Sunday, February 06, 2005

A Second Language

~ The other day when I came home from work, my wife handed me an envelope. Incredibly, it was hand written and had an applied stamp in the corner. My name and address, as well as those of the sender, had actually been placed upon the envelope manually with a pen! It had been many years since I had seen anything like it. For as long as I can remember, what mail we did receive, mostly bills and statements, had been neatly printed mechanically with metered postage.
~ Hefting it in my hand testing its weight, I marveled at the relic. Possibly, this unique item should be saved as a potential collectible. I held it up the light trying to peer inside at the contents. What mysteries might this paper enclosure hold? The sheer simplicity of the small rectangular object left me to wonder why anyone would go to such lengths to send me a letter.
~ The advent of the personal computer as a household appliance had rendered the letter virtually obsolete. Indeed, as a species, the mail-carrier was nearly extinct. This archaic form of communication had come to be known as snail mail. Forsaking stationery, pens, and postage stamps, we turned in droves to the promises of high speed electronic mail. Even us Baby Boomers, who were hesitant to buy into the technology, have ultimately embraced e-mail and instant messaging. To the surprise of no one, we even figured out that chatting live could actually save us money on long distance phone calls.
~ I felt like a kid opening a birthday present, anticipating the treasure about to be unearthed. As I turned the envelope over in my hand exposing the sealed flap on the reverse side, I swallowed hard and took a deep breath. I realized there must have been some urgency in the sender's reasoning for contacting me in such an odd manner.
~ The letter opener sliced through the paper methodically, like a knife through a frozen margarine quarter. The contents, several pages worth, appeared to be made of parchment. Ah, a rare document? Closer inspection, however,
revealed the paper to be an ordinary, but rare, onion skin paper. Unfolding the pages to their full eight and a half by eleven inches, I slowly began to read them. I don't know if at that moment I was quite prepared for what I would find. ~ It was indeed a letter. I was stunned to see structured complete sentences. Amazingly, everyone of those sentences began with a capital letter! There was an incredible array of punctuation. I guess what impressed me most, was that all of the text was comprised of words, and believe it or not, spelled correctly. I considered looking for double negatives or dangling participles, but judging from everything else, that would have probably proven fruitless.
~ Having bridged the gap from the dark ages of remoteless television sets to the current era of high-tech wizardry, I was fortunate. Others might have had to hire an etymologist, and maybe an anthropologist, to assist them in their attempts at translation.
~ Imagine their chagrin to discover that the cryptic "How are you," would be unraveled to be the more familiar "How R U." Not unlike the Egyptologists, who thanks to the Rosetta Stone, were able to decipher the hieroglyphics, I slowly
translated what could become a sought after relic. I made a mental note to look up the Smithsonian's telephone number. In olden times, they actually used massive tomes that contained the listings of telephone numbers. They had to literally dial those numbers on an analog phone.
~ I know, because I remember those crude devices. I had read and written documents like the one I was holding. As I continued to scan and translate the passages, I was almost stumped when I came across "anyone." Eventually, and then only by taking it in context, was I able to arrive at "NE1." I'll bet many a jaw dropped out there on that one. Mine surely did.
~ Suffice it to say, I did eventually complete the translation of the document. I have decided not to contact the Smithsonian Institute after all. This relic, instead will grace a wall in my study. It will become an heirloom that I will pass on to my daughter for her to pass along to her children.
~ Until that day comes, however, I will take pride in having it. As will I also be proud to be one of a few who can claim to be multi-lingual. I have a second language. In addition to cyberese, I am fluent in English, written English.
If you prefer a more skewed view of the English Language WVa. style try:
No. 22
Johnny Carson
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Johnny Carson

1 comment:

Stacey said...

Wow…you’ve certaintly inspired me to see if I can find some stationery around here and maybe even a felt-tip pen and send a letter to some old friend…thanks for the bolg!