Lightly Child, Lightly

We live on a little island of the articulable, which we tend to mistake for reality itself. We can and do make small and tedious lives as we sail through the cosmos on our uncannily lovely little planet, and this is surely remarkable. But we do so much else besides. For example, we make language. A language is a grand collaboration, a collective art form which we begin to master as babes and sucklings, and which we preserve, modify, cull, enlarge as we pass through our lives. Some students in France drew my attention to the enormous number of English words that describe the behavior of light. Glimmer, glitter, glister, glisten, gleam, glow, glare, shimmer, sparkle, shine, and so on. These old words are not utilitarian. They reflect an aesthetic attention to experience that has made, and allows us to make, pleasing distinctions among, say, a candle flame, the sun at its zenith, and the refraction of light by a drop of rain. How were these words coined and retained, and how have they been preserved through generations, so that English-speaking people use them with the precision necessary to preserving them? None of this can be ascribed to conscious choice on the part of anyone, but somehow the language created, so to speak, a prism through which light passes, by means of which its qualities are arrayed. One of the pleasures of writing is that so often I know that there is in fact a word that is perfect for the use I want to put it to, and when I summon it it comes, though I might not have thought of it for years. And then I think, somewhere someone was the first person to use that word. Then how did it make its way into the language, and how did it retain the specificity that makes it perfect for this present use?

~ Marilynne Robinson, from “Imagination and Community” in When I Was a Child I Read Books: Essays


Notes:

  • Photo: Miriam Mannak with Flame. Quote: via a thing in motion
  • Prior “Lightly child, lightly” Posts? Connect here.
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Comments

  1. Oh, this is SO my kind of post! Thank You
    Language, such a unique, exquisite, marvellous, tantalising, maddening, exceptional…. way of expressing something. I’m an ardent defeder of good language, maybe because, as does M. Robinson, I love to be playing or precise or pointing out or just wrap my tongue, brain, wit, heart around a sentence…. I experience the same (often hilarious, more often silly) exultations expressing myself in 3 languages at once.

    Yesterday I spoke, after a long time speaking Swiss German or Français Vaudois, to a ‘only’ French speaking friend and after enquiring three times to ‘what do you mean with that word’ I realised that I used the English term instead of the French…. Keeps my grey matter in shape, but confuses my vis-à-vis greatly.

    Liked by 3 people

    • You speak Swiss, German, French and English?

      Like

    • @ Kiki my daughter went to a French Immersion school (starting at age 6) , she took one year of Spanish later and then at the International High School she took 4 years of Japanese…she mentioned that the Spanish confused her since she is native English speaker, then the French…she said the Spanish just never took… and she said that it would take at least ten years to be fluent in Japanese…

      Liked by 2 people

      • Christie, this made me laugh out loud. When I still lived in England I was determined to learn Spanish and since that time I’ve an unopened set of TAPES for a Sp course…. You know that was at a time when ppl still had tape recorders in their stereo systems!!! Meanwhile for the last years I’m ‘dying’ to learn Portuguese because we are so in love with the country, the people, the beauty and culture – but I’ve never started because my brain is already fully in overdrive with the mix-up of my 4 1/2 languages. I even enquired about courses for beginners but so far didn’t get lucky. Maybe once I’ll return to Switzerland for good 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        • 🙂 Kiki I hope you do learn Portuguese! Family members have vacationed there and in Spain – they loved those locations…a few years back I looked at real estate in those countries and one could purchase a fixer for a low price. My cars are not newer and the oldest a 96 Toyota that and the other one have cassette tape player along w/ a cd player…we are frugal and go to the Goodwill store and look through the old cassette tapes – 3 for a dollar, if they are the have the 1/2 price sticker…I listen to artist I’ve never heard of…pass along or donate the ones we don’t care for….I’ve watched movies where they use 8 track tapes, in old pickup trucks…8 track look to me to be the size of a small purse! Hope you day goes well.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. It’s magic!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Language and communication … so much power in our hands!
    ‘One of the pleasures of writing is that so often I know that there is in fact a word that is perfect for the use I want to put it to, and when I summon it it comes, though I might not have thought of it for years.’

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “One of the pleasures of writing is that so often I know that there is in fact a word that is perfect for the use I want to put it to, and when I summon it it comes, though I might not have thought of it for years.” Yes! Yes! Yes! Seizing upon the precise word to describe something delights me to no end. Sometimes I will use a word and my hubby will say, “Who the hell uses words like that?” To which I always respond with glee, Me! 😁

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Of our 4 kids only one doesn’t speak our mother tongue. Layla! She was a late talker and the specialists advised we speak only one language with her. It had to be English because it’s the language she will be schooled in.

    Now she’s in high school. And the language she picks to learn at school is her mother tongue, Arabic.

    Arabic is one of the five hardest languages to learn. To learn it after English is basically unlearning everything about how language works, and rewiring her brain for a new learning experience. And she’s excellent at this process.

    So, every few days we spend an hour to 2 hours learning. Her progress is beautiful to watch. I have to slow down and bring myself back to the basics.

    The sounds, vocabulary collection she started, the history behind it all. And she always asks if it’s similar to what we speak. Non of it is. Formal Arabic is nothing like what I speak home, or what my husband speaks home.

    Few weeks ago she said , “Mom, I wish I learned it when I was a baby!”

    I wish she did too. But she’s determined. And there is this thing that I feel everytime we’re studying together. I teach others Arabic, I even taught few administrators in the military Arabic. But only with her, when ever we’re studying it brings back a sensation only a mother knows. A sensation that comes with nursing a child.

    Physicists say things have a tendency to move in the direction of chaos.
    Not Language, language is creating order from chaos. It comes from the soul to the soul.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Wow… it goes to show… the specialists don’t know everything, do they? My nephew has a learning disability and was discouraged from trying to learn French when English was already so hard, so my sister had to fight with the government to allow him to pass his school without passing French – which, in this province, is a no-no… Guess what he’s doing now? Trying to learn French…
      Language, such a beautiful thing…

      Liked by 4 people

      • We never found out why she was late talking. And since she started talking she hasn’t stopped. But the time im spending with her now helping her master her ancestors language is precious to me. And it’s teaching me a lesson in the language learning process, its beautiful and heartwarming. We listened to out hearts. This kid has always made us stop, get down to our knees, look into her eyes, then it’s all smooth sailing.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Sawsan, I applaud you! I tried to speak English with my kid but that was useless as his father had unlearned everything he learned before…. so it was Swiss German, High German, and when he went to the French part of Switzerland for 3 months in order to work on his French, he managed happily to return to his girlfriend every blxxy weekend and spoke naturally only Swiss German with her….
      I worked at some time with a CH woman who lived with an Arabe. She learned Arab and after 4 years she proudly told us that she’s doing pretty well ‘now’…. I believe that it must be one of the most difficult to learn languages, and then it goes from right to left, and you mustn’t be palsy.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Wow Sawsan. Comment of the Month!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Reading this, created, an achy delight! The light the writer shone, on such delicate and largely missed subject-matter in our lives, is still, glistening gleefully in my brain.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Words, language, expression, it gives us all an authentic voice to share in the world 🌈

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The impact of Language…I think of the small communities of tribes around the world from the beginning of time in the Biblical sense …and how cultures formed…how the differences in language & cultures brought forth misunderstandings, the conflicts caused loss of life …how these people from yesteryear’s managed to trade goods, some inter-marriages begun, expansion of the world took place and how a group of people sailed to a New World where the indigenous tribe in this new world offered their culture of share, care & teaching, thus saving lives that First Winter, even-though they had no common language, other than Willing Compassion of those Indigenous & Thanksgiving from the new arrivals…and I think of how a few generations ago in NYC and even today many people look down on others who don’t speak the same language and have difference cultural ways…just because a person speaks a different native language does not mean that they are any less intelligent, often they have a greater ability to survive as have been attuned to living closer to nature and they figure out ways on how to make due with what they have, at hand…they have lived in smaller communities and have had their cultural ways handed down to them, generation through generations…the world’s communities can learn from each other…and M. Robinson said “a prism through which light passes by means of which its qualities are arrayed” that light, illuminates and we should see the qualities of world communities more clearly…and how each expressive action and words can help develop community or destroy…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Stunning words.

    Liked by 1 person

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