The English Debate

Debate by ~REGGDIS
Debate by ~REGGDIS

Last week I was in the UK for work, first time in that country. Work went perfectly but from the moment I stepped into that country, I was flooded with strange thoughts and new impressions.

“Why have you come here?” asked the passport checkpoint official.

“For work.”

“What is the nature of your work?” he continued in a very polite tone. A few more questions…

“Where will you go after your 5 days stay?” he asked.

“Home… back to the USA,” I responded.

“Welcome to the UK.”

For the rest of the trip to the hotel, I was thinking about my last sentence “home… back to the USA.” A stranger in a strange country in a strange world, I was going to go home… that mystical place that has a special meaning for every Armenian.

Everyone extremely polite. Everything running perfectly on time. Discussion of austerity measures and restraint in government spending. What was it about these people that allowed them to conquer the world? Why am I writing in their language?

Vatican. Concentrate so much wealth in 100 acres. Wealth of the highest caliber. Statue of a king, viscount, or another lord or a street named after one. Systems everywhere, lots of systems. Driving on the wrong side of the road. Fish and chips… great fish and chips.

One morning, jet lagged I sat there working and listening to a debate on TV on how they could cut government spending. What a healthy debate! In the US, we are growing governments.

On the way back, I read Walden almost the entire time.

“Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written. It is not enough even to be able to speak the language of that nation by which they are written, for there is a memorable interval between the spoken and the written language, the language heard and the language read. The one is commonly transitory, a sound, a tongue, a dialect merely, almost brutish, and we learn it unconsciously, like the brutes, of our mothers. The other is the maturity and experience of that; if that is our mother tongue, this is our father tongue, a reserved and select expression, too significant to be heard by the ear, which we must be born again in order to speak.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

How much I have to grow up to perceive the world at this level, let alone be able to write anything that “must be read as deliberately and reservedly…” How much we Armenians must endure to begin understanding how the world works. The books have been written in English. The maps have been written in English. For us they have also been written in Russian, in Turkish, and in every other language, old and new. We need to stop being the only ones reading our own books and drowning in our own tears. Maybe we need to be born again. Maybe we need to learn their father tongue. How else can we expect to have any influence when we are not even in the room, let alone sitting at the table where our fate is determined. Are we the spoken word, “transitory” in the timeline of the human civilization?

Two songs come to mind. The first is a revolutionary song – a lullaby, a beautiful contradiction still beyond my understanding. The second is the song called Cilicia.

Sunday after I was back, I went to church where I found new liturgy books. They’re in two languages, English and Hinglish. Hinglish is a strange language. It’s the Classical Armenian written with English letters. An Armenian born and raised outside Armenia is fortunate if he or she speaks some dialect of the language (somewhere I read that about 1500 words were needed). That Armenian is a minority if he or she can read and write in Armenian. There are probably a handful who have studied and understand the Classical Armenian. For whom is the weekly Divine Liturgy service? Is Hinglish the best we can do? Does it even please God when we worship him without understanding what we say.

How about we improve the Divine Liturgy, write it in the best of our father tongue, in nice big beautiful Armenian letters and hope that it’s read and sung as “deliberately and reservedly” as it’s written. This may also please the Creator. I’ll stop dreaming. For now, let’s have  a healthy debate about this and perhaps we will understand why I write in English.

2 Comments

  1. Hi ld,

    Came across this quote recently:

    “The English language is nobody’s special property. It is the property of the imagination: it is the property of the language itself.”
    –Derek Walcott (Caribbean poet, playwright, writer; Nobel Prize laureate for Literature in 1992)

    Sometimes, the best wordsmiths and craftsmen of a language may come from lands distant from the original motherland of the native tongue; a (slightly ironic) nod perhaps to your point in the above post.

    And what a wonderful quote from Thoreau; for me, one of the best master craftsman of the English language.

    Don

  2. Don – Thanks for the comment and the quote. The challenge is that Armenian orthography has undergone reforms. Some Armenians reject these and as a result for a people of about 10 million worldwide we have a few different ways of writing, pronouncing, and many ways of speaking. This has created a major challenge in teaching one standard language (the basic tools of it) to children who only hear the language part-time if at all. It makes the matter worse to hear Armenia itself questioning which orthography should be used. How will the language survive if we are crippled in our ability to pass it on to the next generation because of disagreements? That is the challenge.

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