And sometimes “y”? Well, schwa dee dah.

It’s possible that somewhere along the line, the vowels gathered to commiserate, and reckoned themselves to represent five points of a linguistic pentagram. No others need apply.

(e: “But what about that ‘y’ character?”

o: “Yeah, he seems pretty cool. Sometimes”

u: “I dunno, he’s OK I guess. I don’t mind if he hangs out with us from time to time, but no way do we teach him the secret handshake. 

i: “Oh, you…”     etc., etc. )

Not being old enough at the time to understand the neatness of the number 64, when I was a pre-schooler, I was briefly convinced that my life’s mission was to bestow unto the world the 65th Crayola crayon. Of course the folks at Binney and Smith have long since blasted past what was long ago to my mind that once seemingly unsurpassable limit. I now can’t help but laugh at my very early capacity for grandiosity combined with my innocent translation of the box-of-64 into the construct of all-the-colors-known-to-exist; and, well, hey, if I could just push that envelope, even incrementally, and unleash that mind-blowing 65th color, then dang! That’d be bitchin’.

Very much in the same vein though, I see no need to cap the vowel count to five, nor, for that matter, the population of Alphabetland to 26. I think that our alphabet would be richer with the inclusion of the schwa, with full rights and privileges to be bestowed (contingent upon background check, and credit check, natch).

Among his many enjoyable and astonishing pieces of writing, Bill Bryson offered a real gem that I especially enjoyed and have widely recommended, titled The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way. In it is a disarmingly approachable discourse on the development and evolution–past, and yes, ongoing–of the English language. The way in which we use words in a manner agreed to be appropriate and correct remains in a state of slow-motion adaptation.

Point being: we’re up to the task of making room for the schwa. The sanctity of the 26-letter limit to our alphabet is a mere figment of an inflexible collective mind.

That said, I’m not so sure how hard I’m prepared to push on this. The existing letters no doubt, like the vowel subset, have grown used to their roles, and would likely harbor deep resentment at the prospect of bringing someone new on board, and the schwa could be particularly problematic. Any character with a definite article introducing it is pretty off-putting to the old guard. T is quick to point out that he’s T, not the T. Most of the other letters chime in in agreement. W stays mostly silent during the discussion, pondering its own knotty existential challenges.

I think that the biggest problem however is that while the schwa’s mission is to serve in the place of any and all of the vowels depending on application, this mimicry and malleability defines its very being.

When you define yourself as all things to all vowels, it’s a sure bet that you’ll lose yourself in the process.

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About dave bois

Freelance writer with a strong pull towards environmental matters (water issues especially) that remains fueled by my study of and early-career practice in geology and hydrology. Music, food, dogs, current/political events, and visual arts combine to command much of the portion of attention not ceded to ecological concerns. Also Monty Python. I've sold a few pieces of original art and have made cab fare home playing saxophone. Native Mainah

One thought on “And sometimes “y”? Well, schwa dee dah.

  1. Loved this. So creatively amusing.

    You might like Steven Pinker’s “The Language Instinct”, which looks at how we learn languages, how our brain processes them, how language evolves and morphs and acquires and chucks out the used-up bits into the Dead Words & Vowels recycling bin for some version of Euro-English-Mandarin that all of the cool kids will be speaking in 400 years. And they’ll be like, “Dude, I just found these linguistically interesting artifacts on the sidewalk. Someone must have dropped them. Let’s see what they do.” 😉

    [ dmb edit: thanks so much for the kind words and the book rec–that sounds great! ]

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