons: Upper classes make the rules, and languages have thereupon become the criteria for class distinction. The post-war English historian Tony Judt has addressed similar points, in which components of languages such as ‘accent’ were ranked according to ‘respectability,’ usually “a function of social standing and geographical distance from London” (Judt, 148). It is indeed a rule developed as early as the formation of societies: Whoever controls the language controls the people, and vice versa.

Though I have arbitrarily, according to my personal experience, come to the conclusion that the so-called insistence on proper language is not absolute and has discouraged independent ideas, I don’t deny delicate wordings. To me, affectionate languages are the greatest invention in the world, and wonderful ideas are usually conveyed in eloquent dictions; I just cannot agree how anyone has the right to define what is acceptable for others. The rejection to beauty, articulacy, clearness, and all sorts of prevalent merits is unnecessary; the point is to recognize the imposed authority and not to oppress others by the pre-determined guidelines. A counterexample for this occurred in my friend’s junior high. There was a group of people who demanded on using the most direct, colloquial languages such as profanity. The style of expressions was harmless; but these people denounced those who didn’t speak in the same way as them to be pretentious and ‘unnatural’  and alienated them. I quite agree with historian Judt: In modern society, people “unreflectively suppose that truth no less than beauty is conveyed more effectively thereby” (Judt, 151). Truth doesn’t necessarily come from any specific forms of expressions, sophisticated or vernacular. More importantly, the sheer arbitrariness to define what is ‘natural’ for others, the act to demonstrate power through attacking non-followers, has echoed with violence and discrimination around the world, recently or historically.

If heaven exists, it would be a place where people value sincere opinions and know that their power to rule belong to themselves. If I am given a choice between being descriptive and normative, I would pick the latter one. If I ever had children, I would tell them to respect individuals heartily, rather than merely offer graceful lip service. My endeavour with language has unexpectedly led me to the arena of freedom and anti-oppression, and if I could, I would always hold on to the childhood ‘carelessness.’

Works Cited:

Rosen, Michael. “Sorry, There’s No Such Thing as ‘correct Grammar’.” Opinion. Guardian News and Media, 02 Mar. 2012. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.

Judt, Tony. The memory chalet. New York: Penguin Press, 2010. Print.

Advertisements

金庸,生日快樂

今天是金庸的九十三歲生日。在心目中至今無人能超越的小說家面前,只能把全副的情感據實以告。九年前一個星期五晚上,我翻開了倚天屠龍記,有些勉強得挨到了第二章後,便再也無法把書闔上。那時還不曉得,這個堅持把我帶到了一個極美極狂的廣大世界。武俠帶給我的實在太多,即便寫到現在仍怕褻瀆金老的作品。

那時,也還不曉得自己會有現在的疑惑。

一直以來都不是一個合格的金迷,那副對聯若掛在門上,恐怕要少好幾個字了(註一)。先是倚天,再來神鵰,再來射鵰,再來天龍,再來雪山系列,再來笑傲。高三下申請學校的緊要關頭時,突然賭氣一般地看起了書劍。雖然電視劇未必比書精彩,小六時,還得看胡歌林依晨的射雕英雄傳,才能把苦到無以復加的長高藥粉吞下(結果長了一公分又縮回去)。

最喜歡的男角從楊過、令狐沖,到最近換成了徐天宏(有人知道他是誰嗎)。最喜歡的女角一時之間選不出來,也許是因為自己想成為的人,到最後的下場都不是最好的吧。程英、寧中則、霍青桐,堅強善良武藝高強毫不保留的奉獻,可是他們最後都快樂了嗎?塞上牛羊空許約,漸漸長大便發現,努力、智慧、愛心並不能帶給自己或他人最好的日子,而通往幸福的關竅似乎要比目前明白的事物多了更多的東西:也許是一些馬基維利式的、不必然帶有惡意的機心;也許是一種不必然邪惡,但性格率真之人難以學會的進退之道。進有時,退有時,由愛故生憂,由愛故生怖,有人說金庸是成人的童話,我以為其也有非常、非常寫實的成分。

說到進退,兩次發燒的時候,都把蔣勳的留十八分鐘給自己打開來聽。「詩總是要再退一步的。」不曉得何時開始,總是叫自己最喜歡的事物後退。除了大考後的晚上,已經很久沒有心安理得地看書了,似乎永遠有比做自己最喜愛的事還來得重要的事。總是在半夜突然想起,原來我當過童軍、原來我曾經每個星期跋山涉水、原來我曾經為看書廢寢忘食、原來我可以在不傷害人的前提下,毫無顧忌敞開心胸認識人、原來我不會因為聽到某些特質就把心中的大門關上、原來我曾經寬容過,雖然彼時未必懂得使用這個詞彙。

原來在一切還沒有名字之前,世界如此寬闊。

而今終於變成小時候引領期盼的大學生,但世界並沒有如期變大。始終認為衣襟帶風,晚風吹過的樹林就是美的極致、認為在有難時仗劍相護就是一輩子所能期盼最美的精神了、然而一直在腦中盤旋不去的問題是:為什麼現在不是過著這樣的生活呢?

俠有很多種,最難練成的武功也許總是最現實的、而學會處理現實不必然等於通往墮落,它甚至更可能有辦法真正補足缺陷、濟弱扶傾、帶給他人與自己幸福。我是深信這個道理的,即便現在依然深信。只是日日淹沒於前進、前進、再前進的人海中,很多疑問突然冒了出來,若要縮減為一句話卻又不可能,於是欲言又止。青衫磊落險峰行,少年游的路,我還沒有看清。

再次恭祝金老爺子生日快樂,感謝金庸給了我另一個世界觀。至於為什麼非得在今天寫下這些,是因為我不想再退任何一步了。願往後能繼續寫金庸系列的感想。

 

 

(註一)金庸武俠作品的第一個字可以串成對聯:「飛雪連天社白鹿,笑書神俠倚碧鴛」。

後記:這篇的確是在金庸生日時發的,只是重開部落格,所以重新發文