In sooth, I know not why I am so sad
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff ’tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn,
And such a want-wit-sadness makes of me,
That I have much ado to know myself.
The words of Antonio, a character in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice
These are the first phrases in William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Around two months ago, I had the pleasure of being part of a discussion with my friend (Let me call him Marvin), and a friend of his (Matt), and a friend of his friend (Kevin). So Matt said something that I thought was interesting. In a nutshell, he said “Today you’d find Kenyans reading a novel” and thinking ‘I am an avid reader, am so smart’, yet their English is horrible! “We Kenyans claim we speak English” but the truth is our English is quite erroneous.
Another claim he made that I found interesting was that “We Kenyans read books that are actually meant for 6th graders abroad”. At the back of mind I thought, “Really? Stephen King, Danielle Steel… all those great writer’s target 6th graders? I thought the rest of the world read those too!” As much as Kenyans do corrupt English in entertaining ways, I felt the allegation was far fetched. We do not read books with more “refined” or complex language styles, because that kind of language is no longer functional. Language has evolved.
Can you imagine if we still spoke like Shakespeare? Imagine waking up one morning and finding everyone but you speaking in Early Modern English (Modern… yeah right.) I, for one, would have a mixture of feelings: I’d find it hilarious hearing the Elizabethan English in varied accents from my country, I’d admire hearing English natives speak it, and I’d also find it annoying when I failed to understanding what would otherwise be the simplest phrase. We take for granted many things in life, like despite how living seems harder and harder, things appear to be getting easier and more functional around us. From technology, to communication, to language.
In today’s information world, there is a need to be fast-paced. Language is now much simpler. We are being more blunt and straight-forward because we want to pass our message across quickly (or maybe because we are limited to 140 characters). Can you imagine creating abbreviations for Early Modern English? Or instead of using emoticons or smileys, having to say “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad” (or abbreviating it as ISIKNWIASS). Imagine that!
So Matt, we still read books that inspire thoughts and these books use gratifying language (I mean, I know I keep learning new words). We will always appreciate the classics from George Orwell, Emily Brontë, Jane Austen, Ernest Hermingway, Charles Dickens, the list is endless. They will forever be the epitome of literary excellence. Be that as it may, everything evolves. So embrace the change (no way am I speaking in such a tasking manner!).