When I used to teach the English language rather than wrangle it into book form, I often asked my college students to pause a moment and consider the miracle of our written language.
Yeah, yeah, thought they, book bags and brains sagging. Wow.
No, I would say. You’ve really got to just stop and consider it. It’s a miracle.”
Uh-huh, thought they. Awesome.
No! I’d say. Stop! Think!
Do you know that there’s a way I could read your mind right now?
You wouldn’t want to know what I’m thinking right now.
Just think about it, I’d say.
It hurts, they’d think.
Really! I’d say. Just think. Think about a lowercase letter d. Little circle with a stick attached on the right side. Can you see it in your mind?
Uh . . . yeah?
Think about the letter o. Pretty simple, right? Just a circle.
Think about the letter g. Circle on the top and bottom, connected by a little stick. Or maybe just circle on the top, hook on the bottom.
What’s your point, dude?
Well. If you were to write those marks next to each other on a piece of paper, what someone might see is circle-stick-on-the-right-circle-two circles-connected-by-little-stick. Right?
Um . . . sure.
Or—if we’d all learned this crazy circle-stick-hook thing that someone had invented—I might, instead of circles and sticks—see a drooling, fetching, barking, DOG! And that’s without us ever talking! We could even do this if you were on one side of the world and I was on the other. You could make the marks and send them and then when I got them and looked at them I could read your mind! Do you know that people already do this? Like all over the world? Did you know that you can read anyone’s mind who knows how to write in sticks and circles as long as you know read in sticks and circles?
That’s a miracle, right?
Don’t even get me started about different languages! Sacre bleu! Dios me! Hakuna matata. Gesundheit!
I’m just speaking sticks and circles . . . in . . . another . . . language!
Okay, so that lesson didn’t always amaze them. But it always amazed me, because to teach that lesson I always had to really think about it.
And, just recently, I’ve been thinking about the miracle of language again as I have a son who just entered the first grade. It seems crazy to me that we entrust these little cretins to learn circles and sticks at such a young age. But even crazier that they begin to get it. All the sudden, my guy would rather sit down with pages of sticks and circles than do just about anything else. He’s onto the miracle.
-Nate LeBoutillier, editor