Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Shepherd Center


I just returned from a class billed as “All About Words” at the Shepherd Center of Columbia. In the room were mostly senior citizens, including the teacher, who is a retired professor. I’m not sure what I expected of the class, but I’ve come away feeling amiss.

In a few broad strokes we covered English language history from the early Anglo-Saxons to the Roman occupation to the invasion of the Danes to the Norman conquest. Mostly familiar territory.


Other than that, the class was a free-for-all of comments, some from perceptive observers of our language. I learned from them that the Basque language, spoken mostly in northern Spain, is not Indo-European but, in fact, predates those languages (including English) and is the only such language to survive in Western Europe today. I can’t imagine what an experience it would be to try to learn the language. I’d love to hear it spoken.

As an aside, to my ear, the Italian language sounds like music. German and its family of languages sound like hacking and coughing. Chinese like barking dogs. Welsh like aliens. And Irish like poetry.

If the class carries on according to the catalogue listing, we’ll cover a subject I find fascinating:

Does the language we use control our thoughts and perceptions?

As a writer, I sometimes feel I’m forced to say/write an approximation of what I mean for lack of words. Perhaps my vocabulary is deficient. No perhaps about it … I know it is, but even with several thesauruses, there are times when I can’t nail down a thought. In fact I can’t fully realize the thought. Without words, it remains a sensation wanting expression.

For some things, words seem inadequate.

I hope the course will cover “politically-charged language,” also listed in the catalogue. If I could add a topic, it would be a study of words that don’t communicate. There is a talent to being able to talk without saying anything meaningful, a skill useful to politicians and TV commentators.  

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