My heart sank yesterday when I read of a man who was put off a bus because he wouldn’t or couldn’t speak English. Ignorance and fear abound. Speaking English is the most multicultural act possible. To speak racism in English must the contradiction of the century.
Still in English there is evidence of the ancient Celtic tongues. Irish, Scottish and Welsh languages all survive to some extent in today’s spoken English. The most unwelcome invasions of the Vikings who eventually settled in England added greatly to the culture and the spoken word. The old Norse words such as "bug, bull, wing, dirt, dregs, muck, mire, rotten, bark, call, blunder, choose, crawl, clip, want, whirl, ball, bag, knot, cake, link, sly, ugly, weak, fellow, guest, kid, lad, anger, awe and happy”. These and many more are proof that our language was invaded and then enriched by the Vikings. To spend any time in England is to be puzzled by how many accents exist and how many locations, quite close to one another, have their own distinctive accent. Around York, the language of the Vikings remains strong in spoken English.
Nearly half of all English words are French. You can’t speak English without affirming an amalgam of cultures. As French was the official language in London for about 300 years, it is no surprise that the languages merged. There isn’t an area of life or interest that you can speak in English without inadvertently speaking French. “Government, peasant, bailiff, council, mayor, minister, parliament, mass, dame, duke, prince, sir, infantry, army, pistol, squad, platoon, surveillance, rendezvous, siege, terrain, camouflage, morale, money, commerce, finance, tax, plebiscite, state, federal, bureaucracy, constitution, justice, jury, attorney, court and case” Need I go on? We can’t speak English without asserting a cultural amalgam with the French people.
You can’t speak English without thinking Greek. The only way to understand Western culture is to understand Greek philosophy. Not only so but the Greek language survives everywhere in spoken English. “A” the negative works in English everywhere such as “a theist, a nomoly, a nonymous,” or “Ana” as in “anabolic, analogy, analysis” or “Logos” to reason or study that lives in all our words that end with “ology” You can’t visit your doctor without speaking Greek when we speak of the cardia or the artery or most other medical terms. Moreover, the whole history of philosophy in Western culture is really a footnote to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Most of what every English speaker accepts as normative about life and death, came to them by Greek thinkers. To speak is to act. To speak English is to make an action in favour of multiculturalism.
We English speakers in Australia are likewise multicultural in our mere act of speech. So many of our place names come to us from Aboriginal languages. On this Remembrance Day we should recall how most soldiers in the first war did not refer to their “mates” but to their “cobbers”. This word is “covar” which is a Yiddish word that entered our language from the gold fields of the 1850’s. When I was a kid we said a drunk person was, “shickered” which is likewise a Yiddish word.
I’ve overdone it haven’t I? The thought of two thugs putting someone off the bus just got to me. These arrogant English speakers probably didn’t understand that many of their own monarchs in days past, couldn’t speak English. English is a lovely language but only because it is fluid, always open to the richness to be added by other cultures.
Apologies for the rant. A group from our mental health programme went to the Opera House last night. They preceded this visit with a meal at a Thai restaurant. I guess this sounds unremarkable but I’m talking about a life changing event. This was a treat beyond the imagination of some. For some the Opera House is not for poor people. We assume it is open for all but the truth is that it’s mostly for the use of people with a lot of money. How fabulous to have a bunch of Wayside visitors go to see a performance of Hamlet. Yes, Hamlet! The actors came out before the performance and explained the show to our people. One lady found in Shakespeare a deep resonance and understanding of her mental illness. Remarkable, Amazing, Liberating. Thanks to Bell Shakespeare Company and the sponsor of “hearts in a row”. You didn’t just entertain; you connected and inspired.