This week, I blogged partly about language: about how the repetition of a specific expression helped me feel lighter and calmer when things weren’t going well. Because language is at the core of the writer’s work—and because I am a total language geek who just can’t get enough of the topic—today’s Great Stuff for Writers focuses on a melange of language-related topics: on sacred language, on language in relationships, and on language and happiness.
Talking about God. I’ll start with a fascinating article by rabbi Joshua Stanton, associate director of the Center for Global Judaism. In “Finding Language to Describe God” on the Huffington Post website, Stanton describes his own inability to talk about spiritual experience. An articulate speaker and skilled writer, he finds his capability to express himself through language falls short when it comes to talking about the Divine. “This lack of words for the Sacred is like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of my religious practices,” he writes. “I cannot both fully experience the Sacred and fully describe that experience at the same time.” His article sparked lively responses when it first went up in August, and led to a follow-up article the following month. They’re all well worth the time for anyone interested in language or spirituality or (like me), both.
Mantras. While some people may think of the mantra as bit of New Age hooey, it is actually an ancient spiritual practice with a rich history, springing from one of the world’s great religious traditions: Hinduism. For anyone interested in the relationship between language and spiritual practice, understanding the notion of the mantra—not as it is used in popular culture, but in its deeper sense—is essential. To learn about the use of mantras in the Eastern traditions, here are two websites that offer some useful insights, one from a Hindu perspective; the other with a Buddhist take on the topic.
Language and Happiness. “We live in language the way a fish lives in water,” writes Chalmers Brothers in Language and the Pursuit of Happiness. “It is transparent to us.” Brothers’ goal in this lively and readable book from New Possibilities Press is to explore the relationships between language and living—and, in particular, between living happily and successfully—and he meets that goal while remaining accessible and entertaining. Although Language and the Pursuit of Happiness claims not to be a self-help book, in spots it veers a little too close to that cacophony of insipid advice for my taste. Still, there is enough here that is fresh, intelligent, and interesting to make it well worth the 16 bucks and the hour or so it takes to read.
Language and Relationships. Linguists have known for decades that your speech patterns change depending on who you’re talking to, but James Pennebaker and Molly Ireland have taken that knowledge one step further. They’ve found that the health of a marriage or other close relationship can be determined by the extent to which a couple’s language style matches. And they’re not talking about simply shared vocabularly here, but such grammatical questions as how many pronouns, prepositions, and conjunctions you use. Couples whose styles have a high “language style matching score”—who share certain grammatical characteristics in their speech—are likely to have a more harmonious relationship than those who don’t, the researchers have found. And, as a couple’s relationship hits rough patches, those scores decline.
As a writer, this research opened up a lot of possibilities for me. Imagine all the new ways you can show the growth or decline of a relationship through dialogue if you can tune into the underlying patterns of a couple's speech.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...