Saturday, July 28, 2012

Complex and purposeful

"You guys, come check out this amazing sentence diagram! Isn't it just beautiful?!" OK, I admit, that was a pretty nerdy thing for me to say the other night. I have this textbook that I kept from grad school - a huge blue hardback book with the title in bold, yellow, capital letters on the front: THE GRAMMAR BOOK. It covers every conceiveable grammatical issue in the English language, how to define and explain it, the purpose behind it, and how to diagram it. The sentence I was pointing out to the girls sprawled all over the page in cascading pyramids and crisscrossed lines... I was impressed.

I like diagraming because it breaks down a sentence word by word (sometimes even smaller) and gives each piece purpose. We don't often consider the words we choose and the order we put them in to express a thought, do we?

I've heard people so many times say that English is a stupid language, crazy and unnecessarily complex... I've even said it myself. But the more I study this language - not just vocabulary, but the arrangement of certain words together, bound by syntax and dipped in semantics - I realize it is brilliantly intentional. The tiny words we seem to toss carelessly around, like of, the, at, and to, each are full of purpose, and when you combine them with other words, their meaning dives into new depths. It makes sense! I still think there are things that are unnecessarily complex, but I like the complexity. The more words and forms of words and combinations of words we have, the better we can express things. Imagine what life would be like if we only used singular nouns and simple present tense verbs! (Seriously, allow yourself a moment of nerdiness to consider that.)

Many of the complications of English come when our predictable patterns are compromised. Why do we have so many irregular verbs, so many plural nouns that don't just end with -s? But just because it isn't the way we think it should be, or we can't understand why, doesn't mean that it isn't logical, that somewhere in history when language was evolving there wasn't a good explanation for it.

I feel like there is a profound spiritual insight in this... would it be too nerdy of me to dig it out and talk about it? Probably so... but I'll just say that I am thankful my God is logical and purposeful and intentional, and at the same time wild and complex and beyond my understanding.

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