Readers are winners, as the saying goes. I couldn’t agree more. You can't be a good writer unless you are first a good reader.
Being able to read is a wonderful ability, and certainly one not to be taken lightly. Imagine for a moment, not being able to read. I remember seeing an old sign that showed a bunch of unreadable symbols with a caption in English running along the bottom saying, To someone who can’t read, all signs look like this.
I can’t imagine what that would be like. Being able to read is such a source of pleasure for me. Picking up a book and escaping into another setting has enriched my life since my grammar school days. In my youth I read Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan of the Apes. I marveled at the exploits of the orphaned Tarzan and how he managed to survive his ordeal, become the king of the apes, and teach himself to read. Tarzan found the rudimental reading books that belonged to his father and paged through them. The letters became his “friends,” and being the supremely intelligent individual that he was, he figured out how to combine them into words. Of course, he was also fluent in ape language and had a penchant for yelling, “Kreegah” and “Bundolo.” In the movies he used to say, “Umgoowah” a lot, too. In the book he not only taught himself to read and write English, but picked up French pretty quickly, as well. Occasionally, he had some problems with diction (“Me Tarzan, you Jane.”), but on the other hand, he had no elementary school teacher standing over him extolling the benefits of proper grammar.
To a lot of readers, this whole Tarzan thing, the idea of a small baby being born in the jungle and raised by apes teaching himself the complexities of language probably sounds a bit farfetched, but is it?
Let’s think back to how this whole reading and writing thing evolved. At some point primitive man sought to communicate with his neighbor by a system of grunts. Different nuances were given to various grunts to designate different things and through repetition became different words.
“Ooohh eh ghhh,” one primitive guy said.
“Whhhggat?” the other guy asked.
“Ghhh, ooou ssssppppht,” the first one replied, his voice rising.
“Ooooh yeeeeajh?” the second one said as he knocked the first guy over the head with his big club.
Except in those days they called a club a “kkkllluupppt.” They worked the spelling part out later.
Eventually, something called language was devised. Once spoken speech reached a certain level of sophistication and complexity, it became necessary to memorialize or record it by drawing a symbol to correspond to each new word. Granted, these first writers and readers probably took longer than Tarzan to figure things out, but they were, after all, breaking new ground. And they made a few mistakes along the way, too.
“Let’s use ph to designate the sound of eff,” one of them might have said.
“Nah,” his fellow scribbler probably answered. “I already used this one symbol.”
“What symbol?” the first guy asked.
“It looks like a tree with the branches cut off on the left side.” He them held up a sketch that looked something like this: F.
“I like mine better,” the first guy said.
“But we already used two with the EI symbols for that nay sound.”
“Yeah, but I like those.”
“But you can put that letter in front of that one. We used them in the opposite order in all these words to designate the sound eee.”
“I still like mine better. Look at how nice this word looks.” He held up RECEIVE spelled out in large block letters on a stone slate.
“Okay,” said the second guy, throwing up his hands. “We’ll use yours, too, but only sometimes.”
Thus, different letter combinations formed different sounds for different words, and to remember them, they came up with little rhymes.
I before E, except after C, when sounded long A, as in NEIGHBOR and WEIGH.
I wonder it Tarzan knew about that one?
All things considered, ain't language a fascinating thing? And aren't you glad you can read this?
Two more quips to even things out: If you're reading this, thank a teacher. If you're reading it in English, thank our military.