We share a similar tongue, you and I. We understand one another for the most part. And yet, that tongue we share is used by some not for communication, but to bar others from our company, to obliterate them as thinking and feeling persons. Today I read a newspaper article where that act of exclusion was taken to its ultimate end: the elimination of those outside of the tongue. The newspaper article I refer to is the one detailing the cold-blooded murder of a young Polish man by a group of English teenagers merely because he spoke a different language.
This article struck me as disgusting for a number of reasons. I have been a lifelong student of language. I have interested myself in reading and interpretation and in expressing myself as much as I can. I have been learning Hindi for the whole of my life, which is similar to the Punjabi I speak at home but also different. I have recently begun relearning French with an aim to take up the Ancient Greek and German I did at school as well as a chosen handful of languages I have always promised myself I would learn. I have also been teaching English for about a year and a half. I have always believed in the power of language to unite people because I have seen first hand how alone and powerless those outside of the common language are.
And I mused on how people close to me from this parochial country had objected to my own language learning. They told me that learning Hindi was pointless. They told me that learning any other language was pointless because the whole world spoke English. A person from England did not need another language. These attitudes are reflected and magnified in the act of lingual violence against the poor Polish person and evident in the fact that foreign languages are not regarded as important forms of study in our education system. Even after all those years of learning another language at school, how many of us can articulate ourselves in a language other than English?
And as these thoughts about language circulated in my mind, I took up the pen once again and returned to poetry, for I had neglected her of late. For it is poetry that taught the words of love. And for you, my reader, here it is in our common tongue and dedicated to that young Polish person who dared to speak another tongue in this country:
i sat and canoed and my mood was subdued
the cuckoo cuckooed cuckooed cuckooed
i chewed and chewed the stewed seven-hued fruit
and mused and mused over the family feud
all at once a nude and lewd man leapt out and spewed
a torrent of filth all crude and rude
he abused and abused and abused and abused
I wooed and I sued him for peace
dove-like I cooed and cooed
he only laughed and pooh-poohed
so on i canoed and canoed
and still i canoe