Enough Is Enuf
by Frank Riccobono
This is the version of my junior year Originl Oratory speech mostly as performed at the 2005 National Forensics League national tournament in Philadelphia, PA. It ended up being a bit too long for the 10 minute time limit so there were some late cuts and edits that never made their way into softcopy.
“Wé cildra biddaþ þé, éalá láréow, þæt þú tæ'ce ús sprecan rihte, forþám ungelæ'rede wé sindon and gewæmmodlíce wé sprecaþ...”
Okay, I see you shaking your heads, but before you think that you’ve entered the Twilight Zone, or that this is actually the NFL International Tournament, let me explain. I really was speaking English or rather an older form of English – aptly named ‘Old English.’ What I said was, “We children beg you, oh teacher, that you should teach us to speak correctly, for we are ignorant and we speak corruptly...” It’s a line from the Colloquy of Ælfric one of the oldest English Grammar textbooks.
Imagine what that poor Ælfric would think upon hearing how English is being spoken today. He would be appalled because – well, gewæmmodlíce wé sprecaþ. After all, our President once said, “It's a time of sorrow and sadness when we lose a loss of life.” And, don’t forget, Raid “Kills Bugs – Dead” As if there was some other way to kill them. Such abuse of the language has led the Bald Eagle Journal to report: “[English] continues to become worse and worse and seems headed back to where all languages once came from, a barbaric gibberish that creates less and less useful communication.” To some extent, this is true. However, English is also changing and evolving and improving. Hey, if you don’t believe me? You try saying that opening a few times. This process of linguistic evolution is known as glottagenesis. As the world changes, languages either adapt or die (Think of Hittite or Etruscan).
Today’s world is clearly changing, and we must help our language to evolve, because we, the future leaders, are the custodians of the English Language. In order for us to take on such a enormous responsibility, we must first understand where our language has come from, that way we can take it where it needs to go. And so, if you’ll let me, I will reveal just how much English pronunciation, vocabulary and even grammar have changed in the language’s fifteen-hundred year history. If you listen carefully, you will come to know how we, as English speakers, can foster its growth.
When we think about language, we usually think of it as being immutable or set in stone. However, English was not created by a council of grammarians sitting in a room – ‘I before E except…’ No, English grew out of the languages that preceded it, and it has changed much since it was first spoken by the medieval Anglo-Saxons. Granted, these changes have introduced a few xenites, or inconsistencies, into the language. Think about it – in the past tense ‘sing’ is ‘sung,’ and ‘ring’ is ‘rung,’ but ‘bring’ is ‘brought.’ ‘Quarter’ rhymes with ‘water,’ but ‘later’ doesn’t. And if you’ve ever wondered why E-N-O-U-G-H is pronounced ‘enough’ there is actually a really cool reason. It has to do with the vocalization of leading Gs, the lenition of ending Gs, the shift from tense vowels to l…Okay, you don’t care. Take my word for it; it’s great.
You see, at one time English was pronounced exactly as it was written, which would mean that at a French restaurant you would say: ‘Yes, for an appetizer I’ll have the qwi-shey, a Fillett Mig-Non for an entryy and bring me a glass of your finest merlot.’ In part, these changes are the result of the GREAT VOWEL SHIFT, which transformed the vowels into what they are today, as well as the constant search for linguistic shortcuts to ease pronunciation. If you need proof, you need only look to Shakespeare. In his play, As You Like It, he makes a pun with reasons and blackberries. The pun just isn’t funny unless you pronounce it as the bard intended. “If Reasons were as plentie as Blackberries, I would give no man a Reason upon compulsion.” Get it, Reasons, Raisins, Blackberries? Yeah, I guess it’s not that funny however you pronounce it.
Adding to our phonetic dilemma is the fact that a large portion of our vocabulary has been stolen from other languages (Hence the qwi-shey and the merlott). These words often come with their own unique pronunciations. This borrowing is referred to as linguistic emborging. Consider this sentence: ‘The sinister vampire bludgeoned the robot with a bagel and assaulted the ugly troll with a cravat.’ Okay, it may not be from Anne Rice’s latest novel, The Mechanical Vampire, but if English had not emborged the words from eight other languages, if we were ever to see such a bizarre scene we would be forced to say, ‘Hey, look at…that.’ If we let English grow, just imagine what we will be able to say tomorrow that we cannot say today.
So if changes in pronunciation and vocabulary are commonplace, change in grammar is no less usual. As it has grown, English grammar has become less dependent on word endings—conjugations, declensions and the like—and more dependent on word order—the standard subject-verb-object format. For example ‘The man ate a chicken for dinner’ makes perfect sense whereas ‘A chicken ate a man for dinner’ is just strange. In the future the meaning of a sentence may be determined solely by word order, and, as for our favorite alien, Master Yoda, well, ‘Understandable will he not be.’
So, everything was evolving and progressing nicely until a man named Johann Gutenberg developed the moveable-type printing press. His invention was wonderful because allowed the easy spread of knowledge, but it did so by literally locking language into place. English was standardized so that everyone could read publications like the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and the National Enquirer – Hey, enquiring minds want to know. What I mean is a spoken language can change easily without many people even noticing. However, when the power of the pen controls a language, that language becomes petric or more resistant to change.
But now in this age of mass multimedia, we have new ideas which we wish to share. We are creating new technologies which we need to name. We see images which we must put into words. And so, we can see many recent linguistic changes. Just think, e-mail, download, cursor, blog, website, cyberspace, air mile, road rage, road map, bloviate, and mini-me all came into popular usage within our lifetimes. In addition, over 9,000 other words have been added in the past three decades alone. What words will be added and what will be lost in the next few decades? We have the power to decide.
And as the English lexicon changes, grammar must be allowed to evolve just like living organisms do. You see, there are far less people —I’m sorry—far fewer people in the world than you think who speak with perfect English grammar. Most people are careless in their speech. They introduce ‘mutations’ into the language, such as replacing ‘going to’ with ‘gonna,’ or replacing ‘Hello, how are you’ with ‘Yo, what up,’ which through ‘linguistic natural selection’ will become part of a new grammar system or will become extinct. Now, our growing use of slang phrases does seem to prove that quote from the Bald Eagle Journal, you remember, the one about English declining into Barbarism. Oh no! Everyone, quick take up your pitchforks, torches, bagels, and cravats. We’ll storm the Merriam-Webster headquarters and assault those ugly trolls.
Wait before we go bludgeoning anyone, listen. According to the Linguistic Society of America, “Standard English is just one dialect of English.” And, yes, it has its rules, just like any other language, but, in linguistics, rules don’t define a language, they simply describe it, and they are therefore every bit as fluid as the language itself.
My comloquerians, that is, those of us united by a common language, look to the future. Be progressive speakers. Use new expressions and grammatical structures when they appeal to you. Create new words like comloquerian if it pleases you. Yes, if you’ve been keeping track, comloquerian is one of five words in my speech which do not exist…yet. English is constantly changing. Let us do what we can to help that change come to pass. Let us help our language grow by creating new words, by assigning new meanings to old ones, and maybe even by perfecting our orthography (those confusing spelling rules) – that alone would be a mammoth—a megasuprendelous—task.
And if you were wondering, according to linguist Justin B. Rye, that little opening might sound something like this in the future: “*ZA kiad w'-exùn ya tijuh, da ya-gAr'-eduketan zA da wa-tAgan lidla, kaz 'ban iagnaran an wa-tAg kurrap...”
I conclude as I began, in Old English: ‘Ic þancie eow. Beoð ge gesunde.’ ‘I thank you and farewell,’ or as we say in Modern English, ‘Yo, peace out.’