City of Language

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“Language is a city, to the building of which every human being brought a stone,” says Ralph Waldo Emerson. Language is a product of thoughts, intuition and insights which combine to form words. The creation of language is informed by need for man to communicate and exchange ideas or share information with his fellow man. Thus man is born to communicate. He is a communication animal. He has compelling need to share and to seek information. Man is the only form of creation that can turn thoughts into words and words into language. With this he has acquired the faculty of speech. With speech comes the art of writing. Writing is the expression of thought. Writing is communication.

Word is the mother of thought. Without words there can’t be language. Indeed language is a combination of words, thoughts and inspiration. Words brought forth language. Speech and writing are key component of language. Language is either speech or writing. Oratory an aspect of speech is an art. Writing is fine art. More than any other thing the written word has enriched language more than speech. There are rules guiding writing whereas speech is mostly informal and hardly do rules apply to it.

Since man is the only conscious being that makes use of words to form language, it is clear that animals do not posses any faculty for speech or language. Animals only grunt and howl. Birds chirp and tweet. Cats purr. Dogs bark. Language is like a pyramid of words. Words are a combination of patterns or chain of thoughts. The train of thoughts formed in the mind is turned into words and language. Words are the building blocks of language. And words are made up of sentences.

In the interior of sentences are parts of speech such as verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, hyphens, coma and full stop. Word can only be complete when it has some or all of these parts of speech making up a sentence.

Words are important because the world was formed out of the word. Out of the formless void and chaos God spoke the word and the earth came to pass. “Let there be light and there was light,” the Lord commanded. Thus words are powerful. Words are delicate, intricate, elegant and beautiful. Words inspire and uplift. That’s why orators carefully choose their words. With words they can rouse a nation to great passion. Sometimes wars are won with words. Before the outbreak of the Iraqi war President Saddam Hussein had launched into a war of words with the United States of America. Prior to the outbreak of hostilities President Hussein had stated: “This would be the mother of all wars. And Americans will swim in their own blood,” the world cringed. This sounded like a doomsday scenario for the American forces. However, Saddam Hussein would later eat his words as he was arrested by the same American forces while hiding in a hole. He swallowed his words.

For instance the boxing champion, Mohammed Ali aka the greatest uses words with ease. A poet in his own right, Ali apart from devastating his opponents with blows also has immense facility with words which he applies in equally devastating measure to put down his opponents. In the Rumble in the Jungle, his last fight with George Foreman in Congo Kinshasa on 30th October 1974 the boxing legend had made a lot of hype about his fitness for the fight saying:

“I’ve done something for this fight,
I done wrestled with an alligator
I done tussled with a whale
Handcuffed lightning
Thrown thunder in jail
Only last week, I murdered a rock
Injured a stone, hospitalized a brick
I’m so mean I make medicine sick”

Ali’s bombastic outburst was enough to make his opponent pee in his pant. It was a fight Ali had won with words before the punches started flying. Ali knows the effects of words on people and situations and he uses them with care and style. Words are tools of poets, writers, priests and statesmen. These artisans of words use them with care, skill and dexterity. Words are carefully crafted with elegance and deftness. Therefore good writing flows with effortless ease, with a certain care freeness, harmony and symphony. A good piece of writing is fluid and rhythmic, and flows like the onrush of a waterfall, sparkling, lively and witty.

Some words have become immortal. For instance President John Kennedy’s words “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” resonates all over the world because of its piquancy and significance. Thus both the musicality and muscularity of words speaks to its cadence, flow, rhythm, and the general sound of it. Bold, clear and vivid writing is incandescent, illuminating the mind and spirit. Such words are stringed together the way joints and ligaments are joined together.

Writing is like building a structure. It starts from the ground up. Like a house designed by an architect the written word in form of essay is planned and well-thought out. Before the writing process begins a suitable design or path is clearly set out. Thereafter it starts with the opening or introduction which is like the foundation of the house. Then it flows with the subject divided into paragraphs which are like beams that hold the building. The comas and period are the nuts and bolts holding everything together.

A piece of writing is a great work of art. A well written piece is like a symphony orchestra in which the master conductor is fully in charge and in control, leading, guiding and motivating his team to achieve a seamless tenor. Thus a well written piece has fine eye for detail, form, structure, symphony and aesthetics. Once more a well-written word is like a well planned city where there are wide roads, avenues, streets and alleys, all well-proportioned. There are sidewalks and lampposts which illuminate the city at night. Of course there are green lawns, beautiful flowers, well trimmed hedges, and trees. In a word everywhere is green and clean.

Again as William Strunk Jr. says in his book The Elements of Style, “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.” Indeed language is a city of words.

About Kola King

Kola King is a Nigerian journalist and writer. He has about 30 years experience under his belt, having worked as a reporter, correspondent and editor in some national dailies. He has since turned his hand to creative writing. So far he has written three novels of which one has been accepted for publication. He holds a degree in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos.

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