Tuesday Jun 28 2011
Another View: English: A new word added every 98 minutes
By: Linda Frederick Yaffe
George Orwell’s novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” describes a nightmarish world in which words are systematically removed from dictionaries: Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum. Given, for instance, the word good, there was no need for such a word as bad, since the required meaning was equally well – indeed, better – expressed by ungood. Fortunately, Orwell’s fictional Newspeak – a shrinking vocabulary, leading to the death of critical thought – does not reflect today’s reality. Quite the opposite: the English language recently passed the one million word mark. According to the Global Language Monitor, our big, beautiful language now contains more than 1,009,000 words…with a new word added every 98 minutes. As Richard Lederer describes it, “…that glorious, uproarious, outrageous, courageous, stupendous, tremendous, end-over-endous adventure we call the English language” embraces three times as many words as any other language. English also boasts the largest number of words in common use of any of the world’s languages, containing twice as many of these everyday words as does, for example, French. Born in Indo-European tongues originating in the Stone Age, English words come to us filtered through a kaleidoscope of these, and numerous other, languages. Just as English has absorbed words from everywhere, today our language has been adopted worldwide – in an unprecedented way. The information technology revolution, business and personal communications, films, pop music, fashion, fast food, television, and advertising have made English the world’s language. Unquestionably rich and varied, our irregular, unwieldy language challenges those learning to read, write, and comprehend it. The homonyms Flu, flue, and flew sound identical but are spelled differently, and have completely different meanings. Homographs such as Fly (an insect, a trouser zipper, or a verb describing flight) have the same spelling and pronunciation. Fillet (fee-lay) and skillet (skill-et) look nearly identical but are pronounced very differently. Examine the word colonel; if you didn’t know, would you guess it is pronounced ker-nul? One in five adult Americans, Americans whose first language is English, has a reading problem. Compared to other industrialized nations, the United States ranks only fifth in adult literacy skills. Low literacy affects us all, costing hundreds of billions of dollars in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment. Non-readers come from every socioeconomic background. They might be as young as 19 or as mature as 90 years old. A struggling reader could be someone you know well … or an individual you are meeting for the first time. The inability to read is a hidden problem; it is often unnoticed, even by those close to the non-reader: family, friends, or employers. Non-readers, through years of daily practice, become adept at concealing their problem. You can help improve literacy skills in our communities. When you notice someone with poor – or nonexistent – reading, writing, grammar and/or spelling skills, gently encourage them to call for help. Once they take the courageous step to ask for help, they are on their way to a fuller, more independent, and far more self-confident life. Learners can start with the basics, or improve existing skills. They are free to set and meet their own goals … such as obtaining a driver’s license, helping their children with homework, earning a G.E.D., stepping up to a better job, or simply reading a magazine on their own, for pleasure. Tell them they can learn to read at their own pace with confidential, one-on-one free reading help from Placer Adult Literacy Service (PALS): 530-886-4530 or 1-888-SOS-READ. You can help by joining the Literacy Support Council of Placer County: become a volunteer reading booster. Reading Boosters support PALS; they organize and speak out for literacy. And you can help by volunteering as a reading coach. Complete the enjoyable, informative Reading Coach training; then experience the joy and excitement of helping an adult in your community to change their life through reading. Contact the Placer Adult Literacy Service today: 530-886-4530; firstname.lastname@example.org.