They Can’t Take That Away From You

Richard - New York, New York
Entered on January 15, 2009

I believe in the English language. I believe in its beauty, power and its wisdom. Most of all, I believe in its democracy. English is for everyone, every single one of us, in full and equal measure. English can be corrupted, and often is, by politicians, by advertising, by Hollywood, but no one owns the English language. This may seem manifest, but don’t we see land, water and even air—in the form of “air rights” over buildings—bought and sold every single day? This is an age when even our own identity is up for sale. The English language is a gift we are all given, like life itself, when we’re born. This gift gradually comes into its own as we acquire more and more of it and learn to speak it, read it and write it. It can never be taken from us.

And what a gift it is. The English language is the result of perhaps the most concentrated joint effort in history. It’s the closest thing we have to the cautious, resolved, unflappable genius of evolution. Our language has had significant, lasting contributions by thousands, if not millions, of individuals throughout history. These men and women have not just been poets and writers, but bakers, warriors, shipbuilders, hunters, potters, revolutionaries, teachers, mothers, missionaries, fishermen, executioners, cooks, kings, lawyers, bandits, priests, farmers, bankers, masons, singers, and, yes, even politicians. Plus countless other inspired individuals who grappled with trying to express a concept, to give sound to, an idea, object, event. These unheralded individuals came up with a sound or sounds that could be used to communicate to others that idea, object or event—to mean that. The English language was crafted, for the most part, by Anonymous. By lots of them.

The English language is more than the slow crawl from linguistic fish to land-crawling reptile to fully walking speech, though. Taken as a whole, it’s an enormously complex, subtle tool that gives us nearly limitless possibilities to express ourselves, to be ourselves, and to spread the word—whatever that word may be. Martin Luther King, W.E.B. Dubois and Frederick Douglass find this gift waiting for them, no strings, just as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy did. Ad just look at what they did with it. They changed history. They changed lives.

The generous genius of the English language is there for me every time I sit down at my desk and try to write. As it is for you—and you—and you.