Language
    Humanity's highly developed ability to communicate verbally is our essence, I believe. Without our tremendous vocabulary, we'd perhaps be not much better off than gorillas and monkeys. Language is taken for granted since it is a basic characteristic. But it is, for all its universality, among the most powerful of human tools. "The pen is mightier than the sword."
    Language informs, persuades, queries, expresses emotions, allows transmission of complex ideas and data, and its usage is often artful, whether prosaic or in verse. Of course, so far my remarks are regarding vocalization and writing. The broadest definition of language includes much more. For example, we have codes, such as Morse and flag, smoke signals, body language, and to an extent even music. Computer programs include special coding that can in some sense be called language. In my essay I choose to restrict the word's meaning to its root: tongue-based communication, and its representation by alphabets and writing. All other versions I will refer to generally as communication.
    Humanity has been classified by linguists, philologists and the like, into common groups. Hence we hear of Indo-European, Polynesian, or other groups. Some languages are closely related, others remotely so. One of the most complex linguistic realms on Earth is in northwestern North America, where I live. For reasons that I don't begin to understand, the first peoples or natives here had notably diverse languages even though they lived near to one another. Since these essays are a mere reflection of my worldview, and not objective surveys of the topics, it is my right to dismiss comparative linguistics right now. I just don't know or care enough about it. The rest of this essay will deal with my experiences with English, and my limited dabbling in foreign tongues.
    As early as second or third grade I was an avid, even extraordinary reader. My sister Joy and I contested to see which of us could read the most books in a given summer. We were worlds ahead of most children. Don't ask me why, because I have no idea; somehow it came to pass. I do not recall having exceptional vocabulary, speech habits, or handwriting. But I read voraciously. The habit of reading much was retained, and only slackened markedly years and years later. No doubt my abilities as a writer were boosted by much reading; my thoughts also were expanded greatly. Often I read books above my level, so encountered numerous words and concepts which were lost upon me.
    In high school I was instructed to choose French, German, Latin or Spanish to learn. I chose French -- why I don't remember. At the time my schoolwork was heavy, and I held an after-school job which kept me out many evenings, often from 5:30 until 10:00 or later. I couldn't get enough sleep, do all the homework, and maintain a well-balanced existence. So I prioritized my school subjects, and French was judged the lowest of all. I figured "if I desire to learn French, then I'll go to France for a year and imbibe the whole culture, not merely the language." Hence, I flunked French. This proved a setback, because the University of Washington informed me that my French deficiency would preclude my being admitted to their institution. The U.W. said "make up your French deficiency at the Community College -- then reapply here."
    Angrily, I went to the Community College. Much to my surprise, I found it offered a good education. I liked it so much that I stayed for two years. At the time, its tuition was very low, about $300 per year (now it is more than $1,350), and the class offerings were diverse. Subsequently its cost went up and the quality, or at least diversity of classes, went down. The curious thing is, my Community College French teacher told me "you deserve to go to the U.W., but you'll never learn French; I'll pass you just so you can go to the U.W."
    While I attended the Community College my personal journal or diary thrived. I wrote frequently, detailing activities, observations of nature, and thoughts. I also started writing letters to people, a habit still with me, though the journal is long since discontinued. It was always a pleasure for me to page through my earlier journal entries, and observe how my writing ability was clearly progressing. I'd write at my best level, then a few years later would look it over and sigh at how poor it was. Even now I make some little improvements, although of late the most dramatic change is in content, editing and even page-design -- not in grammar or syntax, vocabulary, etc. My handwriting remains bad as ever.

    As for speech, I have much more work to do before I'll rest content. My voice is adequate up close or on the telephone, but is strained easily when raised to address a crowd, especially outside. Although words flow forth as rapidly as I can say them, often they are crude, tripped, or somehow far from ideal. I especially dread talking about a subject, and failing to elucidate in logical priority the pertinent issues. For example, in discussing food, I might easily go off on a tangent about salads, while neglecting to discuss more important factors such as nourishment. Still, I've never been the least bit tempted to join Toastmasters or the equivalent. Similarly, I've not taken courses to improve my writing. The writing has improved as I've worked with a variety of editors, as well as done much editing of others' work.
    I take great joy in excellent conversation. Alas, both speech and writing are on a decline as computers ascend. It is appalling. Young people too often, like, you know, um, can't talk too good.
    An effective orator or writer can get more accomplished, can derive greater pleasure from life, and play a major role in leading and persuading. This fact makes it especially irksome that so many experts are lousy communicators. On the other hand, certain slick talkers are shallow. Wouldn't life be simpler if we could assume that effective speakers knew what they were saying, and were trustworthy; while clumsy speakers or poor writers were an unknown quantity?
    Even as our bodily health fluctuates, so does our mental activity. Sometimes great speakers make hilarious mistakes, and writers, too, can blunder. I am always amazed at how many mistakes I make. Oh, it is a joy to catch errors before they go to press. But it is also humbling and discouraging.
    When I've looked at recent computer-generated documents, I've noticed various trends. There is an entirely new vocabulary prevalent among computer users. That is not worrisome. But there is also a frightful range of poor design and graphic layout, clumsy grammar and childish vocabulary. It hurts to behold such. Classic traditions, familiar conventions, and basic good manners, are often being blithely ignored by many young nerds and computer jocks. It begs for oversight by mature, well-grounded editors.
    I am hypersensitive to language use. Just as Joy, my sister the architect, is about buildings. I bug her "you can't leave well enough alone!" She could retaliate by calling me a hypocrite, since I cannot help noticing verbal and written sins about which most folks remain happily ignorant.
    An author could go on indefinitely about language, and I will cease after making one final point. Today, what with e-mail, fax machines, cellular phones and pagers, the conventional written letter is being used less and less. I am fond of sending and receiving what I must now call "old fashioned" letters. Some kind folks have told me they enjoy my letters. I always wonder whether that's because they're kind, because they get dull letters usually, or because my letters are better than average. One sometimes just cannot be sure whether words are wholly sincere, in jest, or flattering. If I write "I love writing" and you doubt my sincerity for one second, it's not too much to say you're way off track on this matter.